The Raiders offense entered the 2018 season with optimism, believing that an expensive, talented crew could flourish immediately under new head coach/play caller Jon Gruden.
Former coordinator Todd Downing took serious (and mostly deserved) flak for offensive struggles the year before, and there was a belief last winter the Raiders were a savvy offensive mind away from scoring in bunches.
It didn’t work out that way in Gruden’s first season back. Quarterback Derek Carr took some time to get comfortable with the head coach's system. An expensive offensive line regressed due to injuries inside and two rookie tackles on the flanks.
Marshawn Lynch got hurt. Amari Cooper got traded. While Jared Cook flourished and Carr got better, the offense never produced consistent quality.
Changes will be made to this unit – especially at receiver – leaving varied levels of certainty that incumbent starters will retain their post. Let’s take a look at a super, duper early 2019 starting lineup, with some names written in ink, others in pencil and more than a few uncertainties.
QB: Derek Carr (ink)
RB: Doug Martin (pencil)
3rd-down RB:Jalen Richard (RFA; ink)
FB: Keith Smith (pencil)
There are some quarterback hungry teams out there who might believe they’re a quality passer away from the postseason. That might prompt the Jaguars or Giants or another team to make an offer for Carr that Gruden can’t refuse.
Anything’s possible with the unpredictable head coach, though Gruden hasn’t said anything recently to suggest dissatisfaction with his quarterback.
Carr expects to be back in 2019. That’s an accurate assumption at this stage, which would allow Carr continued growth within the system and a chance to prove he can find 2016 form.
While playing out a contract that runs through 2022 that isn’t guaranteed, Carr should get more time to build on a strong statistical season by finding more wins in 2019.
It’s uncertain whether Lynch is coming back. He’s an enigma, though his return’s more likely if the Raiders play within Oakland’s city limits next year. There has been talk of Martin’s return, but he’s north of 30 and, despite a strong finish to the season, a drafted running back could come in and compete for the feature slot.
Richard’s a restricted free agent, but he’s fully expected to be back. Smith has another year on his deal worth $1.5 million in 2019.
WR:Jordy Nelson (ink)
Blocking TE:Lee Smith (ink)
Expect a positional overhaul here. Jordy Nelson’s 2019 roster bonus was paid out early, virtually locking him in for the 2019 season. He showed great chemistry with Carr towards the end of the season, and continued to produce despite a showing less speed than years past, especially after a knee injury midway through last season.
The Raiders should draft at least one receiver, maybe two, in the NFL draft. Seth Roberts could be cut this offseason as well, leaving the roster without someone with extensive experience playing inside. Gruden will rotate receivers through multiple positions, so here’s the bottom line: the team needs talent and depth at this spot.
Jared Cook is an unrestricted free agent and his return is uncertain, especially if his market soars after a career year in 2018. Darren Waller flashed late, but was it enough to provide confidence he can be a major player? If Cook walks, the Raiders should another receiving option at tight end.
LT:Kolton Miller (ink)
LG: Kelechi Osemele (ink)
C: Rodney Hudson (ink)
RG: Gabe Jackson (ink)
RT: Brandon Parker (pencil)
The Raiders offensive line gave up 51 sacks last year and was inconsistent in the run game last year, so why bring the crew back?
The interior has tons of talent, and the tackles are young and still developing. Coaches believe Miller will become a quality protector, especially after an offseason devoted to gaining strength and lean mass.
Hudson was a team MVP and Jackson’s an excellent guard who plays through pain and will be just 28 next season. Osemele is a tone-setter up front, but his name could require liquid paper considering he’s owed $10.2 million next season and could get released without dead money attached.
Re-signing Jon Feliciano would help whether or not Osemele comes back. He provides depth at all three interior spots and has solid chemistry with the starters.
Penn should return to compete with Parker, though additional veteran depth is warranted for injury protection. This unit must get deeper, but the starting unit could return to old form if the interior stays healthy and Miller especially develops into a solid player.