Las Vegas Raiders GM Dave Ziegler. Josh McDaniels, Josh Jacobs

Evaluating The Las Vegas Raiders Front Office After First Full Offseason

Playing with another coach’s roster isn’t ideal, even under the best of circumstances. Sometimes players don’t produce quite as much when the regime changes. With a strange offseason and a solidly head-scratching draft, should the Las Vegas Raiders’ brass of Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler be given the benefit of the doubt if the wins don’t come?

A full season in the books for Las Vegas Raiders’ new regime

Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels have survived a tumultuous 2022 NFL season. Finishing at 6-11, despite having made the playoffs a season before, it was obvious that changes needed to be made.

Dave Ziegler: Derek Carr was an organizational rock for nine seasons. Fans, prognosticators, coaches, and the front office alike believed rewarding Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller with lucrative options was the best way to show loyalty to the players. Both of these players were presumably good fits. When Ziegler pulled off the trade for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, Carr’s former roommate and college wide receiver, there was a belief that great things were coming. Whether you loved or hated Carr, there was a belief that if you surrounded him with talent, he could get the job done.

The “offensive guru”

Josh McDaniels: An offensive guru. Many have critiqued his play calling and coaching philosophy throughout the entire season. He’s been questioned at every turn. In reality, the Raiders’ offense finished 11th in total yards with 5,993, 12th in yards per game with 352.5, 12th in total points with 395, and 12th in points per game with 23.2. In arguably the worst season of Carr’s career, the Raiders’ passing attack had garnered just under 4,182 net passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns by the season’s end.

Carmen Bricillo: The Raiders’ offensive line was much maligned all season long. Criticized for not having a set of five guys who play at one position only, many overlook the fact that McDaniels and the offensive line coach got more out of what’s been referred to as a “bad” offensive line than Tom Cable. By developing the talent available, Bricillo transformed them into a group that produced the league’s leading rusher. In pass protection, the unit allowed the 10th-most time-to-throw.

While not mentioned as a key part of the brass, the job Bricillo did with the offensive line cannot be understated.

Swinging and missing

Ziegler has definitely done some good things as general manager, but he has certainly made his mistakes as well. Some of them are minor, while others have significantly hampered the franchise.

Cutting Carr on February 14th and trading Waller for a third-round pick (100th-overall) on March 15th, after having extended both players within weeks of taking the job last season, are examples. Rumor has it that Hunter Renfrow has been on the trade block for nearly the entire offseason; he too signed a lucrative extension last offseason.

Chandler Jones is a different issue altogether. For all the credit Ziegler deserves for trading for Adams, he deserves every bit of the blame for paying Jones a three-year, $51 million deal on the downside of his career. Last year was so bad for Jones that many hoped he would retire so the team could cut him an injury settlement and recoup some of his $14.2 million salary in 2023. Instead, Ziegler restructured his contract and added three void years to try to free up additional funds for the team.

And then there’s the situation with Jacobs.

Ziegler’s inability to find enough contractual common ground to lock up the Raiders’ best homegrown offensive threat is a problem. Jacobs nearly broke Marcus Allen’s franchise rushing record in 2022. Through four years with the team, Jacobs has accrued 4,700 yards and 40 touchdowns. According to Ziegler, Jacobs exemplifies everything he and Josh McDaniels are looking for in a player. Yet somehow, they declined his fifth-year option.

Consequently, Dave Ziegler ended up placing the franchise tag on Jacobs and elected to pay him $10 million anyway. Both Ziegler and Jacobs remain in a stalemate over the extension Las Vegas’ running back has earned and richly deserves.

Dave Ziegler and Raiders’ brass is spending cash with no splash…

The free agents signed this offseason are as follows: Jimmy Garoppolo, Phillip Dorsett, DeAndre Carter, Marcus Epps, Austin Hooper, O.J. Howard, Brandon Facyson, Duke Shelley, David Long Jr., Jaquan Johnson, Brian Hoyer, Jacob Bobenmoyer, Robert Spillane, Jakobi Meyers, Jordan Willis, and Cam Sims.

Out of 16 players signed, a grand-total of zero made the Pro Bowl in 2022. Furthermore, the vast majority were brought in to replace players at positions manned by underperforming players. Being quick to admit mistakes is admirable, but between jettisoning nearly everyone awarded an extension and spending resources on depth pieces and players with injury concerns, it leaves one scratching their head.

Every coach brings in guys they are familiar with – both coaches and players. However, the number of former New England Patriots being brought in is staggering. Much like what Broncos fans have said about McDaniels gutting Denver’s roster in the past, the mass exodus of Raiders – players who didn’t fit the system –  is appalling. Prior to McDaniels’ arrival, Las Vegas made the playoffs with the very same guys he’s replaced.

Now, the cornerstones are all but gone.

An effectively puzzling draft approach

The Raiders entered the draft with a huge need to overhaul the defense. The team had 12 picks at their disposal to do that. Multiple trades were made, and multiple players were selected who will have a chance to make an immediate impact.

Studs

Tyree Wilson is a project player with immense upside and ability, who also possesses star potential. But, he is also a large defensive lineman coming off a foot injury.

Michael Mayer was the best tight end on their board, and the Raiders traded up three spots for him despite having already signed Hooper and Howard during free agency. Byron Young was a solid pick for the defensive interior and could very well step in and challenge the starters.

Round four saw the second trade of the Raiders’ draft as they moved up five spots from 109 to 104 to select Jakorian Bennett. Bennett boosts the defensive backfield and is expected to push for immediate playing time. Chris Smith II, drafted at pick 170 in the fifth-round, could potentially be the best value pick of the draft. A consensus All-American and a two-time national champion.

Duds

Pick 100 was the first pick that Dave Ziegler appears to have blown. Tre Tucker is an undersized, speedy athlete who will try to make the team as a returner and a slot receiver. Does this mean Renfrow may be on the move after June 1st?

Back on the clock at 135, after passing on available linebackers, Las Vegas selected quarterback Aidan O’Connell from the University of Purdue. On paper, there were many quarterbacks better than O’Connell, but he is who the Raiders felt comfortable with.

Meh

In round six, the Silver and Black addressed their need at linebacker by drafting Amari Burney. The problem is that in his five years at Florida, only two were at the linebacker position, playing defensive back in 2022. Through no fault of his own, he will immediately be asked to switch positions upon being drafted.

Nesta Jade Silvera, drafted in the seventh round, has an uphill battle ahead of him to make the team.

Destined for a repeat, or can Josh McDaniels gain control of Raiders?

The X’s and O’s are but one part of being a good head coach. Being relatable, a motivator, and a leader of men is a completely different story. When McDaniels was hired, fans of the Denver Broncos laughed at both the Raiders and Raider Nation, due to the organizational path undertaken by McDaniels and how it destroyed the franchise and left them behind the eight ball.

Quarterback breakdown: Garoppolo has an injury history so lengthy that the Raiders have given him weekly active roster bonuses as incentives. Last season, Hoyer was unable to capitalize on a bad situation with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. Chase Garbers was inactive in every game beyond the preseason.

After acquiring Garoppolo to start and Hoyer to be the backup, the next step was drafting Aidan O’Connell. This move left many fans scratching their heads. Josh McDaniels’ ideal quarterback is a pocket monument who isn’t a threat to run at all. Instead, quick decisions, accurate reads, and complete mastery of checks and options trump dynamic ability. All reasons why Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler felt at ease passing on C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson, Lamar Jackson, Hendon Hooker, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the draft.

The question remains: what happens if the offensive line falters? Are O’Connell and Garbers the quarterbacks of the future?

Championship rosters aren’t built in an offseason…

Quarterback is the most important position on the roster, but the Raiders seem to be without a long-term heir after parting ways with Carr. Linebacker continues to be undervalued and void of premium, top-notch blue-chip talent. Jacobs isn’t under contract in spite of being the only known commodity running the football. Carr and Jarrett Stidham were the second and third leading rushers on the team in 2022. Both of the two are now gone. Until the defensive line starts playing better and/or the current assortment of young players develop, Maxx Crosby’s best years will be squandered.

Offensively, the Raiders appear loaded. The scheme is solid, and Josh McDaniels is putting up numbers and points better than most other teams. But is it enough?

One final question looms: If the Raiders don’t win in 2023, will it be because ‘Mc-Ziegs’ didn’t do enough to prepare the team in the offseason? If so, should the duo get another year to get it right?

Only time will tell.

*Top Photo: Raiders Official YouTube channel

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