Raiders head coach Jon Gruden knows he has more players he’d like to keep than roster spots available. Quarterback Derek Carr understands that, too, and empathizes with the tough calls ahead for the team’s chief decision-maker.
That was clear during their exchange aired on Tuesday night’s “Hard Knocks” episode, where Gruden lamented roster cuts that are right around the corner.
Gruden: "We have a lot of good guys on the roster, and we can’t keep all of them."
Carr: "A lot of good players won’t make the team."
Gruden: "A lot of good guys, too."
Carr: "Yeah. It’s going to be tough."
Tough, and not so cut and dry. Going from a 90-man roster to 53 by Saturday afternoon’s deadline won’t just be about deciding position battles.
Roster math usually isn't that simple.
Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have to look at the collection in totality, and make some brutal choices involving players they truly like.
“It’ll be a challenge for us,” Gruden said. “Mayock is going to have to have his boxing gloves on. We’re going to have some fights about this roster.”
They must weigh positions of strength and weakness, and look at each player's versatility and how many areas of need they can contribute to.
As an example, Gruden has said he often keeps three quarterbacks, which would create a spot for Nathan Peterman. Keeping him would cost another position a player, maybe a defensive lineman, for example. Injuries also play a factor here, as the Raiders decided what must be done to account for carrying an unavailable player.
If they carry right guard Gabe Jackson over placing him on injured reserve, will another offensive lineman be required to account for his absence?
Also, are there possible trades or late-preseason upgrades available? The Raiders are looking into all of that. Thursday’s exhibition finale against the Seattle Seahawks won’t play a huge role in that, not after an offseason, training camp and three preseason games to evaluate talent.
Uncertainties remain, however, about how this 53-man roster will shape up.
“I think the big part of that is the injury status of our team, and who becomes available,” Gruden said. “We’ve been talking to a lot of teams, a lot of teams have been talking to us about roster changes, etc., so there’s a lot that goes into that right now.”
Tough questions will be answered in the remaining week as Gruden and Mayock choose the best possible 53-man roster from their available talent pool. Most players know whether they’ll be Raiders next week or not. There are others, true bubble players, who won’t know until the pink slips are passed out. Here are some who might be stressing out the week:
QB Nathan Peterman: Jon Gruden really likes the 25-year old, as we saw Tuesday night on “Hard Knocks.” Can the Raiders afford to keep a third quarterback?
FB Alec Ingold: It’s either the undrafted rookie or veteran Keith Smith at fullback. Ingold put his best foot forward. Will it be enough to unseat the incumbent?
WR Ryan Grant: He lost the battle to be the primary slot receiver. He still could win a roster spot.
WR J.J. Nelson: He was sprinting toward securing a roster spot in camp, but then he sprained an ankle versus Arizona. Now his fate’s up in the air.
OT David Sharpe: It looks like Brandon Parker will be the swing tackle, though that’s not totally set. He could be kept as a fourth tackle, or that spot could go to another position group.
DL Ethan Westbrooks: He seemed like a sure bet a few weeks back. Corey Liuget’s signing puts that in real jeopardy.
DT Anthony Rush: The undrafted rookie has had an excellent preseason. He probably deserves a gig, but it’s uncertain how many defensive tackles the Raiders keep, and how Justin Ellis is feeling. It’s hard to see the Raiders keeping the veteran and the rookie.
DT P.J. Hall: I’m putting last year’s second-round draft pick here, even though others disagree. Hall hasn’t wowed, though there’s untapped potential remaining. It might be too soon to give up on him, but he has to find a contributing role up front. And, it’s the same argument the Raiders can have with Rush or Westbrooks or Ellis: How many defensive tackles are the Raiders going to keep? Four? Five? The Raiders need help on the offensive line, and third quarterback is a luxury spot. It’ll be tough to choose, especially when some of their edge guys can slide inside.
LB Jason Cabinda: He might be the odd man out at linebacker, with special teams captain Kyle Wilber expected to have a spot set up, Marquel Lee able to back up two spots and Brandon Marshall having experience in the middle.
CB Keisean Nixon: It seems like he’s going to make the roster, as a fourth outside cornerback.
S Curtis Riley: Riley has been solid, maybe better than Erik Harris at times. This is a spot impacted by how many are taken at other positions. Riley has played well, but can the Raiders afford four safeties with slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner able to play the position so well?