Despite spending the last six months in total flux, and questioning the viability of their starting quarterback for much longer than that, the Las Vegas Raiders are crystal clear on their ambitions for the immediate future: they are all in.
In today’s NFL, more than ever before, ‘assets’ – either in the form of unused cap space or draft capital – exist to be turned into top-end talent today. This philosophy has been most enthusiastically embraced by the teams residing on the West Coast, and another that used to: the Las Vegas Raiders.
We’ve talked about it at some length in the past, but it certainly bears repeating: the 2021 Raiders endured as chaos as any team NFL team in recent memory – and acquitted themselves fantastically in the face of every challenge.
First, on October 11 – as if you need to be reminded of this – head coach Jon Gruden (ironically, the one person seemingly guaranteed to be with the team at the start of the 2022 season) jumped before he was pushed, after emails from the past revealing some disturbing, bigoted and retrograde opinions. Not a month later, Henry Ruggs III, then the team’s leading receiver, claimed the lives of a young woman and her dog in a drunken hit-and-run accident that cost him his spot on the Raiders, and will almost certainly end his NFL career. Then, just days later, 2020 first-round pick Damon Arnette was released after a video of Arnette brandishing a gun and threatening to kill someone went viral.
And yet, in the wake of all of that upheaval tragedy, the Raiders, under interim head coach Richie Bisaccia, displayed incredible togetherness, pride and competitive spirit. They won their final four regular season games, including a do-or-die (or ‘tie-or-die’, I suppose) showdown against the Chargers, before going on the road in the Wild Card round, holding Cincinnati Bengals to two touchdowns on six trips into the red zone, and falling a single play short of taking the eventual AFC champions into overtime.
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The offseason brought more upheaval, as general manager Mike Mayock was fired, and Bisaccia was not retained as the permanent head coach, and replaced by Josh McDaniels. This further fueled speculation that quarterback Derek Carr, the team’s starter under center for eight seasons – most of them under the dreaded ‘is he good enough?’ cloud – would also be moved on. As Carr has only one year left on his contract and has not yet agreed to an extension, that may well come next offseason. In the meantime, however, this franchise is not just biding time. Even while staring down the barrel of one of the league’s most brutal divisions, the Raiders elected to go for it.
First came something of a no-brainer move: re-signing edge rusher Maxx Crosby. At first glance, the numbers – $94 million over four years with just over $53 million guaranteed – seem a bit high. Take a moment, however, and consider that we’re talking about a Pro Bowler who’s shy of his 25th birthday, and has averaged 8.3 sacks, 17 QB hits and 14.3 tackles for loss over three seasons.
New GM Dave Ziegler has also addressed needs at every level of the defense. There is the signing of former Titans linebacker Jayon Brown – who’s still just 27 years old and authored near-Pro Bowl seasons in 2018 and 2019 – to a one-year, $1.25 million that could be one of the offseason’s savviest moves. To replace outgoing veteran corner Casey Hayward, the team traded 10-sack edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts, in exchange for solid fourth-year (to be) cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, and signed former Ravens starting corner Anthony Averett to a one-year, $4.5 million deal.
The first of these moves left an obvious hole in the pass rush opposite Crosby. Rather than taking a measured approach and either banking on finding a bargain in free agency or a ready-made product in the draft, the Raider opted to splash some cash on one of the top pass rushers of the past quarter-century, and signed Chandler Jones to a three-Year, $52.5 million deal. Though Jones is now 32 years old, he’s coming off of a Pro Bowl campaign with the Cardinals, in which he 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 26 QB hits. There is little to suggest that Jones on the decline (‘not quite as good as Peak Chandler Jones’ does not equal ‘decline’) and, if he can provide for the Raiders anything close to what he’s provided over the past decade, this defensive front will be a problem for opponents.
Then, of course, there was the greatest sign of intent: the acquisition of one of the league top three (if not ‘top one’) receivers over the past half-decade, Davante Adams, in exchange for the team’s first and second round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft: #22 over and #53 overall (interestingly,, Adams was the #53 overall pick by the Packers in 2014). Upon his arrival, Adams – who was a college teammate and is still a good friend of Derek Carr’s – signed a three-year $67 million deal (don’t fall for the ‘5/$140 million’ headlines). Alongside ace possession receiver Hunter Renfrow (103 catches, 1,038 yards in 2021) and ultra-athletic tight end Darren Waller (55 catches for 665 yards in just 11 games in 2021), and with Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake making up one of the NFL’s top running back duos, the Raiders attack promises to be downright dangerous.
There is still some work to be done on the roster, at defensive tackle and on the offensive line (especially the right side), but the Raiders have made it clear that they’re through waiting for a future that may or may not come, and – like their division rivals and the team with whom they once shared the City of Angels – are shooting their shot now.