“We know who we’re chasing, that’s for sure.” That’s how Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels ended the opening statement during his postgame press conference after his squad got shellacked by the Kansas City Chiefs 31-13 this past Saturday. It’s a fitting “No sh*t, Sherlock” moment for the Silver and Black’s leading man. McDaniels, general manager Dave Ziegler, and owner Mark Davis all know the Chiefs are the class of the AFC West. And until a team can drop a L on Kansas City’s record, said team is inferior. Some teams have come close—the Raiders and Broncos did this season—but no dice.
“Close” isn’t going to cut it. For a team to truly challenge for AFC West supremacy and have true postseason aspirations, it’ll need to knock Kansas City off its perch. Second place is just for the first loser; remember that.
It’s easier said than done for these Raiders
However, it’s easier said than done. That’s especially true for Las Vegas. It’s akin to the “A Bridge Too Far” scenario. Yet, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The Raiders have to get a lot right this offseason, and that starts with Ziegler and McDaniels. The GM and head coach are tied at the hip but will have resources aplenty to right the ship. They’ll have the No. 7 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, along with the 38th, 70th, and 106th overall picks in the initial four rounds. And they’ll have ample cap space too, especially once Derek Carr is moved off the Raiders’ ledger.
Can Ziegler and McDaniels remedy a longstanding Raiders impairment (the inability to draft well and develop said prospects)?
Let’s take an at-a-glance look at the paramount issues…
Fixing the Raiders’ offense
Carr is all but gone. He’s moved on, and so have the Raiders. All that’s left is trying to ship the quarterback off for compensation. Then there’s Jarrett Stidham, who is a free agent. He’d be a capable QB2 for McDaniels. Landing QB1 is the issue here. Perhaps Las Vegas pursues ex-McDaniels pupils like Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, or even Jacoby Brissett as a veteran option. Maybe they use one of the premium draft picks on a prospect at the position in April. There are lots of questions, with answers likely to follow after Carr is traded.
Are they committing long-term to Josh Jacobs or rolling with youngster Zamir White? Jacobs became the first Raider to lead the league in rushing since Marcus Allen did it in 1985 (I was three years old when that happened, if you want context). Jacobs is going to command a handsome contract—one that, if the Raiders won’t pay, someone else will.
Alex Bars was used and abused by Kansas City Chiefs dominator defensive tackle Chris Jones in the regular season finale. That poor display of being a mere speed bump rather than a full-on impediment has to seal Bars’ fate as a Raider, no? Adding more brute power and mean streak to the offensive line is just as paramount as the quarterback position. Perhaps moving Dylan Parham to the center is the first order of business?
What about the defense?
The days of the Raiders deploying a true No. 1 cornerback that can shadow elite wide receivers and succeed are gone. But it can come back again if the Raiders commit proper resources (a draft pick or money) to the position once more. Rock Ya-Sin is a free agent and a good candidate for CB2, but Las Vegas needs a top corner. Nate Hobbs seems better suited as a nickel or slot corner than a boundary one.
Props to undrafted free agent Luke Masterson and undrafted street free agent Harvey Langi for starting at the tail end of the season. For Masterson and Langi, it was due to injuries that besieged the position group. But this is where proper defensive depth must be achieved. Langi was a practice squad linebacker before having to start the last two games. That shouldn’t happen again.
The Raiders nail those, and they should be much closer to the Chiefs than they are now. And it’s not just Las Vegas chasing Kansas City; the rest of the AFC West is gunning for the division dominator, too.
That all said, the deficiencies are out in the open for everyone to see. Even having the most rudimentary knowledge of football means you can see it plain as day.
Now comes the monumental task for Ziegler and McDaniels: correcting said deficiencies through any means possible (free agency, trade market, draft, etc.). This is why Davis made the Patriots’ Power Twins Raiders. And if they flop in Year 2, it won’t be the Bowl Cut Kid who is looking for work.
Andy Reid gave Josh McDaniels his flowers
But I still can’t get over what Chiefs boss Andy Reid said about dominating the trenches on both sides of the ball against the Raiders this past Saturday.
“I think Josh has done a heck of a job. I mean, nobody’s had more close games than he has, and that’s in your first year,” Reid said. “That’s a tribute to him and his guys for playing like they do. We knew that coming in here that they were playing well. I mean, they just held the 49ers to that last week. So, we needed to make sure that they got our complete attention.”
While I have no doubt Reid was sincere in his compliments to McDaniels, it still struck me as a pity move.
*Top Photo: CBS Sports