Typically, you’re not going to get much out of head coaches and general managers at the podium, especially two guys who came from the New England Patriots organization that gives the media nothing in terms of headlines. Well, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels has mastered the art of saying a lot about nothing, but he made some points that deserve some attention.
On Tuesday in Indianapolis, McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler spoke to the media ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine activities. So, we’ll play a game of something or nothing, taking quotes from both men and dissecting what they said to figure out if it’s worth taking into account before free agency and the draft.
Remember, none of these comments reveal the Raiders’ offseason plans. Team strategies often change multiple times between March and April, but McDaniels and Ziegler provided enough to start a discussion about the most important matters around the team.
Josh McDaniels speaks on Darren Waller’s future
“I know Darren fought through a lot of injuries and those types of things last year. But I have a great deal of confidence in Darren Waller. I felt like he ended the season the right way, really playing well. Still, you know, fast, explosive, great teammate, very smart. And he’ll be a big part of what we’re going to do going forward.”
Something or nothing? Something
Amid all of McDaniels’ vague responses, he seemed most definitive about Waller’s future, which should catch your attention.
Last offseason, the new regime signed Waller to a three-year, $51 million extension, but he missed eight out of 17 games because of a nagging hamstring injury. Over the past two seasons, he’s sat out 14 contests. Yet despite Waller’s spotty availability and age (turning 31 years old in September), McDaniels sounds committed to keeping the pass-catching tight end around for the long haul.
So, if the Raiders inquire about quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers may not be able to pry Waller away from Vegas in a blockbuster deal.
Of course, we’ve heard general managers say they’re not interested in trading a player only to deal him months later (Odell Beckham Jr. comes to mind), but McDaniels didn’t have to make such a strong statement about Waller at that moment.
Keep in mind that McDaniels and Ziegler value the tight end position. In New England, Rob Gronkowski had a major role in the passing attack for nearly a decade. In his last year with the Patriots, Ziegler had some influence on the team’s spending spree, which included deals for tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith that totaled a combined $87.5 million.
Barring an offer the Raiders cannot refuse, Waller looks like a roster cornerstone.
Josh McDaniels’ perspective on quarterback height
“I’m not sure anybody’s done it better than Bryce (Young) here for a while, you know, in college football. So height is not a prerequisite. And I think you see that now with — I mean, look, Russell’s had a great career. Kyle Murray has been really good for his short time in the league. There’s other really good players, you know, in the league that lack the ideal 6’4 height that we used to have.”Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh McDaniels at NFL Scouting Combine
Something or nothing? Nothing.
McDaniels praised quarterback Bryce Young, who’s listed at 6-foot and 194 pounds on Alabama’s official website. The Raiders’ head coach seemed to dismiss size concerns, but perhaps unintentionally, he didn’t quite cover all his bases when it comes to a quarterback’s stature.
While McDaniels may not have an issue with Young’s height, a lot of talk has focused on the signal-caller’s weight. The Raiders’ head coach mentioned Wilson and Murray, who are under 6-foot, but both quarterbacks weighed more than 200 pounds coming into the league.
So, Young’s issue isn’t just height. He has a slender build, which raises concerns about his durability on the pro level. In his final collegiate campaign, he dealt with a shoulder injury.
As for Murray, he’s been banged up at the end of the previous two seasons. Back in December, he tore his ACL.
Quarterbacks who can move well outside the pocket can get around height issues such as seeing over massive offensive linemen, but how well do their bodies absorb hits from 250-300-pound grown men for 17 games? McDaniels didn’t go in-depth on that specifically.
Related: 7-round Las Vegas Raiders mock draft
Dave Ziegler’s relationship with Davante Adams
“Every relationship is kind of unique. I would say for myself – I won’t speak for Josh [McDaniels] – but for myself, Davante [Adams], me and him probably have one of the closest relationships that I’ve had with a player as an active player that’s still playing in the NFL…Davante, we’ve talked about it before, he’s earned the right to be kept in that loop. Josh and I feel that way, by what he’s accomplished and who he is as a player and who he is as a leader on that team. So, he’ll be involved in those conversations.”Dave Ziegler at the NFL Scouting Combine
Something or nothing? Something.
At the end of the 2022 season, Davante Adams made a public commitment to the Raiders, but some fans still believe the team has to bring in a quarterback that the wideout approves of, or else he’ll demand a trade.
Based on Ziegler’s comments, the team isn’t going to blind side Adams with its quarterback decision. Though Adams alluded to this at the end of last year, he has Ziegler’s ear as the team contemplates its quarterback options.
Ziegler’s open line of communication with Adams should only strengthen his trust in the team’s quarterback strategy even though the regime just released his good friend Derek Carr.
Anyone who thought that Adams would go into the offseason with a palpable level of distrust in the front office should put that idea to bed.
Josh McDaniels provides an “update” on Josh Jacobs
Something or nothing? Nothing.
While McDaniels’ non-update on Josh Jacobs sounds promising, he said, “we’ll see how that all plays out” in regard to contract negotiations with the 2022 rushing champion.
We shouldn’t be surprised if the Raiders franchise-tag Jacobs, which allows more time to work out a long-term deal with him. Every year, teams have until July 15 to work out extensions with franchise-tagged players.
Ziegler may want to get through free agency before he hammers out a new deal with Jacobs because, in addition to the quarterback position, the team must fill several holes on the defensive side of the ball.
Ziegler can reassess the Raiders’ financial situation after the first week or so of free agency and pick up talks with Jacobs if he’s tagged with the franchise tender.
Back in January, McDaniels said the team had discussions with Jacobs about keeping him in Vegas. So, what he said on Tuesday isn’t a major development worthy of a flashy headline.
Josh McDaniels highlights defensive needs
“I mean, you either got to touch the quarterback or touch the ball. And so, we’re looking for guys that can do those things.”
Something or nothing? Something.
On the surface, McDaniels’ thoughts on the team’s defensive needs seems like a nothing-burger, but the Raiders had the third-fewest sacks (27) and tied the New York Giants for the fewest interceptions (six) last season.
Anyone who wants to fix a problem must first identify the specific issue, and McDaniels nailed it for the defense.
The Raiders have finished last in interceptions for the past two seasons and ranked 21st or worse in the takeaway-to-giveaway ratio for the previous six campaigns. Other than Yannick Ngakoue in 2021, Maxx Crosby hasn’t lined up across from a consistent pass-rusher.
If the Raiders want to buck their trend of fielding subpar defensive units, they need to acquire young pass-rushers to help out on the edge and on the interior and defensive backs who force turnovers.
In the NFL, a consistent pass rush can help a struggling secondary, and a pass defense that generates turnovers takes the pressure off the defense to force consistent three-and-outs. The Raiders should value ball hawks and pass-rushers at a premium in free agency and the draft.
Fortunately, McDaniels acknowledged the pertinent issues on defense. Perhaps the Raiders address those shortcomings with players who have a track record for making impact plays.
Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.