3 Questions That Still Remain For The Raiders
The NFL calendar has officially entered the dog days of summer after mandatory minicamps wrapped up last week, leading to another hiatus without football. But while we wait for July 29th when training camps across the league officially start, there are still plenty of questions to answer.
Specifically with the Las Vegas Raiders, there’s still plenty of scenarios left on the table as many issues were left unsolved following minicamp two weeks ago. While there aren’t enough words to answer all of these questions in this month-long hiatus, here are a few questions still remaining for the Raiders as we approach the start of the 2022 season.
1. Who Else Gets A Contract?
This offseason we’ve seen the Raiders lock down a number of key members on the offensive side of the ball to massive contract extensions, including QB Derek Carr, WR Davante Adams and WR Hunter Renfrow. The question remains however: who else can the Raiders afford to keep on the roster past the 2022 season?
The main priority should be retaining former Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller, being a key component for Carr and the offense since his breakout year in 2019. Waller, turning 30 in September, has amassed over 3000 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 258 receptions in his four years with the team. The veteran TE also serves as a leader and one of Carr’s closest friends on the team, proving his impact on and off the field.
Carr and Co. have made attempts individually to keep Waller in the desert, signing more team-friendly deals so the front office could work out a way to retain them all.
“For me, everyone looks at certain numbers and they’re not going to get the whole picture of how it’s structured and how he did things,” Carr said. “Tim, my agent, myself and the team, we made sure guys like Chandler (Jones), guys like Davante, guys like, hopefully, Hunter (Renfrow) and Foster (Moreau) and those guys can stay here.
“I went through a heartbreak already last time I signed my contract, my best friend left, and I didn’t want that to ever happen again,” he finished, referring to Khalil Mack’s departure.
Waller has two years left on his team at $6.25 million annually. He’ll be 32 once his current contract runs out in 2023 so the organization should be able to bring him back on another team-friendly deal.
The player likely to miss out would be former first-round pick running back Josh Jacobs after the Raiders declined to pick up his fifth-year option earlier in the offseason.
A hard-nosed traditional halfback, Jacobs, 24, has struggled to stay healthy in his first three years in the league, only playing 13 games for the Raiders last season. But when he’s healthy, Jacobs has been a productive runner out of he backfield, amassing 1150 rushing yards on 4.8 yards an attempt. Currently on the books for a little over two million in the final year of his rookie deal, the former Alabama halfback appears to be entering a “prove-it” season as Las Vegas are uncertain on whether to extend their lead back or not.
My guess is that they don’t extend Jacobs, opting to let him walk in free agency as they adapt to McDaniels’ system of multiple running backs instead of one getting the majority of touches.
2. How Long Will It Takes To Adjust To McDaniels’ System?
With every new head coach, comes a new system and it’s no different with Josh McDaniels under helm as Carr and Co. have already spoken about the adjustments being made during minicamp, knowing it’ll take some time to work out the kinks.
“Our system is different than anything I’ve been in before,” Carr said after during Minicamp. “I see why it was so successful.”
.@Raiders QB Derek Carr: “Once you see his system, you see why it was so successful. Josh [McDaniels] has a great track record of success…it’s exciting to be coached by him. He’s demanding but he’s great to be around.” #Raiders #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/RmntVj09Vg
— Cassie Soto (@_CassieSoto) June 7, 2022
The Raiders signal-caller mentioned that McDaniels is a “demanding” coach but hopes that increased work in OTAs can help speed the process along.
“Just being in it and learning it, the details of it. Having the OTAs to grind through, that has been huge, but drawing on past experiences helps me,” Carr said. “We can move on faster to get to other things. Hopefully, that’ll help us get everything in a speedy process, but I’m still learning like everybody else.”
For others it’s about absorbing as much they can to help others, like left tackle Kolton Miller, hoping to show the ropes to the young guys as quickly as possible.
“There’s a lot of new stuff to install and (offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo has) been doing a great job explaining it, getting us on the right page,“ Miller said during Minicamp. “Young guys, they’re trying to absorb as much as they can. And our job as old guys is we’re trying to show them the ropes.”
But even with a new system in place, the players have seem to buy in for the jump, as Darren Waller spoke about the new intense approach to the game on The Jim Rome Show this week.
“Just a very intense approach, to not only winning, but just the process of it, and how early it starts, and how much of a commitment it is, and how detailed you have to be,” Waller said.
“When people like that talk and share about the process, you listen and you buy in,” Waller added. “They’ve been honest, they’ve been challenging us in creating a high standard for what we do, and I feel like that’s not going to do anything but bring out the best in people.”
It’ll be interesting to see the adjustments take place as we get closer to the start of training camp. Don’t expect the silver and black to come flying out of the gate, but expect them to be steady and consistent all season as they acclimate to life under McDaniels.
3. Can Alex Leatherwood Be The Guy On The Right Side Of The O-Line?
First off, let’s get this out of the way: Alex Leatherwood will be the starting right tackle for the Las Vegas Raiders this season, barring injury. After spending a first round pick on him in last year’s draft, the Raiders are committing to giving their second-year Alabama lineman another chance to prove himself.
The question is: Can he play RT at a starting-caliber level in the NFL?
To be frank, I think he can. Based off his rookie season, many don’t think so. The former Crimson Tide lineman was very inconsistent in his first year in the league, often getting beat by defensive ends or drawing penalties because he couldn’t contain his side of the line. It was so bad at times that the Raiders had to move him inside to better support Carr in pass protection.
In fact, Leatherwood allowed the most pressures of any offensive lineman rookie last season, making year two pivotal for his career.
“Leatherwood allowed the most pressures of any offensive lineman in the NFL as a rookie (65) and had a 29.0 PFF pass-blocking grade. He recorded four separate games with a sub-20.0 pass-blocking grade, and even if he was seen as a reach at pick No. 17, he is now under huge pressure to show he can be a viable starting offensive lineman for a team that wants to contend in 2022,” Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus said this month.
The rookie lineman did improve slightly throughout the season, with his best game coming in week 16 against the Broncos, boasting a 79.9 PFF run-blocking grade.
— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) June 20, 2022
Regardless, Alex seems more focused and locked in his second year in the league, working on blocking out the noise from the outside world.
“I mean, I’m human. I get emotional. I’m also proud of what I do and my product,” Leatherwood said on the Raiders Podcast Network. “…But I learned to just block all that out and just be where my feet are and just focus on me and getting better every day, no matter what anybody says. Because my coaches, my team and my teammates, all believe in me. And I believe in myself.”
Raiders training camp is expected to get underway in the last week of July.