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Las Vegas Raiders: Salary cap health could mean quick turnaround in 2023

For Raider Nation and the Las Vegas Raiders, the 2022 season was yet another disappointment for a fanbase all too familiar with losing and being on the outside looking in as the playoffs roll around.

Having made the league’s postseason tournament just three times in the past two decades, the acquisition of Davante Adams and the arrival of new coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler gave Raiders fans hope.

So did a team that fought through adversity in 2021 to make it to the playoffs after losing their top receiver and head coach Jon Gruden.

That optimism and hope were quickly dashed as Las Vegas started 0-3 and finished the season at just 6-11. And, by the end of the campaign, the Raiders had benched quarterback Derek Carr. The nine-year veteran soon left the team as the Raiders declared that they were moving on from the signal-caller.

As the Raiders enter the 2023 offseason, they not only need to find their solution at quarterback, but they also need to remake one of the NFL’s worst defenses. The Raiders finished 26th in total defense last year, yielding 24.1 points per game and find themselves with needs throughout the unit.

Add in the need for upgrades across their offensive line — to protect whoever will be their new quarterback — and Ziegler has lots of work to get his team competitive in the AFC West.

Despite the almost overwhelming needs across the team, the Raiders have two major things trending in their direction: a full complement of 2023 draft picks and a favorable salary cap position.

The Raiders own all of their picks for the first time in the Ziegler/McDaniels era (last year, their first-and-second-round picks were shipped to Green Bay for Davante Adams) and an extra fifth-and-seventh-round selections, too.

While the fruits of the 2023 NFL Draft could take time to bear, the benefits of the Raiders’ cap position should yield instant and important results that could shorten the time the front office needs to build a team in contention for the playoffs.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders pick in Sportsnaut’s NFL mock draft

The Las Vegas Raiders’ salary cap position as of today

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
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While the final league salary cap number for 2023 isn’t official, the estimate raises it from $202 million (the 2022 number) to $223 million for the new NFL year. The Raiders, who will have a carryover amount of $6.7 million from unused cap space this year, will have a total of $27.7 million in cap room. That is before any more roster moves or adjustments. That isn’t a lot of room to work with, especially with their defense and quarterback needs.

Moving on from Derek Carr is key to building needed cap space

las vegas raiders release derek carr
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While the decision to move on from Derek Carr was controversial for some Raiders fans, it makes a ton of sense from a business perspective with so many needs elsewhere. Had the Raiders stuck with Carr, he would have cost the team $34 million (14% of their entire cap) for 2023 and another $43 million in 2024 (17.1%). By cutting him before February 15 or trading him, the team will take just a $5 million dead cap hit, meaning they’ll save $29.2 million this coming season. That would bring the Raiders’ potential cap space to $56.9 million.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders QB options to replace Derek Carr

With Carr’s down season in 2022, the decision to move on took on increased importance due to Ziegler’s team’s overall multitude of needs. This is primarily why, when Carr signed the extension last offseason, Ziegler built the trap door out for the club to escape. Carr failed his audition with the new brass and now the Raiders will be flush with cash.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh Jacobs and NFL’s top free agents of 2023

Potential other moves to clear space for the Las Vegas Raiders

In addition to moving Carr, the Raiders can cut loose a few other players to clear cap space. Prime candidates include center Andre James ($5.1M) and defensive tackle Bilal Nichols ($3.125M), freeing up another $8.2 million. James seems like a foregone conclusion as 2022 rookie Dylan Parham has already received the endorsement of the coaching staff to move to center in 2023, leaving James expendable.

In Nichols’ case, he was a big splash free agent signing a two-year $11 million contract last year. While he didn’t live up to expectations, he did play solid and could easily restructure his deal and secure some more guaranteed money.

Contract restructures another tool at Las Vegas Raiders’ disposal

Projecting salary cap room at just about $57 million, the Raiders can easily push higher by asking some returning players to restructure their contracts to lessen the impact on the cap now for more guaranteed money and extending the dead cap hit for several years into the future.

Candidates for this could be offensive tackle Kolton Miller ($17.65M in ’23), defensive end Chandler Jones ($19.3M), Davante Adams ($14.7M) and Hunter Renfrow ($12.2M). Even estimating a conservative $8-10M savings by restructuring, the Raiders could have nearly $70 million in space to address their deficiencies.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders to ‘aggressively pursue’ Tom Brady in 2023 offseason

So, then what?

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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With almost $70 million in cap space, the Raiders can make a run at several big-name free agents to address key defensive holes and bolster their offensive line.

On defense, the Raiders have needs at all levels. Some attractive free agents they could take an interest in include Javon Hargrave, Jamel Dean, Daron Payne, David Long, Jesse Battes III. On the other side of the ball, offensive tackles Orlando Brown, Jr. and Mike McGlinchey make sense.

It also frees up the Raiders to do a bunch of things at quarterback. While early talk is centered on bringing Tom Brady to the Las Vegas Strip, other free agents like Jimmy Garopollo and Jacoby Brissett may also get a look. The Raiders will likely draft a young signal-caller, too, meaning the position plan should come into clear view after the clean cut from Carr is made in February.

This means between unloading a multitude of rookie contracts and free up cap space to address any holes with capable veteran free agents, and the Raiders can quickly reverse their fortunes and be a real force in the AFC West right away.