Putting unrealistic playoff scenarios aside, the Raiders’ season is over. Coach Josh McDaniels discussed the possibility of benching healthy starters — and keeping others who could return from injured reserve out of action — in the final two games of the season. Whether that happens, and whether those who receive opportunities do enough to show they should be a part of plans moving forward, is really the only intrigue that remains going into home matchups against the 49ers and Chiefs.
“Everything is going to get evaluated in that regard,” McDaniels said Monday. “And then, look, you want to try to create a team that’s tough, smart and dependable under pressure, and is durable and can handle adversity. That’s what we’re trying to aim for. I don’t know that it’s a finished product yet. We’re going to do everything we can to win these last two games, starting with San Fran this week, and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Looking ahead to the offseason, here are 10 things the Raiders need to accomplish to avoid finding themselves in a similar situation next year.
1. Invest in the offensive line
According to Over The Cap, the Raiders are dead last in offensive line spending this season. O-line coach Carmen Bricillo was still able to piece together a unit that was functional, but it has limitations, particularly in pass protection, that contributed toward holding the offense back from reaching its full potential. The Raiders have given up only 29 sacks (tied for seventh) and 72 quarterback hits (tied for 10th), but that’s more representative of quarterback Derek Carr’s ability to navigate the pocket than how well they’ve blocked. They’re 25th in pressure rate allowed, according to TruMedia, which is a much more accurate reflection based on the eye test.
Continuing to develop young offensive linemen such as rookies Dylan Parham and Thayer Munford is part of the process, but general manager Dave Ziegler also needs to allocate more resources toward the offensive line for it to improve next year. Parham has flashed his upside while starting every game this season at three positions, and left tackle Kolton Miller has been pretty good, but it could be argued that the Raiders need to make upgrades at the other three spots.
2. Commit to Parham at center
Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward manhandling Parham last week drove the point home, but Parham doesn’t seem to have the size at 6-foot-3, 311 pounds to thrive at guard. Although he’s been solid as a run blocker, he’s been one of the worst pass-blocking offensive linemen in the league. He’s allowed 45 pressures (tied for third most), 37 hurries (second) and seven sacks (tied for ninth). It’s a limited sample size — he started two games at center while Andre James was out with a concussion early in the season — but he performed much better in pass protection at center than at guard. At center, he allowed a pressure rate of 6.7 percent. At guard, his allowed pressure rate jumps to 9.2 percent. For context, the league average among offensive linemen who’ve taken at least 100 snaps is 4.5 percent.
That paints a pretty clear picture of what position Parham needs to play. James has been solid in what’s easily his best season as a pro, but he’s someone the current regime inherited. They have to believe that Parham has more potential long term, and he’ll carry a cap hit of only $1.16 million next season compared to $5.48 million for James. James, who’s even lighter than Parham at 300 pounds, probably would have the same issues if asked to play guard, so it’s doubtful he would stick around if Parham is moved to center. The Raiders would save $3.56 million in cap space if they trade or release James, which could go toward filling the aforementioned O-line needs that would remain at both guard spots and right tackle.
Reed: The Raiders’ underwhelming offense sets up an offseason of change
3. Add pass rush help
Unlike with the offensive line, the Raiders put plenty of money into making sure this wasn’t an issue, giving edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones huge contracts worth a combined $145 million. Crosby has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the league, but Jones didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Jones had been on a tear before going down with a season-ending elbow injury against the Steelers, but he’s still only 84th in pressure rate, tied for 69th in sacks and tied for 225th in quarterback hits among players with at least 100 pass-rush snaps. That, plus the lack of an interior rush, led to the Raiders having one of the worst pass rushes in the league. They’re 26th in pressure rate, 30th in sacks and tied for 17th in quarterback hits.
That’s not going to cut it, and the Raiders don’t really have a choice but to put more assets toward fixing it. They’re already set to spend over $41.2 million on edge rushers in 2023, but they need to add reliable rotational edge rushers either through the draft or free agency. And given they’re in line to only spend a little over $8.6 million on defensive tackles next year, there’s plenty of room to seek proven interior pass-rush help on the open market.
4. Put together a more durable linebacker corps
Coming into the season, the Raiders expected to have a sturdy group composed of Pro Bowl run-stuffer Denzel Perryman, coverage specialist Jayon Brown and talented two-way linebacker Divine Deablo. Deablo played just eight games, has been on injured reserve since Week 9 and is likely done for the year; Brown also played only eight games due to a mix of injuries and performance, was placed on injured reserve following Week 13 and is done for the season; and Perryman didn’t look like himself when healthy, has dealt with various injuries and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week.
Perryman has always struggled to stay healthy and is on the wrong side of 30, Brown hasn’t played a full season since 2018 and Deablo has dealt with myriad injuries through just two seasons in the league. Deablo and undrafted rookies Luke Masterson and Darien Butler are the only linebackers under contract for 2023, which gives the Raiders the option to hit reset at the position. They should do just that.
5. Do a better job in free agency
Poor results from free-agent signings have been the norm for the Raiders for a few years, and this regime continued that trend. Their biggest move was signing Jones to a three-year, $51 million deal, and his first year was a dud. They gave defensive tackle Bilal Nichols a two-year, $8.6 million contract to bolster their interior pass rush, but he has only 1 1/2 sacks and 24 pressures. They brought in cornerback Anthony Averett on a one-year, $4 million contract to be a starter, but he appeared in only seven games thanks to two stints on injured reserve and played poorly when healthy.
The Raiders deserve credit for under-the-radar moves to sign receiver Mack Hollins, guard Alex Bars, fullback Jakob Johnson and safety Duron Harmon, but that doesn’t offset their costly swings and misses. They currently have over $35.5 million in cap space in 2023 and have avenues to create much more, so they’ll have an opportunity to right their wrongs this offseason.
6. Bring playmakers to the secondary
The Raiders haven’t had a defensive back who’s made splash plays on a consistent basis since Hall of Famer Charles Woodson retired in 2015, and they’ll need to make additions if that’s going to change in 2023. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has been solid — he’s given up only 6 yards per target, according to Pro Football Reference — but has played just 11 games due to injury and has just two career interceptions across four seasons. Nate Hobbs had a stellar rookie campaign at nickelback last year, but he’s battled injuries and hasn’t played as well this year since he’s had to spend far more time lining up outside. And though he’s played well at slot corner, he still has only one interception and six pass deflections in two seasons. Safety Tre’von Moehrig was a ball hawk in college, but he’s registered just one interception and 10 pass deflections in his two seasons. Additionally, he’s sharply regressed on a play-by-play basis this season after a solid rookie year, and he is allowing 10.6 yards per target, which is the 14th most in the league. Fellow safety Harmon has made more plays on the ball, but he’s giving up 12.2 yards per target (fifth worst in the league).
It’s apparent the Raiders could use an influx of talent both at cornerback and safety. Ya-Sin has shown enough to deserve to be re-signed this offseason, but Las Vegas needs to add another starting outside corner to allow Hobbs to move back to the nickel spot. And even if the Raiders have faith that Moehrig can bounce back and be a reliable starter at safety, it’s likely for the best to at least find him a new running mate considering Harmon is about to turn 32 and is probably on the decline.
7. Nail the draft
Ziegler had only five picks and didn’t make his first selection until the third round in the 2022 NFL Draft, so we haven’t seen what he can do with a full class. But it’s a positive sign they were still able to draft two players (Parham and Munford) who started games and sign a couple of undrafted rookies (linebacker Luke Masterson and cornerback Sam Webb) who did the same. Next year will present the opportunity to make a more concrete observation on Ziegler’s drafting ability as the Raiders own nine picks, including all of their own picks through the first five rounds.
Due to generationally horrendous drafting over the last few years, the Raiders are lacking a core of ascending, young, cheap players on both sides of the ball. The only way to remedy that is through a significant uptick in their drafting ability in the years to come. The results from this upcoming class — and the development of those within the 2022 group — will provide a solid indication of whether that’s going to come to fruition. The Raiders clearly have a flawed roster, which takes time to correct, but there are really no excuses from here for the current regime considering how much they have to work with in terms of draft capital and cap space.
8. Pick up a vertical threat at receiver
Since releasing Henry Ruggs III last year, the Raiders offense has lacked this element. While superstar receiver Davante Adams is a great source of chunk plays through the air — he has 29 receptions of 16 or more yards — he doesn’t have the sort of speed that blows the top off opposing defenses. None of the other receivers on the roster do, either, as Hollins is the fastest and runs only a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash.
Having more dynamic speed in the receiver room would take pressure off Adams to carry such a heavy load as a deep threat and open things up underneath for everyone in the passing offense. It shouldn’t cost much in terms of resources — there are always speedy receivers available in the mid- to late rounds of the draft or who could be had for cheap in free agency — but it could potentially bring the offense some juice that it’s clearly lacking given the Raiders are only 13th in explosive reception rate and yards per catch.
9. Avoid letting Josh Jacobs walk for nothing
Jacobs has been the best running back in the league this season — he leads the NFL in rushing and yards from scrimmage — and is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason at 25 years old. Jacobs will certainly be seeking a multiyear contract that makes him one of the highest-paid players at his position. That’s something teams have been increasingly unwilling to do for running backs, but Jacobs will surely have suitors.
The Raiders have a few options. They could work out a multiyear extension with Jacobs to bring him back. If they want to bring him back but don’t want to give him a long-term deal, they could sign him to the exclusive franchise tag, which is projected to be worth about $12.6 million. And if they don’t want to do either but want to recoup some assets for him, they could extend Jacobs the non-exclusive franchise tag, which would allow him to negotiate with other teams. They would have the option to match any offer Jacobs received elsewhere, but it would also open the door for a sign-and-trade outcome, which is how the Raiders acquired Adams from the Packers. All of those outcomes should be in play, but the one that just doesn’t make much sense is allowing Jacobs to sign elsewhere without getting anything in return. He’s too good for that.
Raiders’ Josh Jacobs sounds off after offense lets team down in loss to Steelers
10. Get out of quarterback purgatory
Carr has three years left on his contract but there’s no guaranteed money remaining, so his future is in question once again. This is largely a situation of the Raiders’ own creation because of how they structured his deal, but it’s time to make a decision. If they want to move on, they should find a trade partner, hope Carr waives his no-trade clause and get out of his $32.9 million salary for next year. From there, they’d be free to find a replacement either through the draft, free agency or the trade market.
That feels like the most likely outcome coming off a season when Carr regressed, the offense was underwhelming and the Raiders missed the playoffs, but it can’t be ruled out that they decide to roll with him as their quarterback again next year. If they choose to do so, they should convert some of his salary into a signing bonus, simultaneously giving him more guarantees and, more importantly, freeing up cap space for them to improve the roster in the offseason. That would take a level of commitment from owner Mark Davis that he hasn’t been willing to show but, if he won’t do it now, then there’s really no point in keeping Carr. When it comes to the most important position in football, it’s time for the Raiders to make a choice and commit to it.
(Top photo of Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs: Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)