The Las Vegas Raiders checked off another box on their offseason agenda, signing quarterback Derek Carr to a three-year, $121.5 million extension. Most fans saw this coming a month ago when head coach Josh McDaniels said the 31-year-old signal-caller would remain the starter for the 2022 season.
General manager Dave Ziegler has filled multiple roster needs through free agency, but he’ll likely hold off additional veteran signings until after the 2022 draft. In May, teams will cut players while making room for the incoming rookie class.
Remember, Vegas will get about $19.8 million in cap space for the release of linebacker Cory Littleton and edge-rusher Carl Nassib, whom the team designated as post-June 1 cuts. Ziegler can use those resources to add veteran insurance for the shallow positions on the depth chart.
Even though the Raiders traded their first- and second-round picks to the Green Bay Packers in the Davante Adams deal, they can find quality prospects in the middle rounds of the draft who can compete for starting spots in training camp.
Beyond the acquisitions, we could see big-money extensions for key playmakers on offense. Let’s go through the team’s top priorities within two weeks of the draft.
Strengthening the offensive line
The Raiders have shown a strong commitment to Carr this offseason. They acquired Adams (his Fresno State teammate) in a blockbuster deal and extended his contract with a no-trade clause. Now, the front office must bolster his pass protection.
In 2021, Carr took 40 sacks, tied for the fifth-most leaguewide—the second-most in a single season for his career.
- Las Vegas Raiders offensive line stats (PFF): 222 pressures allowed (third-most in NFL), 43 QB hits allowed (fourth-most in NFL)
While Ziegler has made some splashy offseason moves that established some trust in his roster-building plan, he has to add a couple of offensive linemen through the draft or late in free agency.
If Vegas fields the same five-man group that started Week 1 of the 2021 season, the coaching staff should have a contingency plan in case Alex Leatherwood and Denzelle Good, who’s coming off a torn ACL, struggle on the right side.
The Raiders should pounce on Minnesota tackle Daniel Faalele or Kentucky tackle Darian Kinnard if they slip into the third round. Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere and Washington State’s Abraham Lucas may be more realistic targets with the No. 86 overall pick though. At guard, Oklahoma’s Marquis Hayes could push John Simpson on the left side of the line. Keep an eye on Daryl Williams on the free-agent market. He has experience at right guard and tackle.
Related: Las Vegas Raiders 2022 mock draft
Adding depth along the defensive line and at safety
The Raiders added veterans to the defensive line and safety groups, but both units lack upside.
At 25 years old, Bilal Nichols could play his best years in Vegas, but the team should pick up another three-down lineman from the draft. Vernon Butler will turn 28 years old in June, and Jonathan Hankins will go into his age-30 term. Andrew Billings has played 72 defensive snaps over the past two years. Don’t count on him as a roster lock.
The defensive front needs some youth. Phidarian Mathis, who had a nine-sack 2021 campaign at Alabama, should rank high on the team’s big board. Matthew Butler has experience in various alignments through five terms at Tennessee. He can provide pressure on passing downs and became a team captain last year.
Related: Derek Carr contract subdues trade now, allows Las Vegas Raiders flexibility
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham could find his hybrid slot-cornerback in the middle rounds of the draft. The Raiders may decline safety Johnathan Abram’s fifth-year option, which would create an opening in the secondary for the 2023 season.
Tyrann Mathieu may cost a little too much for the Raiders if they prioritize a bigger need at tackle or guard.
Maryland’s Nick Cross has impressive ball skills with 12 pass breakups and six interceptions through three collegiate terms. Bryan Cook has experience at cornerback while playing at Howard and switched to safety once he transferred to Cincinnati. He tracked the ball well at both positions, logging 28 pass breakups and seven interceptions as a collegian.
Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller Extensions?
Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller could be next in line to sign extensions. The former is going into a contract year with a $2.6 million cap hit while the latter’s deal ranks 17th among tight ends in average annual value (AAV), per Spotrac. They’re both grossly underpaid.
Between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Waller led the pass-catching group in receptions and receiving yards and holds the single-season franchise record in catches (107). With that said, he has two years left on his contract. Unless his new representation, Klutch Sports Group, pushes the issue, Ziegler shouldn’t be in a rush to open contract talks as the tight end goes into his age-30 term following an injury-riddled campaign.
With that said, Waller is one of the league’s top pass-catching tight ends. He’s a special talent and a matchup nightmare in the middle of the field. The Raiders would probably give him a sizeable pay raise if they meet with his camp at the negotiating table.
Last season, Renfrow emerged as Carr’s most reliable receiving option, hauling in 103 passes for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns. He’ll continue to shine in head coach Josh McDaniels’ offense.
With Adams drawing double-teams and Waller in the seams, Renfrow will win some one-on-one matchups with his world-class route running. Expect the Pro Bowl wideout to sign an extension before the 2022 season starts or early in the campaign.
College statistics are provided by cfbstats.com or the school’s official website.
Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.