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5 key decisions for the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason

Scott Gulbransen

The tumultuous Las Vegas Raiders season came to a fitting end on Saturday when Derek Carr‘s final pass on fourth-and-goal fell short of the goal line and was intercepted by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt bringing the topsy-turvey 2021 campaign to an end.

During the season, the Raiders battled through many challenges. This year we witnessed the Raiders fire their head coach Jon Gruden after offensive emails were leaked to the media as part of the Washington Football Team investigation, their top draft pick of 2020, Henry Ruggs III, killed a woman in an alleged drunk driving accident, and the team’s front office shed multiple leaders, including team president Marc Badain, under a cloud of suspected fiscal malfeasance.

To say it was challenging would be the understatement of the year.

Despite that, the improbable four-week run by Carr and his Raiders helped bring a ray of sunshine to a franchise that has been in rebuilding mode since 2018. The 10-win season was just their third double-digit win total since 2002, the last time the Raiders reached the Super Bowl. There were great signs of progress and troubling signs in other areas, including the team’s faltering offense. That makes for another offseason of drastic change, including a very aggressive look for a new head coach.

Outside of the search for the team’s new on-the-field leader and coach, here are five critical decisions the Las Vegas Raiders must make this offseason.

Will GM Mike Mayock stay or go?

Mike Mayock Las Vegas Raiders
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the first decision owner Mark Davis must make for his Raiders — even before choosing a new head coach — is what to do about current general manager Mike Mayock. Mayock is on shaky ground despite indications he had very little control over the team’s draft and personnel moves before the dismissal of Gruden. Mayock, known for his evaluation skills as a media member before joining Gruden in Las Vegas, will undoubtedly bear the brunt of the blame for success iffy drafts and failure to execute on critical high picks.

How much influence did he have in selecting busts like Damon Arnette, Tanner Muse, Lynn Bowden, Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram and Alex Leatherwood? Perhaps Davis will have more insight. Mayock’s moves after Gruden’s dismissal undoubtedly helped the team make the playoffs, but his future is unclear.

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What’s Derek Carr’s future with the Las Vegas Raiders?

las vegas raiders
Credit: Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

We wouldn’t make too much of Saturday’s report from NFL insider Ian Rapoport questioning the future of Derek Carr in the Silver and Black. While it’s true Carr is coming to the end of his five-year $125 million contract, all signs point to his return to Las Vegas and, most likely, a contract extension.

“Las Vegas and Carr have a mutual decision to make this offseason, and sources say the choice of the head coach will be a factor,” Rapoport wrote this week.

Ian Rapoport speaking on the Las Vegas Raiders’ future

The keyword — which sometimes goes unnoticed — was “mutual.” Carr has repeatedly said he’d rather quit football than play for another team and the owner’s choice of a new head coach may factor into his decision on whether to sign an extension or play out his current deal. Carr is due an economical $19 million next season, none guaranteed.

The Raiders job is quite appealing because, of the eight current openings in the NFL, theirs is the only one without an absolute quarterback disaster. Anything can happen, but look for Carr to sign a short-term extension and finish out his career on the Las Vegas Strip. Like Carr or not, he’s a solid Top 15 signal-caller and that’s one problem a head coaching candidate wouldn’t have to worry about in the short term.

Is Darren Waller due a reworked contract despite injury troubles in ’21?

Darren Waller Las Vegas Raiders
Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no questioning the talent and impact Darren Waller has on the Las Vegas offense. He’s without a doubt the team’s best offensive weapon and his feel-good story on overcoming addiction and his relentless work in the local Las Vegas community is well documented. Despite all that, the Raiders have to make a decision on Waller and his contract.

Yes, the team extended Waller in 2019 with a four-year, $29.8 million extension but is that enough for a top-three NFL tight end? While it may seem there isn’t any urgency there, Waller is playing without a guaranteed salary moving into 2022. His base salary is $6.25 million, but the lack of the guaranteed money means he may want to talk to Raiders brass about a new deal.

What compounds the issue is Waller had injury issues in 2021, missing five weeks before returning for the final two games, including the playoff loss in Cincinnati. If Davis feels the injury isn’t a concern, Waller may be one of the first in line to want a new deal. It will be a no-brainer if the team feels his health is good and the new regime is committed to the talented Waller.

Does Las Vegas trigger 5th-year option on Josh Jacobs?

Josh Jacobs Las Vegas Raiders
Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the Waller situation, when it comes to RB1 Josh Jacobs, the Raiders will have a very tough choice when exercising the former Alabama product’s fifth-year option. While Jacobs looked like the running back who made the Pro Bowl after his rookie campaign over the season’s final four weeks, he’s been unreliable due to injury throughout his three seasons and it may cost him a new deal heading into 2022.

Are they willing to exercise the option or give him a new contract based on a solid finish to what was, overall, a disappointing year? With so many contracts (Carr, Waller, Maxx Crosby, Yannick Ngakoue, et al.) to figure out, Jacobs could be the most expendable. While there’s no question he did factor massively in the team’s late-season push, his unavailability, coupled with the undeniable stats that show the effectiveness of running backs waning after year three, Jacobs will be lucky to get the option.

Is Johnathan Abram’s Las Vegas Raiders career over?

Johnathan Abram Las Vegas Raiders
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the easiest decision for the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason may be around safety Johnathan Abram. Abram struggled during his first two seasons (14 appearances due to just one game played because of injury in 2019) and showed improvement under Gus Bradley in 2021.

Yet he’s not been in the impact player both Gruden and Mayock claimed he would be. He struggles mightily in coverage and often gets lost in defensive packages. While the improvement is admirable, the Raiders should, and probably, will move on from Abram.

As a pre-June 1st cut, the Raiders would save just $750,000 in cap space and Abram is guaranteed $1.3 million and would count for almost $3 million in dead cap money, per OverTheCap. Las Vegas could save $1.5 million on their cap number if they could find a trade partner for Abram.