The Raiders fans are still engaged heading down this season’s home stretch. That was clear by the question volume delivered in this mailbag.
The content, however, makes something else crystal clear. You guys can’t wait for this season to end. Makes sense considering this 2-9 season has fallen an abyss below expectation.
There’s still plenty to discuss as Jon Gruden tries to build this team back up after tearing it down to the studs. That process isn’t done yet, with a high turnover rate expected in this offseason.
Let’s open the mailbag with that very topic, which involves one major, unique obstacle.
Question: What do you think of Gruden’s plan of building for the future at the expense of this season? – Steve Guzman on Facebook
Answer: Jon Gruden entered his second stint as Raiders head coach with a distinct disadvantage. He couldn’t get hands on his players until after he made key personnel changes in free agency. Maybe he wouldn’t have gone quite so old in free agency had he believed it necessary to blow the whole thing up.
It’s uncertain exactly when that moment decision was made, but the Khalil Mack trade established a clear direction. The Raiders were starting over. He also traded Amari Cooper, and has since shipped out several veterans important to this team. Draft picks and salary-cap flexibility are at a premium as Gruden molds this roster.
I feel like Mack trade could’ve been part of the rebuild – please, please, please think of big-money NFL contracts in terms yearly percentage of an ever-increasing salary cap, not by dollars – but Gruden got sticker shock and exercised some impatience.
The Cooper deal made tons of sense, as did cutting veterans not part of current or future plans.
Long-term job security allows Gruden to perform this action, which should take a few years to complete if all goes right. He is thinking big picture, how best to set up this 10-year run with the Silver and Black. Can't and won't fault him for that.
There is one complication: Oakland Raiders fans won’t reap any of the benefits. They’re paying to watch terrible football this season and have low hopes for the next. That’s too bad considering this market got its team ripped away for a second time and spent most of their recent stint here playing terrible football.
I’m not saying Gruden’s decisions are wrong – though I, like many of you, didn’t like the Mack deal – but they are ill-timed for locals considering the team has a shiny new Las Vegas stadium getting ready for 2020 and prospects of the Raiders being good again.
Q: Where will the Raiders be playing in 2019? – Jovonn Watkins on Facebook
A: That isn’t set yet, though it certainly should be. I still believe the Raiders will play the 2019 season in Oakland after this standoff between city and team over a threatened lawsuit comes to rest.
The Oakland Coliseum gets another year of rent, probably at a premium. The Raiders have a place to play given Las Vegas isn’t a viable option in 2019, owner Mark Davis hates Levi’s Stadium and San Diego’s a regional being heavily marketed by the L.A. Rams and since-departed Chargers. Cal and Stanford aren’t realistic options either, to my knowledge, and it seems the NFL might prefer Levi’s Stadium for 2019 if things get ugly in Oakland.
My hunch, at this stage, is that the Raiders stay put next season.
Q: Are these two signing announcements (from Tuesday) supposed to be real long term solutions... and by long term I mean 2019 opening day roster guys? – Phil Carson, on Twitter
A: They’re going to give tight end Darren Waller a trial run, to see how he fits into the Raiders system and how he responds after missing so much time suspended for substance abuse violations.
The Raiders are also taking a flier on Green, who has plenty of talent and is just 26 but hasn’t performed well in the league. There’s no guarantee with either guy, but the Raiders are in a position to test some players before the season runs out.
Q: Quarterback Derek Carr deserves 1-2 more years before we look elsewhere. What do you think? – Elgin Smith on Facebook
A: I agree. It’s tough to evaluate Carr when his supporting cast has underwhelmed. Skill players outside tight end Jared Cook and rushers Jalen Richard and Doug Martin have either been banged up or ineffective or both. They’re also working in two rookie tackles.
That’s not an ideal work environment, especially with Carr’s getting hit more than ever. The veteran quarterback can make every throw and can match Gruden’s work ethic. I believe Carr will get more time with Gruden, and that he deserves it.
Q: Do you know of any mutual interest to resign Cook to a new contract? Same for Jalen Richard and Daryl Worley rather than use their RFA rights? – Paul Durant on Facebook
A: Cook’s on pace for career highs in most statistical categories, and might be up for a raise here or somewhere else. It’ll depend on dollars and desire to stay for a 31-year old who can probably see more rebuilding in the immediate future.
Gruden likes Cook, and has made his feelings about Richard and Worley known. I bet both of those guys are back, unless the bidding gets nuts and the Raiders don’t want to match.
Q: In your opinion should we make a change from Tom Cable? -- Mike Shea on Facebook
A: Tom Cable’s future was a popular topic today, and this was the most polite question of the bunch. Honestly, that’s uncertain. I wouldn’t expect much turnover on the coaching staff, though Gruden’s tough to gauge on this stuff.
Please don’t forget that Cable had a hand in drafting Kolton Miller, and is working with rookie tackles on both sides. Those guys will be given time to develop.
Q: Will we be making splashes in free agency? Manuel Contreras on Facebook
A: The Raiders should have roughly $73 million in salary cap space after allocating money to their draft pool, and can easily create more by cutting veterans without penalty.
So, you know, they certainly can. Le’Veon Bell, anyone?? The Raiders will have options this season, just as Gruden wanted.
Q: Do we sign a FA right tackle? Or maybe we can get one with our early picks? – Ricky Kajtani on Facebook
A: Players generally make a huge jump between their rookie season and the second year. They get a full offseason program to build strength Brandon Parker desperately needs. They knew a kid from North Carolina A&T was going to be a project, and Donald Penn’s injury thrust him into the breach earlier than preferred.
There’s no harm in having veteran competition, but nobody’s giving up on Parker this fast.
Q: Is Reggie McKenzie gone after this season? If so will they hire another GM or turn it over to Jon Gruden? – Thomas Davis on Facebook
A: Gruden is running the show, despite what he and McKenzie say about working in tandem on personnel. There’s a hierarchy, and Gruden's on top.
I think it’s possible McKenzie’s out the door this winter or after the draft – don’t forget his personnel folks have done lots of scouting already – but that isn’t certain. Both guys are saying all the right things about their working relationship, and will continue to do so. This first year sure seemed like a trial balloon. We’ll see if the pairing ultimately works out. I'm not sure it will.
If McKenzie does leave, yes, I would anticipate Gruden bringing in another personnel executive.
Q: Will the Raiders actually take a stud MLB before the 4th round? Like, first round should be a priority. CB, EDGE. Thoughts? – Jon Dixson on Facebook
A: The Raiders need most everything, but an edge rusher and a receiver or two seem like high priorities. So does the safety spot. And yes, the middle linebacker position has been tough to fill under McKenzie. They’ll give Jason Cabinda an opportunity to prove himself and compete with some new folks next year.
Q: Will the raiders have trouble attracting free agents like they did a few years back? – Jose Benitez on Facebook
A: If you’re a veteran forced to sign a one-year prove-it deal, the Raiders might not be the spot for you considering the rebuild will still be on.
There are some attractions, however: The Raiders have tons of money to spend. They’re headed to Las Vegas, where there is no state income tax. Oh, and I’ve heard the nightlife is pretty good. While Gruden has taken some heat this season, he’s still charismatic and heck and knows how to close a deal.
Q: With the Bears and Cowboys picks looking to be low first round picks, do you think they trade up in the draft to get a possible 2 top 5 or top 10 players? – Jose Benitez on Facebook
A: Anything’s possible, Jose. The draft is unpredictable, though the Raiders certainly need as many premium talents as they can get.