Go back in time to Monday afternoon in the early stages of the NFL’s legal tampering period when the anticipation turned into anxiety and then anger as quality veterans agreed to terms with new teams. What are the Las Vegas Raiders doing?
Apparently, general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels stuck to a plan with a more subtle approach compared to the impulsive roster-building years under former head coach Jon Gruden.
After two days of in-house moves, cutting players with bloated salaries and making decisions on tenders for back-end roster guys, the Raiders sprang into action on Wednesday, signing edge-rusher Chandler Jones to a three-year, $51 million deal.
But skeptics griped about letting go of edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts, a major void at wide receiver and an underdeveloped offensive line.
Once again, many asked, what are the Raiders doing?
By Thursday evening, the NFL landscape shifted after ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news about Vegas’ blockbuster deal to acquire wideout Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers in exchange for first- and second-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Ziegler and company moved in stealth mode over the past two days, acquiring two All-Pro players on both sides of the ball and making a clear statement about this team’s direction without saying it at any press conference or podium.
Some fans and analysts started to question quarterback Derek Carr’s future while raising the discussion about blowing up the roster for a rebuild after the Raiders’ division rivals made splashy moves for quarterback Russell Wilson, cornerback J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack.
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Ziegler emphatically bellowed a loud, “no!”
Instead of folding his cards to rebuild as the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers strengthened their rosters, he took his shot, pushing the lever forward on win-now mode in a division full of star power.
Remember what McDaniels said about the idea of rebuilding during the NFL Scouting Combine (h/t Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal):
“I don’t think in today’s NFL there’s really any time to do rebuilding anyway. This certainly isn’t that type of situation for us.”Las Vegas Raiders HC Josh McDaniels on the possibility of rebuilding
Clearly, after the Raiders’ 10-7 season, team brass didn’t want to take the slow lane up the ladder in the AFC, picking up draft picks and hoping to hit on a couple of decent free-agent pickups. No, they’re shooting for the moon and brought in a couple of stars to make an immediate impact while giving up a pair of top-60 draft selections in the process.
Vegas signed Jones to a three-year, $51 million deal. He just turned 32 years old in February, but he’s a more complete defender than Ngakoue, who’s a bit inconsistent on run downs. Jones has recorded double-digit totals in sacks and tackles for loss in six of the last seven campaigns.
Coming off back-to-back All-Pro seasons with 238 catches for 2,927 yards and 29 touchdowns since 2020, Adams is arguably the best wide receiver in the league. He’s going to change the way opponents game plan for the Raiders. The 29-year-old will certainly draw double-teams, which creates more space for tight end Darren Waller and wideout Hunter Renfrow.
If the opposing safeties have to help cover a trio of playmakers downfield, running backs Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake could break off big gains if they’re able to get through first-level defenders on the ground, which leads to a discussion about the club’s glaring needs.
Yes, the front office has more work to do, specifically on the offensive and defensive lines with another savvy defensive back who can play in center field and in the slot within Patrick Graham’s scheme.
Anyone concerned about the Raiders’ remaining roster holes hasn’t paid attention to the front office’s meticulousness up until this point or the need to spend strategically as they manipulate the salary cap with Maxx Crosby’s four-year, $94 million extension on the books, Adams signing a five-year, $141.3 million contract and Carr’s new deal likely coming up on the agenda.
With Jones and Adams creating some buzz, Vegas will likely prioritize quality free agents who would accept less money to take on specific roles alongside high-level talent. Perhaps players on the market with past connections to Graham or McDaniels fall into that category.
Among the available offensive tackles, La’el Collins, Daryl Williams, Billy Turner and Riley Reiff have all spent significant time at right tackle in their careers.
We could see assistant general manager Champ Kelly’s influence with his past history in the Chicago Bears front office. Vegas has signed versatile offensive lineman Alex Bars and defensive lineman Bilal Nichols—two former Bears. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman may be on the Raiders’ radar as well.
After four years of Gruden, some fans may find it difficult to exercise patience because they’ve become accustomed to the team throwing big money at familiar names in the first few hours of free agency, but that’s not how this regime operates under Ziegler.
With the Adams’ trade and extension on paper, we could see the Raiders pick up the pace on free-agent signings as they figure out how to bolster both sides of the line in the trenches with their available financial resources.
Because at this point, it seems as though Vegas has taken a page out of the Rams’ roster-building playbook. Forget the premium draft picks, acquire proven talent and maneuver the salary cap for flexibility.
After what seemed like a constant rebuilding process for the franchise, the Raiders finally have big plans for the present, but they’re executing that strategy without impulse spending, which often leads to bad contracts. A move for a player you didn’t expect may be in the works. In a shrewd way, Ziegler and his front-office colleagues have left a strong first impression.
Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.