ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders have been more than a little busy since the NFL’s new year officially rang in on March 13. Not only have there been moves splashy enough to surely make HBO’s “Hard Knocks” overlords take notice — a trade for Antonio Brown, the largest contract ever handed out for an offensive lineman to Trent Brown, signing the polarizing and oh-so-throwback-to-the-Badass Raiders Vontaze Burfict — but the team has also addressed real and specific needs while doling out more than $101 million in guaranteed contracts.
To be sure, there are many more needs. The Raiders were 4-12 in Jon Gruden’s teardown season of 2018. But all the moves give the Raiders options heading into next month’s draft.
“The more you do in free agency, the more surgical you can be in the draft,” general manager Mike Mayock said.
And Mayock, along with Gruden, has positioned himself quite nicely.
Especially with half of the Raiders’ eight picks coming in the first 35 selections, at Nos. 4, 24, 27 and 35.
Go ahead, try cobbling together a depth chart — in March, mind you — using the 71 players currently on Oakland’s roster and see what jumps out at you.
Yes, before adding journeyman Mike Glennon on Friday, Nathan Peterman was the Raiders’ only other quarterback, besides $125 million man Derek Carr, so maybe Gruden’s purported interest in Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins is not simply a smokescreen.
True, the Raiders have a lot of shuffling to do on the offensive line and probably need to draft a road-grading guard. Still, there are options currently on the roster, like putting Trent Brown at left tackle, moving Kolton Miller to right tackle, switching Gabe Jackson from right guard to his more natural left guard, inserting Denzelle Good at right guard and continuing to ride Pro Bowler Rodney Hudson at center. Signing journeyman interior lineman Jordan Devey was good for depth.
Oakland has only two edge rushers (Arden Key and Josh Mauro) under contract, and they have a combined four career sacks. The Raiders had the fewest sacks in the NFL last year with 13 and surely, if either Nick Bosa or Josh Allen is there at No. 4, they will strike. If the Raiders don’t really “like” the cluster of players sitting there at that pick, there’s no shame in trading down a few spots and still addressing the position with the likes of Rashan Gary, Montez Sweat or Clelin Ferrell.
And what about running back? Does Oakland’s favorite son, Marshawn Lynch, have one more ride for The Town in him? Does Gruden even want him back, or would Doug Martin be more palatable? Because as nice a player as Jalen Richard is, he does not figure to be an every-down back. Same with fellow Mighty Mite DeAndre Washington.
Oh, and with Jared Cook reportedly closing in on signing with the New Orleans Saints, are the Raiders ready to anoint Darren Waller the top pass-catching tight end on the roster, or would either of the Iowa tight ends, T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, fit the bill late in the first round?
Same at safety, because though Lamarcus Joyner is a good get for Oakland, he probably gets more run at nickel cornerback, along with Nevin Lawson, so someone like Delaware’s Nasir Adderley could be a late first-round target to pair with Karl Joseph. Unless Friday’s signing of 6-foot Curtis Riley makes him the starter at free safety.
“We don’t want to have a good receiving corps,” Gruden said. “I want to have the best receiving corps in football.”
Yes, Mr. Big Chest is the new Alpha Dog in the room, and Tyrell Williams is a nice No. 2, but Seth Roberts remains a cut candidate. J.J. Nelson is fast, while Marcell Ateman is a big target down the sideline. Combine warrior D.K. Metcalf, anyone? And what if the cut Jordy Nelson comes back on a cheaper deal?
Yeah, there are holes to fill. But having had what seems to be a successful start to free agency — Oakland has about $27 million remaining in salary-cap space and needs some $13 million to $15 million of that for its current eight draft picks — Mayock, Gruden & Co. have positioned themselves well for April.
“We’ve gotten better, we have some resources in the draft that can continue that process and as I’ve said all along, I don’t think you can rush this,” Gruden said. “You have to do what you deem is right. Players don’t become available all the time. You can’t make all the necessary improvements. It takes a little bit of time. But we’re confident that we’re heading in the right direction.”
In the past 19 years, only the 2000 New York Jets have had more first-round draft picks in a single season, with four. The Jets turned those picks into a 9-7 record in the ensuing season. The 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16), 2013 Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1) and 2001 Rams (14-2 and a Super Bowl appearance) all had three first-rounders, like the Raiders do at the moment.
Mayock, ever the realist, waxed poetic.
“I think we need to get better everywhere,” he said. “Whenever you make significant signings, what it does from a team-needs perspective is maybe it allows you to concentrate in some other areas. I’ve always been a big believer in the draft that value is value regardless of position.
“We’re excited about those first four picks in the first 35. That’s outstanding, but we have to hit everywhere else and that’s the game plan.”
Makes sense, right?