The Oakland Raiders may look like a completely different team in 2018, because of the return of Jon Gruden and also because the roster could look quite a bit different. In particular, there are three key players who may not return next season.
The Oakland Raiders have plenty of items on their offseason to-do list, from cutting dead weight to adding players via the draft and everything that comes in between. There’s certainly a lot to come, but it’s already been an eventful offseason for the Silver and Black with the return of the Jon Gruden to the sidelines.
With the Raiders fresh off of a disappointing 6-10 season, there are plenty of questions on how Reggie McKenzie will change the roster before September. In particular, he will have a few decisions to make in regard to whether or not several key players from 2017 will return to the team in 2018 — namely Marshawn Lynch, Michael Crabtree and Bruce Irvin.
Starting with Marshawn, the rumor originally shared by Greg Papa eventually came to life last offseason as the Raiders were able to woo Lynch out of retirement to play for his hometown team. Signing a two-year, $9M deal, in typical Reggie McKenzie fashion, there is no more guaranteed money remaining on Marshawn’s contract. In simpler terms, if he’s cut, the Raiders wouldn’t owe him a single penny and there would be no dead money added to the salary cap.
But should the team cut ties with him after just one year in town?
Lynch’s first season certainly had its ups and downs, and it didn’t take long for him to become a divisive figure among the fan base. From his protest during the National Anthem to his dancing on the sideline to his involvement in the scuffle during the Chiefs game, there are plenty who would be happy to see Marshawn on the way out. Pair that with inconsistent production, and perhaps the writing is on the wall.
But taking a closer look at the numbers, Lynch’s production was better than the perception indicates. He finished the year with 891 yards and 7 TDs — not flashy, but he had a 4.3 yards per carry average. And he did this while facing the most 8-man fronts in the NFL. Lynch ran hard all season, and he still looks like he has some gas left in the tank. Plus, despite his persona rubbing some of the fans the wrong way, all accounts are that he is well liked in the locker room, and most importantly by the franchise quarterback.
Gruden was asked about Lynch at his introductory press conference, but didn’t have much to say other than he looks forward to meeting him for the first time. Gruden does prefer vets, but he also prefers pass-catching backs — which Marshawn is not. Lynch is reportedly intrigued with the idea of playing under Gruden, and for his sake, he better hope the feeling is mutual.
A decision that feels like has already been made is in regard to the future of Michael Crabtree. After signing a four-year extension towards the end of his first season with the Raiders, Crabtree just completed his third season in Oakland with two more to go. He’s owed in the neighborhood of $16 million in those two seasons, but like Lynch, he can be released with no financial penalty.
After posting 85 yards, 922 yards and 9 TDs in year one in Oakland and 89 catches, 1003 yards and 8 TDs in year two, Crabtree’s production fell off a cliff in year three. But virtually the entire offense took a major step back under Todd Downing, so it’s like his performance is an isolated issue. But what are actually issues are his problems with dropped passes, which have plagued him for the entirety of his tenure with the Raiders, and there are rumblings that his attitude problems have once again surfaced.
Also, he either was benched in the season finale or he removed himself from the game, depending on which story you believe. But if he was benched, it’s easy to see the reasons why. If Crabtree would have been seriously injured in that game, it’s possible the team could have been on the hook for his 2018 salary — not ideal if the plan is not to have him on the books for 2018.
If the Raiders do but ties with Crab, there will be big shoes to fill. Despite the drops, he’s been Carr’s most reliable target and his go-to option in the red zone. With Seth Roberts as the next most productive wideout on the team, they’d quickly have to find a player either in the draft or in free agency that can fill most of the production they’d be losing with the departure of Crabtree.
Bruce Irvin is another player who may not return in 2018, which would be a big loss as he has been the second best player on the defense behind Khalil Mack.
Irvin started off 2017 quite slow, but he finally picked things up when Ken Norton Jr. was fired. He had only 2.5 sacks as of Week 11, but he added 5.5 in the home stretch to get to 8 total on the year. His late uptick in production may have saved his job, but it’s no sure thing he’ll be back.
Bruce will be 31 in November, and he already showed some signs of slowing down this season. Another year of dwindling athleticism is not ideal for a pass rusher, especially for this team. Without Irvin, opposing offenses could send as many guys as they want in the direction of Khalil Mack and wouldn’t worry one bit about anyone else on the team hurting them. That’s the biggest argument Irvin has to come back in 2018.
But he’s owed $8.25M next season and $9.25M the year after that, with no dead money if released. Free agency likely won’t be an option to replace Irvin if they let him go, but if the team feels they can find a suitable replacement in the draft, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sent packing.
My prediction is that Lynch and Irvin come back, but Crabtree does not.
Lynch may not come cheap, but Gruden will love the way he runs and the truth is, neither DeAndre Washington nor Jalen Richard would be ready to take on a larger role. Plus, retaining Lynch would not mean that the team couldn’t add another back to the rotation. They could still investment in one early in the draft or in free agency, give Lynch one more year, and have this other running back take over for the future.
Irvin showed that he still has plenty to contribute if used property, and new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will need all the talent he can get to get this defense finally trending in the right direction.
In regard to Crabtree, it just seems like the writing is on the wall here. I would bring him back, but I understand the reasons why it might be time to part ways with him. But if they do cut him, everyone in Raider Nation will be praying a sound replacement plan is in place. More Seth Roberts is the last thing anyone wants to see.