By Jesse Patterson March 10, 2019
You just acquired a controversial yet undeniably talented wide receiver for the relatively inexpensive price of a future third and fifth round pick. You have committed to this receiver by redoing his contract to show you want him around and happy long term. You have convinced him he has a chance to flourish and build on his already stellar résumé within your organization over the next few seasons. Now is the time to go out and prove it, by adding to his supporting cast and building a legitimately competitive team. Your timing is impeccable, as free agency and the draft are within a few short weeks and there is plenty of talent available to show your new prize receiver just how committed you are.
The first step should be the supporting cast in the receiver room. The wide receiver group is currently headlined by unheard-of Marcell Ateman and a group of cast-offs and also-rans such as Seth Roberts, Brandon LaFell, and Dwayne Harris. The aging Jordy Nelson is also still on the roster, though is a potential cut candidate who would leave behind only $1.8 million in dead money. The soon-to-be 34-year-old may also retire this offseason. In Antonio Brown, the Raiders have their clear-cut 1A, so adding a few complimentary pieces would be beneficial. The free agent receiver market is short on big-name talent but heavy on reliable depth options. Veteran names such as John Brown, Randall Cobb, or Donte Moncrief would fill the need of an opposite-field target to keep defenses from focusing too much on AB and should not command overly aggressive top-dollar deals. Slot receivers such as Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, and Danny Amendola are also available to provide a middle of the field presence currently lacking in the Oakland receiver group. This type of signing would free up Brown to do his work down the sidelines. The Raiders could also look to a cheaper reclamation project who may be enticed by the opportunity to recoup some value on a “prove it” type of deal with most of the opposing defense focused on Brown. Players such as Richard Matthews, Chris Conley, and Chris Hogan would probably not cost as much as some of the other options mentioned, but would still be an improvement to the receiver room. The draft is also a viable source this season to add some talent. There are some big names available early, and some interesting names available in the later rounds that could surely benefit from observing one of the best receivers of the modern era in Brown, not to mention benefit from being eased into a prominent role in the offense.
I know dynasty owners are dying to see preseason sensation Chris Warren leading the rushing attack, but he is an unproven commodity at this point and was unable to unseat veterans Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch last offseason prior to being placed on injured reserve. Currently, Oakland has change-of-pace specialist Jalen Richard under contract, while Lynch and Martin are scheduled to hit free agency. Prior to the Brown deal, the Raiders had over $60 million in estimated salary cap space available to them. Why not use some of that ample cap space to sign one of the marquee free agent prizes, and someone very familiar with working alongside Brown, Le’Veon Bell? Bell’s saga last season was widely publicized and he obviously comes with his own baggage. He is also seeking a big payday, after missing out on his salary this past season. A contract big on guaranteed money and incentives but short on length may be enough to entice the perennial pro-bowler into donning the black and silver for a few seasons.This also gives Gruden and Co. an out should Bell not work out with the team. Having both Bell and Brown has been a proven method of success in the past, perhaps the Raiders can headline their offense with this tandem? Not only is Bell an excellent runner, he is a force in the passing game as well. This would shift some defensive attention away from Brown and allow him to work his magic while improving the passing game and the offense as a whole.
Now sporting a new-look running game and a revamped receiver room, the team can look at shoring up the tight end position. The free agent market isn’t abundant with big-name players, but one player is already familiar with the system and has shown a rapport with current quarterback Derek Carr. Jared Cook is coming off a career-best season with the Raiders in 2018 and is looking to cash in on the open market. It remains to be seen if he would consider a discounted contract to return to Gruden’s system, but as a player who has bounced around four organizations in the past, staying put may be enticing to him. Add to this the fact the offense promises to be much improved and Cook may leap at the opportunity to stay with the team. The 2019 draft class, meanwhile is deep with talent at tight end. Taking the chance in the early rounds and then having a prospect learn under Cook may set the Raiders up for success both in the present and future. Should Cook chose to chase a bigger payday elsewhere, there are also plenty of veterans available to fill the short-term need while a prospect develops into a longer-term solution. Players such as Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, Jesse James and Luke Willson would fill this role perfectly on a one or two year deal and would not command top-dollar as Cook intends to do.
At this stage of the offseason, Gruden has seemingly gone out of his way to affirm Derek Carr is “their quarterback”. These sentiments have been echoed by new General Manager Mike Mayock, though the Raiders have also been linked heavily with Heisman winner Kyler Murray. Entering the second year of a five-year $125 million dollar contract, Carr would be difficult at this point to simply “give up” on. He has been a top-20 fantasy quarterback throughout his career but has only managed one finish inside the fantasy top 12, when he was 10th in 2015. During his career, however, he has not had the opportunity to work with a truly elite receiving option like Antonio Brown. Though unspectacular, Carr has proven to be a serviceable NFL quarterback while throwing to the likes of James Jones, Denarius Moore, and Rod Streater. His best statistical season to date was when he played with Michael Crabtree and the streaky Amari Cooper. The Raiders may be wise to add some talent around him and give Carr a chance to truly show what he is capable of prior to declaring him a bust. He may not be an elite option capable of elevating lesser talents, but surely he is able to lead a team if given an improved supporting cast. At the very least, by making some of the moves discussed above, nobody can say that Gruden and Mayock did not at least attempt to help Derek Carr become the franchise quarterback he is being paid to be.
The first move has been made with the trade for Brown. This signals the Raiders intent to build a competitive roster for the 2019 season. Free agency opens March 13 and the NFL Draft begins on April 25. It’s time for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock to continue to make moves if they hope to turn the Raiders’ fortune around and capitalize on having a generational talent like AB as part of the organization. Fans of the Raiders, be they in Oakland, Las Vegas or elsewhere, should be excited. Things are looking up after a 2018 season that can only be called a disorganized disappointment.
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