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Free agency or NFL Draft: Where will the Raiders make a splash?

Vincent Frank
Raiders helmet during NFL game against the Vikings
Sep 22, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; The Oakland Raiders helmet during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders are going to make a splash this NFL offseason. That’s not a narrative. It’s happening.

Head coach Jon Gruden and Co. will want to excite their new fan base in the desert metropolis after relocating from Oakland. It’s going to lead to some exciting times in Vegas.

It’s also likely going to lead to Derek Carr’s tenure with the Raiders concluding. That’s where we will start in focusing on what Las Vegas plans to do this spring.

The quarterback: By now it’s well known that Carr is not on firm footing with the Raiders. They will soon look to trade the Pro Bowl signal-caller.

  • Any focus on the Raiders’ off-season plans has to start with Mr. Carr. While it can’t be made official until mid-March, expect to hear reports of a Carr trade within the next couple weeks.
  • Already boasting an additional first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft from the Khalil Mack trade, we’re sure the Raiders would like to add an early Day 2 selection in any Carr trade.
  • A team like the Chicago Bears or Indianapolis Colts, both of whom have two second-round picks, could come calling.
  • Carr is averaging north of 3,900 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over the past five seasons. His $21.5 million cap hit for the 2020 season makes Carr an attractive option on the trade market.

A replacement: We’re already hearing reports of the Raiders kicking the tires on the biggest name on the free-agent market.

  • Las Vegas is reportedly interested in pursuing six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady should he decide to leave the Patriots in free agency.
  • Even if the Raiders are not able to land Brady, this seems to suggest that Jon Gruden and Co. are already delving into the free-agent market.
  • Other options include Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Former NFL MVP Cam Newton becomes a viable trade option, too. He’s said to be on the market.
  • What does all of this indicate? It’s rather simple. Expect the Raiders to trot out an established veteran under center rather than going with a rookie in their first season in Las Vegas.

Working the cap: Fresh off a surprising seven-win season, the Raiders are in a great cap situation. This should help the team go after big-name free agents.

  • Las Vegas is currently projected to have $54.69 million to spend under the cap. That does not include the $16.5 million it saves once the team moves on from Carr.
  • That’s a whole lot of cash to spend. It’s a good thing, given that the Raiders have holes throughout the roster. Both sides of the ball. That includes wide receiver, offensive line, pass rush, linebacker and cornerback.
  • There’s something else that must be mentioned. Las Vegas will be an attractive destination for free agents. The glitz and glam of the strip. A brand new stadium. It will be a draw.

Free-agent targets: As noted before, Las Vegas has a ton of cap room to exhaust on free agents. Outside of the quarterback position, there are major needs here.

Robby Anderson, wide receiver, New York Jets

Free agency is not expected to be bountiful at the wide receiver position. Las Vegas could chase after veteran A.J. Green, but that comes with a risk. Instead, the Raiders look at a 27-year-old receiver that has averaged 824 yards over the past three seasons.

Brandon Scherff, guard, Washington Redskins

Richie Incognito was more than fine next to fellow guard Gabe Jackson in 2019. At issue here is Incognito’s advanced age and the fact that Jackson has missed nine games to injury over the past two seasons. In targeting a 28-year-old three-time Pro Bowler, the Raiders would be finding a long-term solution. They have the cash to offer Scherff the $13-plus million he’ll demand annually in free agency.

Vic Beasley, EDGE, Atlanta Falcons

We were pleasantly surprised by the performances of rookies Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell this past season. The two combined for 22 quarterback hits and 14.5 sacks. However, Las Vegas needs to add a proven pass rusher. Coming off some struggles over the past three seasons, Atlanta is not bringing the 27-year-old Beasley back in free agency. He could be a nice buy-low option for the Raiders after racking up 37.5 sacks in his first five NFL seasons.

Artie Burns, Cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Noticing a theme here? Las Vegas should be targeting young free agents coming off their rookie deals. The idea is to plan for beyond the 2020 season. Too often, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have targeted over-the-hill veterans. That can’t be the case this spring. In targeting Burns, Las Vegas looks to add a still-young 24-year-old cornerback with a wealth of starting experience.

NFL Draft time: Las Vegas has two first-round picks and multiple third-round selections to improve this budding young roster. Here’s a look at what we’d do during the early stages of the draft in Vegas come April.

1- Isaiah Simmons, linebacker, Clemson

The Raiders are desperate for play-making linebackers. That’s exactly what Simmons is, too. He’s an athletic marvel who will only get better with time as he gets into an NFL training room and starts adding bulk to his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame.

The best aspect of his game is that he’s so athletic that he can play a hybrid safety spot in certain packages and is a coverage specialist. The Raiders would be giddy to land this guy and team him up with his college teammate, Clelin Ferrell, once again.

1- Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Oklahoma

We had Las Vegas going with a wide receiver here in a previous version. Instead, Jon Gruden and Co. go with that flashy pick as they transition to Vegas. Hurts impressed during the Senior Bowl and is quickly climbing the draft boards.

Getting a dual-threat quarterback like Hurts to replace the struggling Derek Carr makes all the sense in the world. Even if he’s not starting out of the gate, Hurts could quickly become the face of the Las Vegas Raiders.

3- Trade for Cam Newton

This is a follow up to our previous suggestion. Las Vegas bites the bullet and gives up a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and another selection in 2021 to bring in Newton as a stop-gap option. The team then starts Newton for a season or two while Jalen Hurts learns the nuances of the quarterback position. It’s the best of both worlds.

3- Gabriel Davis, wide receiver, Central Florida

Given the lackluster free-agent market at receiver, Las Vegas will likely have to get creative here. Sure, the team would like to pull off another blockbuster trade for someone like Odell Beckham Jr. That’s not happening.

Davis is a big-bodied receiver who had a ton of success in college. He’s seen as pro-ready, and could help Newton or whoever is under center out of the gate.

Bottom line

The Raiders have a unique ability to both build through the draft and add some long-term options in free agency this spring. Las Vegas is going to be an attractive destination. They have the cap room, too.

Trading for Newton would be that sexy move to excite the Nevada fan base. Bringing in Hurts as a long-term option would do that as well.

From there, Las Vegas finds long-term options at need positions in that of Brandon Scherff and Vic Beasley.

This would enable the Raiders to both contend in 2020 and keep their eye to the future. It just makes too much sense.