Venture with me back to the 2022 NFL offseason. The Raiders are fresh off a surprising playoff berth. A new general manager, Dave Ziegler, took the reins, bringing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels from New England with him as the team’s next head coach.
Derek Carr just signed a monster $121.1 million deal, seemingly tying him to the franchise for the foreseeable future. Even better — the new regime just traded for All-Pro wideout Davante Adams. Want more? Darren Waller also inked a $51 million extension the day before the regular season began.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dave Ziegler and Co. brought in a fellow former Patriot, Chandler Jones — more on him in just a moment. Rock Ya-Sin came over from Indianapolis in exchange for Yannick Ngakoue. Some other free agents signed, but these moves highlight the biggest swings on defense.
As Jay-Z Once Said, “It Was All Good Just A Week (Year) Ago”
Few could have predicted how disastrous the 2022 season would be for Vegas. Carr and McDaniels never meshed, leading to the former’s benching. Patrick Graham failed to implement his system effectively in year one as defensive coordinator. Even worse, the roster regressed only six victories in the win column.
With this disappointment came an exodus of talent. First up was the team’s starting quarterback since 2014. Carr was released less than 12 months after signing his extension, thanks to some savvy contract structuring by the front office. Shortly after, Waller got sent packing to New York.
Which Raiders Will Suffer The Same Fate As Carr And Waller?
I bring this up to say: We could have never expected Carr and Waller to be playing their final season for the Raiders. Keeping that in mind, let’s look into the crystal ball and predict which players will suffer the same fate next off-season.
Starting things off is a potential Hall of Fame talent whose best days are firmly in the rearview.
No. 1: Chandler Jones (Defensive End)
•$12.2 million dead cap in 2024
•Releasing Jones saves $8.4 million in cap space for Vegas
Admittedly, I didn’t realize just how poorly Jones played in 2022 until I rewatched every Raiders game after the ’22 season concluded. He still put flashes of brilliance on tape, but they were few and far between. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine things getting any better this year.
Jones is entering his age-33 campaign, coming off his worst pass-rushing performance thus far. Besides his injury-marred 2020 season, the former first-rounder has never posted a sack total lower than the five he put up in 2022. Pro Football Focus confirms Jones’ career-low year, handing him the lowest pass-rushing grade of his 11-year career.
Raiders Already Found Jones’ Replacement
Another sign pointing toward Jones’ eventual departure is the team’s most recent first-round pick, Tyree Wilson. The Texas Tech standout arrives in Vegas with untapped potential as a pass rusher and traits to develop into an elite run stuffer. It feels inevitable with how much money the Raiders will save by cutting Jones.
No. 2: Hunter Renfrow (Wide Receiver)
•$5.5 million dead cap in 2024
•Releasing Renfrow saves $8.2 million in cap space for Vegas
Next up, a guy who narrowly avoided the chopping block; Hunter Renfrow. The Clemson product ranked inside the top-10 for receptions in his breakout 2021 campaign, but suffered through injuries much of the following year.
Once the Raiders brought in former Patriot wideout Jakobi Meyers — and drafted Tre Tucker — fans wondered if the moves made Renfrow expendable. According to The Athletic’s Tashan Reed, this was never in the cards. “The Raiders haven’t been shopping Renfrow and haven’t received any offers for him,” Reed said while citing league sources.
Renfrow’s Time With The Raiders Is Running Thin
The 27-year-old pass catcher may be safe for the 2023 season, but what about next offseason? Compared to the current $18 million dead cap number, next year’s out in Renfrow’s contract is enticing for Vegas. The team would see more than $8 million in added resources. If he replicates the success he enjoyed in 2021, maybe the juice will be worth the squeeze next season. If not, the writing is on the wall.
No. 3: Jerry Tillery (Defensive Tackle)
•Virtually zero dead cap in 2024 ($375,000)
•Releasing Tillery saves $3.8 million in cap space for Vegas
Jerry Tillery ended the season strong with decent performances against San Francisco and Kansas City. However, the rest of the campaign was a roller coaster ride — and not one of the fun kind.
The Chargers selected this Notre Dame alum on day one of the 2019 NFL Draft. He underwhelmed in three and a half seasons with the Bolts before LA waived him midway through the 2022 season. Dave Ziegler and the Raiders put in a claim and were awarded the 26-year-old defensive tackle.
Raiders Need More From The Defensive Tackle Position
Tillery played 258 snaps for the Silver and Black, posting some disappointing numbers in the process. His 35.3 run-defense grade highlights a major flaw. A lackluster 61.3 pass-rushing grade doesn’t move the needle on passing downs, either. Third-rounder Byron Young presents the Raiders with a cheaper (and better) option moving forward.
No. 4: Alex Bars (Guard)
•Deal expires next offseason
The final two names belong to the abysmal interior offensive line group. Kolton Miller is a bonafide stud, while Jermaine Eluemunor proved to be a phenomenal find by Dave Ziegler last offseason. However, everything between the bookend tackles leaves much to be desired.
Vegas Is Cooking At Offensive Tackle, But The Interior Is Lacking
Alex Bars had the 14th-worst pass-blocking grade among guards in 2022. Even worse, his 39.6 run-blocking grade ranked worst in the entire NFL (minimum 600 snaps). It wouldn’t surprise me if Thayer Munford, who had experience at guard in college, supplants Bars at some point. Either way, with an expiring deal, this is the final year for the former Bear in Sin City.
No. 5: Andre James (Center)
•Deal expires next offseason
Andre James has logged more than 2,000 snaps for the Raiders as the team’s starting center since 2021. To his credit, the numbers are respectable across the board – but all it takes is a few snaps of in-game action to see where James falls short.
He works hard every snap, but far too often bigger linemen walk James backward into the pocket. Furthermore, as a run blocker, he lacks the high-end traits to be a difference-maker. Chemistry matters, so the coaching staff may opt to keep continuity. But that would be shortsighted, in my opinion.
‘Reliable’ Does Not Mean ‘Good’
James is a $7 million cap hit in 2022, which is somewhat pricy for a center. Dylan Parham, a 2022 third-rounder, could slide inside. Alternatively, the front office could address the position at next year’s draft. The “premium position” discussion is overblown, but Dave Ziegler doesn’t strike me as someone to pay top dollar for an average-at-best center.
*Top Photo: Michael Owens/Getty Images