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Breaking down new Las Vegas Raiders’ GM Tom Telesco’s NFL Draft record, tendencies in free agency

tom telesco
Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, the Las Vegas Raiders made a somewhat shocking announcement, hiring Tom Telesco to become their new general manager.

Anyone who’s followed recent reports about the Raiders’ search for a new lead front office executive expected the team to hire Indianapolis Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds or promote its current interim general manager Champ Kelly to the full-time position.

On Monday, The Athletic’s Tashan Reed noted that the Raiders had a second round of interviews with potential general managers and reminded everyone that owner Mark Davis had reservations about pairing a first-year head coach with a first-year general manager.

Antonio Pierce will go into his first year as a head coach, so Davis clearly wanted to add some savvy to his team’s front office.

Of course, a portion of the fanbase expressed disappointment with the team’s choice for general manager, but some of the knocks against Telesco need some context.

Tom Telesco isn’t solely to blame for Chargers salary-cap bind

In Los Angeles, Tom Telesco left behind an aging and expensive roster. The Chargers are currently $45.8 million over the cap limit with Khalil Mack (32), Keenan Allen (31), Mike Williams (29) and Joey Bosa (28) accounting for more than $140 million in cap dollars.

While Telesco had a hand in building that veteran-laden roster, he wasn’t alone in terms of contract construction. Chargers president of football operations John Spanos has overseen the team’s salary cap since 2015.

In Las Vegas, Telesco will work with Tom Delaney, who’s managed the Raiders salary cap and negotiated player contracts for a number of years.

Las Vegas Raiders solved Telesco’s head-coaching dilemma for him

tom telesco
Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

As the Chargers general manager, Telesco struggled to find a quality head coach. Between 2013 and 2023, he went through three full-time lead skippers, Mike McCoy (27-37), Anthony Lynn (33-32) and Brandon Staley (24-24).

The Las Vegas Raiders have already removed Pierce’s interim tag, so Telesco isn’t tasked with hiring a head coach.

If Pierce builds a quality staff that develops a young quarterback into a surefire starter, Telesco won’t have the task of handpicking a new head coach any time soon, and that’s important to note because some of the Chargers’ shortcomings on his watch stem from poor player development, which falls on the coaching staff.

Based on Telesco’s draft record, he’s put together decent classes, but his coaching staffs have been unable to fully develop talent. Moreover, the Chargers have gone through schematic changes in their transitions between coaching staffs, which led to the departure of homegrown talent who have earned starting roles elsewhere.

Tom Telesco’s notable draft picks

Let’s take a look at Telesco’s notable draft picks through the years.

2013

·   3rd round: Wide receiver Keenan Allen (active starter with six Pro Bowls)

2014

·   1st round: Cornerback Jason Verrett (one Pro Bowl)

2015

·   1st round: Running back Melvin Gordon (two Pro Bowls)

·   2nd round: Linebacker Denzel Perryman (active starter with one Pro Bowl)

·   6th round: Defensive tackle Darius Philon (27 tackles, five for loss, two sacks, two pass breakups with the Raiders in 2021)

2016

·   1st round: Edge-rusher Joey Bosa (four Pro Bowls and 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year)

·   2nd round: Tight end Hunter Henry (active starter with 83 career starts)

2017

·   1st round: Wide receiver Mike Williams (two 1,000-plus-yard seasons, led NFL with 20.4 yards per catch in 2019 with 62 career starts)

·   4th round: Safety Rayshawn Jenkins (active starter with 80 career starts)

·   5th round: Defensive back Desmond King (first-team All-Pro DB, active with 56 career starts)

2018

·   1st round: Safety Derwin James (All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler)

·   2nd round: Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (active starter with 56 career starts)

·   3rd round: Defensive tackle Justin Jones (active starter with 69 career starts, set career highs in tackles for loss with 12 in 2022 and sacks with 4.5 in 2023

·   4th round: Linebacker Kyzir White (active starter with 56 career starts)

2019

·   3rd round: Offensive tackle Trey Pipkins (active starter with 41 career starts)

·   4th round: Linebacker Drue Tranquill (part-time starter in 2023 with Chiefs, 35 career starts)

2020

·   1st round: Quarterback Justin Herbert (Pro Bowl and 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year)

·   1st round: Linebacker Kenneth Murray (active starter with 53 career starts)

·   6th round: Safety Alohi Gilman (full-time starter in 2023 with two interceptions, 10 pass breakups, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 73 tackles, two for loss while allowing a 89.9 passer rating in coverage)

2021

·   1st round: Left tackle Rashawn Slater (rookie Pro Bowler)

·   2nd round: Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (active full-time starter with 43 career starts)

·   3rd round: Wide receiver Josh Palmer (part-time starter with 22 career starts, 72 catches in 2022)

2022

·   1st round: Offensive lineman Zion Johnson (full-time starter with 32 career starts)

·   6th round: Offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer (full-time starter with 31 career starts)

2023

·   1st round: Wide receiver Quentin Johnston (38 receptions for 431 yards and two touchdowns)

·   2nd round: Edge-rusher Tuli Tuipulotu (53 tackles, eight for loss, 4.5 sacks and 22 pressures)

·   3rd round: Linebacker Daiyan Henley (16 tackles)

·   4th round: Wide receiver Derius Davis (15 receptions for 66 yards)

·   5th round: Offensive lineman Jordan McFadden (two starts)

·   6th round: Defensive lineman Scott Matlock (15 tackles, one for loss)

·   7th round: Quarterback Max Duggan (N/A)

In each of Telesco’s first six years as a general manager, he drafted a player who became a Pro Bowl or All-Pro player. Edge-rusher Joey Bosa and quarterback Justin Herbert earned 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year, respectively.

Several players in Telesco’s early classes are currently starters in Los Angeles or on other teams. With that said, he has some draft warts as well.

Telesco gambled on players with an injury history in the early rounds, and it’s hurt some of his teams. Safety Derwin James and wideout Mike Williams are high-level playmakers, but they have both missed significant chunks of multiple seasons.

Telesco’s 2019 and 2022 classes haven’t panned out well in the short term. Unlike most of his early draft classes, he whiffed on top picks in those years. From the 2022 group, offensive linemen Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer had promising career starts, but they didn’t make significant strides between their rookie and second seasons. Rookie wideout Quentin Johnston had an underwhelming 2023 campaign as a fill-in starter.

Though overall, Telesco seems to have an eye for talent, specifically in the early rounds. Don’t forget undrafted gem Austin Ekeler, whom the Chargers signed in 2017.

Big whiffs in free agency, blockbuster trade pays off

Telesco isn’t afraid to take big swings at veteran talent to fill roster holes. Like all general managers, he’s hit on some and missed on others, but his tendency to win free agency with costly signings will put the Las Vegas Raiders in a tough spot if he whiffs too many times on high-priced acquisitions.

Many of Telesco’s detractors remember when the Chargers signed cornerback J.C. Jackson to a five-year, $82.5 million contract during the 2022 offseason, an acquisition that backfired on the team. Jackson only played seven games in Los Angeles before the team released him.

In 2021, Telesco signed center Corey Linsley to a five-year, $62.5 million deal. Linsley only had two more optimal years left in him and only played three games in 2023.

Back in 2020, the Chargers signed right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a three-year, $30 million contract, but unfortunately, he only played 11 games with the team because of injuries.

Among Telesco’s most notable veteran additions, trading for Khalil Mack stands out as his best decision. Mack hasn’t missed a game since Los Angeles acquired him. He’s recorded 25 sacks in two seasons with the Chargers, logging a career-high 17 sacks in 2023.

In Las Vegas, Telesco will have the capital to spend money in free agency, with the Raiders set to have $36 million in cap space, but he must avoid signing aging players to three-to-five years deals.

Over the past few seasons, the Raiders have favored short-term one-to-two-year contracts, which has allowed them more flexibility. Perhaps Delaney can rein in Telesco’s spending habits a bit in free agency.

Maurice Moton covers the Las Vegas Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.

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