Unique free-agent signing approach just small part of Raiders' rebuild


Unique free-agent signing approach just small part of Raiders' rebuild

The Raiders had so many needs heading into this offseason that they couldn’t simply check boxes in order on a priority list.

General manager Mike Mayock wants his staff to be nimble, to read the room and react appropriately. See a talent you can’t pass up? Get him. See a perfect scheme fit? See a bargain? Get him. Even if it means some gaping holes remain.

That’s how the Raiders have navigated the initial waves of NFL free agency. They have added talent in its prime, with trades and contracts with eight-figure payouts that maybe aren’t as daunting as they first appeared.

They can get out from under deals with Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams after two years, one for Williams if they so choose. We’re still not sure about Antonio Brown’s contract restructure, the details of which haven’t been made public.

Contract specifics, however, are for another day and another story. This one’s about a Raiders team that got better over the last week, with a long way yet to go.

The Raiders have gaping holes left on their roster, especially at edge rusher. They have to figure out their running back situation, who will step in if tight end Jared Cook leaves, and who will be quarterback Derek Carr’s primary backup. A middle linebacker might be nice. So would some cornerback depth. And maybe another interior lineman with experience at center.

Avenues remain to improve the roster from here. Several of them, actually. The Raiders will continue fleshing out the roster with lower-tier free agents, before an NFL draft in which they have four picks in the top 35.

Starters must be found in that bunch for the Raiders to be competitive, and that’s a tough ask, even for talent rookies who will become quality pros in time.

"We need to hit on a high, high percentage,” Mayock said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Free agency, draft, college free agency, everywhere.”

These free agents should help the Raiders significantly, but the draft will decide how competitive they’ll be. It’s tough to imagine a worst-to-first scenario that’s become relatively common in this modern NFL. There was too far to go in one offseason.

Even notoriously impatient coach Jon Gruden understands Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Raiders have played it smart during early portions of free agency, but they still have a long ways to go in this roster rebuild.

[RELATED: Grading Raiders' free agency moves thus far]

“There’s a lot of urgency, since I’ve been here,” Gruden said. “We have obvious areas on this roster that we want to improve. … We have some resources in the draft to continue that process.

"As I’ve said all along, I don’t think you can rush this. You have to do what you think is right. Players don’t become available all the time. You can’t make all the necessary improvements [at once]. It takes a bit of time, but we’re confident we’re headed in the right direction.”

What Mike Mayock's past NFL draft rankings can tell us about Raiders


What Mike Mayock's past NFL draft rankings can tell us about Raiders

Before joining the Raiders as their general manager back in December, Mike Mayock made his NFL draft priorities clear as an analyst.

He ranked prospects for a decade at NFL Media, becoming a go-to-voice as all eyes in football fixed on the draft every spring. That history could provide some insight into Mayock's plans with the Raiders' top selection, as NFL Media's Ali Bhanpuri observed Friday.

In Mayock's last six rankings of the top 100 draft prospects, defensive ends ranked No. 3 overall on average. Defensive tackles, by contrast ranked No. 7 overall, but defensive linemen were "consistently" at the top of Mayock's big board in each of the last six draft classes he evaluated for NFL Media, according to Bhanpuri.

If there's any draft where that figures to still be the case, it's this one. Top-rated edge rushers Nick Bosa and Josh Allen each met with the Raiders, and so did defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. If the Arizona Cardinals take quarterback Kyler Murray -- which no longer seems like an inevitability -- then the Silver and Black should be able to select one of those three. That's especially true if the New York Jets are able to trade out of the No. 3 spot, which sources told SNY's Ralph Vacchiano is New York's ideal plan, and a team wanting to select a QB moves into New York's place. 

[RELATED: Five players Raiders could target on Day 2 of NFL draft]

As for the Raiders and their reported interest in Kyler Murray, Mayock's history indicates he really would have to be enamored with the signal-caller in order to trade up. In the last six years, Mayock's top five prospects twice included a QB: Marcus Mariota at No. 5 overall in 2015, and Carson Wentz at No. 1 on his big board in 2016. With that in mind, it's difficult to envision the Raiders giving up the draft capital necessary to select Murray if they truly see Derek Carr as their franchise quarterback.

There's much more smoke than fire at this time of year, making predicting what will happen in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday almost as fruitless as predicting at the end of "Avengers: Endgame" when it's released Friday. But Mayock has plenty of recent history to serve as predictive precedent, and the Raiders' first pick Thursday ultimately will show insightful it was.

NFL rumors: Jets 'determined' to trade down from No. 3 pick in draft

NFL rumors: Jets 'determined' to trade down from No. 3 pick in draft

The 2019 NFL Draft is just days away. Between now and Thursday, plenty of things can change, but there reportedly could be a shaker in the draft sitting between the 49ers and the Raiders.

Sources told SNY's Ralph Vacchiano that the Jets are "determined" to trade down from the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. 

"They seem to really, really want to move down," one NFL executive said to Vacchiano. "Maybe they're just keeping their options open, but it sure seems like that No. 3 pick is for sale."

This could affect the 49ers and Raiders in opposite ways.

The 49ers can use this information to their advantage. If they decide to move down and add more draft assets, their price for the No. 2 pick has increased. In the case that quarterback-needy teams want to move up, 49ers general manager John Lynch can pick up the phone and start demanding a megadeal for his top pick.

For the Raiders, however, this could be bad news. 

Raiders GM Mike Mayock has been very protective of his big board and how he sees this draft playing out. But now a team possibly could jump Oakland for the exact prospect the Silver and Black want. 

One recent mock draft even has the Raiders trading with the 49ers to get the No. 2 pick and draft ... quarterback Drew Lock. Hey, crazier things have happened.

[RELATED: Five players the Raiders could target at No. 35 on Day 2]

Perhaps more than any other team, however, the Raiders have the greatest package to offer, with three first-round picks to move up and select exactly who they want.

Phones will ring on draft day, and the order is sure to change in one way or another.