Raiders

Raiders will face Steelers team weakened by James Conner injury

Raiders will face Steelers team weakened by James Conner injury

The Raiders have a tall task ahead facing the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum. The AFC North contenders are reeling after two straight last minute losses, and will be looking to get right against the Silver and Black.

Making hay against the NFL’s worst run defense has been a common tact for Raiders opponents, but Pittsburgh will have a harder time doing that without James Conner.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin ruled Conner out of Sunday’s game at Oakland Coliseum with an ankle sprain. The injury was more significant than the team initially thought.

That’s a blow to a Steelers rushing attack that ranks No. 29 overall. Conner did the bulk of the damage, with 909 yards and 12 touchdowns in 201 attempts.

[RELATED: Where Raiders draft picks stand]

Rookie Jaylen Samuels could be up as the primary runner, considering he took over once Conner went down Sunday versus the Chargers. Stevan Ridley is also an option in the backfield.

The Steelers will still have an explosive offense with Ben Roethlisberger behind center and Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster running routes. The Raiders must score at a steady clip to stay competitive with Pittsburgh, no matter who featured running the football.

Brian Billick says Mike Mayock has to get used to Jon Gruden cussing him out

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Brian Billick says Mike Mayock has to get used to Jon Gruden cussing him out

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock has never worked in an NFL front office, but that's not the only thing he will have to get used to, at least according to an ex-NFL head coach.

"On a daily basis, he has to get used to the fact that Jon's gonna come into the office and motherf--k him," Brian Billick told Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier. 

But Billick, a current NFL Network analyst who was a colleague of Mayock's while he was the outlet's draft expert, thinks Mayock will be able to hold his own in his relationship with Gruden. The Super Bowl-winning coach called Mayock "as good of an evaluator of talent as I have been around." 

"He does the work, he grinds the tape, he goes to workouts," Billick told Tanier. "He knows what talent is."

Gruden and Mayock's dynamic is unique, to say the least. Not only is Mayock a first-time executive, but the head coach ultimately has final say over the Raiders' personnel decisions. 

On top of that, the Silver and Black enter a critical offseason. After trading away Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper last year, the Raiders are armed with three picks in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They also have more salary-cap space than all but six teams, according to Over The Cap.

Yet success can't be expected overnight, according to Billick. Mayock will have to develop as an executive and surround himself with the right staff, Billick said, and that takes time.

"Putting that infrastructure around him, he's not had to do that before," Billick said. "How's the scouting department going to work? Who will do what? What's the interaction going to be?"

[RELATED: Why Raiders could try to sign star RB Bell in free agency]

He will have to learn on the job, but time is a luxury that Raiders fans in the Bay Area don't necessarily have. The team is in conversations to spend one final season at the Oakland Coliseum in 2019, but the Raiders intend to complete their move to Las Vegas in time for the 2020 season.

Gruden spoke about wanting to give Oakland fans "two of the best years of football that I can possibly help deliver" when he took the job last January.

The first was a 4-12 season highlighted by the trades of two former first-round picks. If the Raiders are going to improve upon that in 2019, Mayock will have to learn a lot very quickly. 

NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing

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NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing

Finally, Le'Veon Bell will get his wish and become a free agent

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told local reporters the team will not place a franchise or transition tag on Bell this offseason. The two-time All-Pro running back sat out the entire 2018 season while in contract disputes with the team. 

"Le'Veon is still a great player," Colbert said. "We can't afford to use any other type of tags. Le'Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year."

Bell appeared to be pretty happy about the decision.

Bell declined to sign a franchise tender last year, turning down $14.5 million as he held out the entire season. 

Now that he will be a free agent, Bell certainly won't remain a Steeler. Could he join the Raiders, though? 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks he could be a good fit.

Bell certainly does fit all three phases for the Raiders -- need, money and big name. Let's start with need. 

The Raiders' top two running backs from last season -- Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch -- are both unrestricted free agents. Both are also over 30 years old, and have nowhere near Bell's talent. And the team's third-leading rusher, Jalen Richard, is a restricted free agent. 

When Bell, who just turned 27, last played in 2017, he rushed for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. The Raiders' trio previously mentioned combined for fewer than 100 more yards rushing in 2018. Plus, Bell is a threat as a receiver as well -- he has 2,660 career receiving yards, too. 

[RELATED: Le'Veon Bell to Raiders? Oddsmakers like Jon Gruden and Co.'s chances]

Secondly, the money. Bell wants to get paid, and the Raiders have the cash to do so. They will have roughly $81 million in salary cap space this offseason, with plenty of holes to fill on the roster. 

Lastly, the star power. The Raiders could certainly use and Bell certainly has it. Year 1 of Jon Gruden's return didn't go as planned.

To turn things around and kick off their move to Vegas in 2020, Bell could be the perfect player as the new face of their franchise.