This week, NFL teams traveled to Palm Beach, Florida for the annual owner’s meetings. Las Vegas Raiders General manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels provided some insight into the team’s free-agency strategy and discussed some hot-topic issues they face this offseason.
Overall, Ziegler and McDaniels seem transparent about most matters without tipping their hands about the club’s plans.
They both commented on the contract negotiations with quarterback Derek Carr without going into specifics and dropped some interesting nuggets about the offensive line and cornerback groups. McDaniels also put a wet blanket on unfounded rumors that connected the Raiders to a top free agent.
Let’s catch up with the latest buzz surrounding the Raiders, starting with the most important subject at hand.
Raiders, Derek Carr’s agent work on finding “sweet spot” in negotiations
You’re going to hear the words “sweet spot” ad nauseam as it pertains to Derek Carr’s contract through the spring. Head coach Josh McDaniels used the phrase when asked about ongoing negotiations.
Tim Younger, Carr’s agent, provided some insight from his perspective. “Clubs always do ‘what is best for the team in every situation. Players (even QBs) don’t expect teams to do ‘what is best for the player,’ he wrote on Twitter. “Successful negotiations always end in a ‘sweet spot.’ That said, our practice is not to comment publicly regarding ongoing negotiations.”
Here’s the million-dollar question. Where’s the “sweet spot” in the dollar amount for Carr’s new contract?
Based on the quarterback market and where Carr stacks up with his peers, he’ll slot between Kirk Cousins ($35 million per year) and Matthew Stafford ($40 million per year), who just won a Super Bowl, on the average annual value scale. Their deals are tied for seventh and fifth, respectively, in AAV.
Though we often focus on the contract value (years and total money) in headlines, the guaranteed money takes precedent because a majority of players don’t play out the full length of their initial deals. Every year, teams cut, trade, and restructure contracts on the books.
Carr can command between $115 and $127 million in guaranteed money, depending on how much he wants to leave on the table, with a long extension. He would move in the neighborhood of Dak Prescott ($126 million) and right behind Stafford ($130 million), who just signed a new four-year, $160 million deal.
- Derek carr stats (2021): 4,804 passing yards, 23 TDs, 14 INTs
While those numbers look astronomical on paper, that’s Carr’s worth on the market. Expect him to sign a deal that reflects his value.
Dave Ziegler isn’t an impulsive deal-maker
As Raiders fans twiddled their thumbs anticipating action during the legal tampering period, general manager Dave Ziegler heard the criticism about his strategy.
Ziegler’s friends made sure he knew how Raiders fans felt about the team’s inactivity with their clown memes and comments about him sleeping at the wheel:
Ziegler talked about patience and discipline—a couple of traits that will define the current administration. After the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers acquired quarterback Russell Wilson and edge-rusher Khalil Mack via trades, respectively, he didn’t flinch and stuck to his strategic plan for free agency.
The Raiders don’t need a general manager who just simply reacts to what every other team in or outside of the division does during the offseason. While Ziegler is certainly aware of his competition, he has a calm confidence about him that’s a much-needed quality in a high-pressure position of a bottom-line business.
After teams made deals with several players through the legal tampering period, Vegas still managed to sign All-Pro edge-rusher Chandler Jones, which allowed them to part ways with Yannick Ngakoue in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts and acquire cornerback Rock Ya-Sin in the same deal. On the following day, Vegas acquired wideout Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers.
Within about 30 hours, Ziegler closed deals for a couple of two-time All-Pros—one on each side of the ball. He’s definitely not asleep at the wheel. In fact, the Raiders sent a clear message with a methodical yet aggressive approach that raises expectations for the club.
Alex Leatherwood will get another shot to start at right tackle
Though fans have detected Robert Gallery vibes from Alex Leatherwood, the 2021 first-rounder may have a chance to reclaim a starting spot at right tackle this offseason.
“I have had great conversations with Alex so far,” McDaniels said. “We’re going to try and give him an opportunity to earn a role that is his best fit. Look, we know what he was drafted for and we’re going to give him an opportunity to do such, but ultimately, we’re going to put the best five guys out there.”
McDaniels didn’t say Leatherwood will get the first crack at right tackle or that he would even start Week 1 of the 2022 season. Nevertheless, the previous regime selected him to play at right tackle, and the new coaching staff seems prepared to allow the 6-foot-5, 312-pounder another chance to fulfill that role.
If Leatherwood isn’t a fit at right tackle, keep an eye on Jermaine Eluemunor, who took 418 snaps at left and right tackle during the 2020 campaign with the New England Patriots, per Pro Football Focus, and started in eight games. The Raiders may have an alternative option in mind though.
Brandon Parker will be a part of right tackle competition
Vegas re-signed Brandon Parker, who will have a chance to play a significant role. Despite a subpar 2021 season, committing nine penalties and allowing eight sacks through 878 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus, Ziegler isn’t ready to give up on him.
“He has very good size, very good length, which are two important attributes at the offensive tackle position,” Ziegler said. “He’s an athletic guy for his size, and he is not a finished product. Brandon can continue to get better. He can learn from playing a lot of snaps last year. All these things were exciting…Those are all good traits to have in a guy that’s going to be playing … you know, have an opportunity to compete for a job at tackle position for us.”
Vegas selected Parker in the third round of the 2018 draft, and though he’s had short stretches of solid play, he’s struggled through most of his four years with the team. With that said, the North Carolina A&T product has only played under one coaching staff. Perhaps McDaniels and offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo tap into something that Jon Gruden and Tom Cable couldn’t over the past four terms.
Cornerback spots are wide-open after toned down the Stephon Gilmore buzz
Anyone can use social media to pump erroneous reports and rumors. On the Twitter streets, Gilmore to Vegas picked up a lot of steam. As of right now, McDaniels said, “there’s been nothing substantial in that regard” (h/t The Athletic’s Vic Tafur).
Still, the Raiders’ cornerback personnel could undergo multiple changes.
Assuming Trayvon Mullen holds on to one of the boundary spots, Ya-Sin, Anthony Averett and Nate Hobbs may all compete for the position on the opposite side of the field.
Averett recorded 11 pass breakups and three interceptions while allowing a 55.4 percent completion rate in coverage with the Baltimore Ravens in 2021. He’s primarily lined up on the outside throughout his pro career.
According to McDaniels (h/t ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez), Hobbs will have a chance “to compete at all those [cornerback] spots.” Though the 2021 fifth-rounder played in the slot last season, he lined up on the perimeter on the collegiate level at Illinois and may be better suited to shift back outside in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme, which often features a hybrid cornerback-safety in the slot.
Reputable reporters haven’t linked safety Tyrann Mathieu to the Raiders, but he would be a great fit for the safety-slot position (if Hobbs moves outside) because of his versatility and tendency to force turnovers. Just a thought.
As a second-round pick out of Temple, Ya-Sin had an inconsistent three-year run in Indianapolis, but Ziegler sees a “young and ascending player” (h/t Tafur).
Ya-Sin only started for one year at Temple, so no one should be surprised by some of his early bumps in the NFL road. He’s still in the early stages of development.
In 2021, Ya-Sin allowed a 53.3 percent completion rate and three touchdowns on 45 targets. He plays his best in man coverage with the ability to press and use his physicality, which likely put him on Graham’s radar.
Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.