The Raiders are now in the midst of a second straight bizarre offseason due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. General Manager Mike Mayock will once again have the challenge of constructing a team that can get the Silver and Black over the hump and into the playoffs without a traditional schedule to rely on.
"A year ago if you told me we would be back in COVID restrictions for the offseason, I don't even know if I would've made it to today," Mayock said Wednesday during an offseason catch-up with reporters.
The Silver and Black are approaching this offseason prioritizing needs to make the defense better, however cap restrictions and a draft evaluation system under COVID protocols will be a hinderance to the Raiders front office. This includes a system that Mayock went into detail on which includes not being able to take prospects and free agents out to dinner and bring them into facilities, not being able to talk to prospects at pro days and an irregular virtual draft combine. All of these make it tougher to find "the best fit" of players for the organization.
"If any of you guys have college-aged kids and you're worried about their fit — what college fits for them coming out of high school — that's kind of the same way I try to look at things: What's the best fit? Do we fit this kid? Does he fit in our building? And if you don't get face to face with him, it's hard."
While Mayock will be searching for "solid" players to come in and adapt to the Raiders way, he's just as much focused in on evaluating the players that are currently on the roster and committing to them.
First is the Raiders' career passing yards record-holder Derek Carr.
Carr is coming off his best season to date under Coach Gruden, which has made him a topic of conversation in trade rumors that have circulated the past month. Additionally he is nearing the end of the five-year contract with a possible extension on the horizon. Mayock assured that he and the organization still have faith in the quarterback they took in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Fresno State.
"Obviously I can't talk about anyone else's players, so I won't," Mayock said. "I'll just talk about Derek. I think Derek Carr had his best year under Jon Gruden. I think he's one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, and we couldn't be happier with him. I think Jon and I would both stand shoulder-to-shoulder and pound the table for Derek Carr."
I think Derek Carr had his best year under Jon Gruden. I think he's one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, and we couldn't be happier with him. I think Jon and I would both stand shoulder-to-shoulder and pound the table for Derek Carr. General Manager Mike Mayock
Free Agent Questions
Two other players that are under speculation are offensive tackle Trent Brown and wide receiver Nelson Agholor. The Pro Bowl tackle had a productive 2019 season in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl, but a disappointing 2020 season plagued by injuries and COVID-19 in which he only saw action in five games. Mayock said that "the jury is still out" on whether Brown will be returning to the team next season, however he is still convinced that Brown is one of the best offensive linemen in the league if he can stay healthy.
"Trent's whole thing is when he's healthy, in shape and ready to go, he's as dominant as any tackle in football and he proved that early in the 2019 season," Mayock added. "Since then it's kind of been a rollercoaster. So, really what he needs to do more than anything is get himself in the best shape of his life and come out and prove that he is a dominant tackle in the National Football League, and really that's all it takes. If Trent gets in shape and stays committed, there's not a better talent out there."
Agholor, slated as an unrestricted free agent after signing a one-year deal with the Raiders, rose as a locker-room leader for the young team and became one of Carr's favorite go-to weapons. Carr connected with the former Philadelphia Eagle for 896 yards and eight touchdowns, both second most on the team behind Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller. While Agholor is expected to test the market after his remarkable season, Mayock realizes the true value he brings to the team and would like to keep him in Silver and Black for the foreseeable future.
"Nelly is one of my favorite people in the whole world. When I lived in Philadelphia, I did the Eagles preseason games and Nelly was an Eagle. I was familiar with his work ethic and appreciated him back then. What he brought to the Raiders last year was off the charts. He brought a work ethic, a toughness. He brought the young players along with him and he brought productivity and trust with our quarterback. All of those things he brought, we don't want to lose. We'd love to have Nelly back. That's a guy that I can't tell you how much appreciation I have for.
Addressing The Defense
As for the defensive side of the ball, Mayock has invested a lot of time and effort in developing his young secondary through the draft over the past couple of years, including coaching them up when defensive backs coach Jim O'Neil and assistant Taver Johnson missed games this previous season due to COVID-19. Still, Mayock is equally excited in the pieces that are already in place taking their game to another level.
"We've got a first-round safety in John Abram; we got a second-round corner who we think is going to be a very good football player. We've got a fourth-round corner in Amik Robertson, another first-round corner in Damon Arnette and we mentioned Trayvon Mullen in the second, who we think is going to be a heck of a player. So, really, what we need more than anything is for all those players to take it up a notch or two," Mayock said.
"I'm talking about commitment to the game, work ethic, perseverance, being in the locker room working with your brothers. All those things are critical. We've expended some draft capital on what we think are some very talented players, and now all of them need to take a collective step forward.
"In [defensive coordinator] Gus Bradley's system, it's a little bit different in that you typically are looking at a true free safety and a true strong safety. Abram could probably be considered more of that strong safety, and free safety, we're going to have to answer some questions. We have Jeff Heath. Erik Harris is a free agent. We have some guys that have played some football for us, but whether it's a draft or free agency, that's a position we have to be very aware of and we are."
At the end of the day, the obstacles the Raiders must face this offseason are not much different than any other team in the NFL. It's critical that each team takes what's in front of them and makes it work to the best of their ability. Mike Mayock understands what's in front of him, and refuses to have the rest of the organization "b**ch and moan" about it.
"What gets me excited though is trying to apply what we learned last year, trying to get better and more than anything, you guys remember what we talked about Day 1 when I walked in this building: We talked about foundation players and what's a Raider fit. And that's what we want this year, both in free agency and draft. We want to bring the right fit of person into this building and we want to create something special and we think we're getting close."
"But no excuses, we're nowhere near there, and we have to get a lot better."
View the top 101 NFL free agents of 2021, according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. (Last updated Monday, March 15)