The pre-combine edition of the Oakland Raiders Weekly Roundup. Here, we’ll pull together any notable Silver and Black news from the previous week and put it together all in one place.
Welcome back, Raider Nation. This is the weekly Oakland Raiders roundup where we gather items of interest regarding the Silver and Black and bring them all to you in one place.
The NFL Scouting Combine is upon us, but this article will not feature much on that. However don’t despair — there will be a special “Combine Roundup” early next week after the defensive backs finish things off on Monday.
While details of the combine and player performances will come later, there are still some interesting Raiders related tidbits out of Indianapolis. The first, and most disappointing of course, is…
Raiders Lose The Coin Toss
With their Bay Area rivals’ late season surge, the Raiders and Niners ended up tied with 6-10 regular season records. NFL executives discussed and decided — why miss a chance for another televised event? Let’s have a coin toss at the combine to determine who picks 9th and who picks 10th in the 2018 draft.
And that’s just what they did, much to Jon Gruden’s annoyance:
Jon Gruden not messing around before the coin toss “Let’s get on with this.” pic.twitter.com/Xg3MGRjoVe
— Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) March 2, 2018
He wasn’t quite as annoyed at the toss itself as he was at the result. As the coin lay Niner side up, Gruden gave it a molten stare, trying to melt it into the floor:
Gruden is still staring down the coin 😂 pic.twitter.com/q65022Odst
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) March 2, 2018
Classic Gruden — gotta love it.
Reggie McKenzie, for his part, didn’t seem too phased and spoke about the difference between the 9th and 10th pick:
“I don’t think it matters much, as far as the player,” McKenzie said Wednesday. “Maybe the trade value holds a bit more, if somebody wants to get up the ninth pick over the 10th. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge factor. I won’t lose any sleep over this, none at all.”
Though he did give some fodder — and poked some fun — after the toss to the “Rod Woodson screwed the Raiders because they fired him” theory:
“Rod had an important job, to make sure it landed on the right side,” McKenzie said with a sly grin. “It was a bad flip.”
So the 2018 draft order is set. Raider Nation can take some solace in knowing that the Niners win in the coin flip at least means the Patriots get a lower 2nd round pick. There is that.
Apparently, the Raiders and the Niners aren’t done. This draft result wasn’t just a tussle between the Bay Area rivals — it’s directly related to upcoming free agency, in which…
Raiders and Niners Both Vying For Trumaine Johnson
I cast my opinion last week that based on his difficulties in past negotiations, his outrageous 2018 base salary of $16.742M and his overall play for that price, Trumaine Johnson isn’t worth pursuing in free agency. He will command top-8 money and I don’t know he’s a top 8 corner.
Fortunately, I don’t make the decisions and so Johnson will be pursued hard. The Raiders have a pressing need at corner, and word is that both they and the 49ers are going to make a hard push for Johnson when free agency season starts on March 12. If it makes financial sense, then it’s a good move. It’s just hard to see how that’s possible with Johnson’s current salary — and word of this potential bidding war.
If it truly is a two-team battle, then Johnson’s final destination will have a major impact on the draft. Whichever team gets Johnson will no longer need a first-round cornerback.
Not sure the coin toss impacts the 49ers or Raiders too much. Think it comes down to who gets Trumaine Johnson in free agency. The team that does takes Roquan Smith, the team that doesn't takes Denzel Ward.
— Dylan DeSimone (@DylanADeSimone) March 2, 2018
Both teams have similar needs. The Niners picking one spot ahead could see them completely screw the Raiders over. Get Johnson AND a player the Raiders covet and need, and the Niners have really stuck it to the Silver and Black. While Ward and Smith are certainly not locks for either team or either pick, you can see that playing out.
Johnson has shown he can be an impact player. He had 7 interceptions in 2015 before teams started shying away from him. He’s a big corner (6’2″, 205 lbs) who has the rare trait of willingly sticking his grill in the run game and making stops. His long arms and size enable him to play big receivers and press people at the line. There is a lot to like about Johnson, to be sure. It really depends on his price tag, but apparently the Raiders may be able to afford it because rumors abound that…
Raiders May Cut Crabtree and Lynch
Days removed from Reggie McKenzie telling SFGate:
“Mike didn’t finish well, but neither did we as a team,” McKenzie said. “Things did not go well. So we can point fingers at a lot of those type of situations. But we’re not going to dwell on what happened last year.”
And confirming that Crabtree is “in our plans” for the 2018 season, there is heavy speculation that both Crabtree and Marshawn Lynch may be cut.
Who knows at this point? Both McKenzie and Gruden have given both players positive endorsements and said they’d love to have them back. Yet something lingers — the money due, their respective ages, and the perception of 2017. All of this continues to fuel speculation one or both will be cut.
Here is a trusted source with something that makes a ton of sense from a PR, relationship and financial perspective. In an article, Michael Gehlken discusses a potential pay cut or restructuring as really being the only way one or both players are back next season.
It also seems likely the Raiders, Gruden and McKenzie continue to massage a PR angle of bringing back fan-favorite players to avoid alienating the fanbase while clandestinely working to re-structure things to make overall fiscal and roster sense. If they truly intend to fully pursue Johnson they will need more cap space.
If the Raiders cut Crabtree, the receiver position becomes a large question mark. Seth Roberts has made some plays in his career, and is a good blocker. He also drops the ball with alarming frequency and did little of value in 2017. Amari Cooper is a great player I fully expect to bounce back in 2018. Cordarrelle Patterson deserves more action but is a fourth wideout at best with his limited route-running ability and propensity for body catching the ball.
Financial matters are taking over the Silver and Black right now. Johnson, Crabtree and Lynch situation aside, one thing that is heavy on the minds of Raider Nation is the future of Khalil Mack. Fortunately, the Raiders have already begun…
Contract Negotiations with Khalil Mack
Despite the fact that he’s in his fourth year and there is still a fifth-year rookie option for Mack’s deal, the Raiders know how special a player and person they have in him. That’s why they’ve already begun discussing a long-term deal with their defensive MVP.
As first reported by Vic Tafur at The Athletic (subscription site), the Raiders have extended an initial offer to Mack and his team is looking it over. The timing is more noteworthy for the respect it shows Mack than anything, as there is still a ton of time to work this out. McKenzie is close to the vest as usual regarding contract talks, but his intentions are clear.
“I’m not going to get into contracts, I never do,” McKenzie said. “But make no bones about it: We want Khalil to be a Raider. We’ll leave it at that.”
Mack is the first and only player to be named All-Pro at two positions in the same year, and has a DPOY award in his first three seasons. Add in that he’s loved by teammates and the community, and a humble and by all accounts fantastic person and you see why the Raiders are trying to lock him down early. Carr on offense, Mack on defense. Like Carr, we’d like to also wish Mack a happy birthday back on February 22:
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) February 22, 2018
Fortunately for the Raiders, Mack is still pretty far from 30. That’s why the plan is to lock him down now, and it’s a good plan. Another plan that is in the works and is also a fantastic idea, is that…
Amari Cooper Will Be the Focal Point of the Offense
And the kid can do it, too. He’s shown his ability in his short time and a injury-riddled and offensively stagnant 2017 doesn’t change the fact that he’s got the route-tree knowledge, route-running ability, speed and aggressiveness after the catch to take over an offense.
He just needs to catch the ball.
Gruden is all for it. At the combine on Wednesday, Gruden spoke about Cooper and the high expectations he has for him in 2018:
“We think Cooper’s going to be a great player,” Gruden said. “We think Amari’s not only a great prospect, a great player, he’s a great person. He had a lot of injuries last year and that impacted him, but he’ll be the focal point of our pass offense. I hope he’s listening here today.”
The coach also had some high praise for Cooper’s ability to play big under the spotlight. He’s clearly excited about the tools he brings to the offense:
“He’s got tremendous quickness. I think he’s smart, he’s versatile, he’s a gamer, he likes the bright lights and he’ll be the headliner in our offense.”
His career at Alabama and his performances in NFL prime-time back that up. Some of his biggest games were in the NCAA Championship game and against division rivals in NFL prime-time.
The Mercury News agrees Cooper can thrive under Gruden. Raiders HOF receiver Tim Brown is on record saying he thinks Cooper could catch 125 passes as the focal point with Gruden. But he also made it clear Cooper will have to work to get there:
“He’s got to work,” Brown said. “You’ve got to be precise. To be a `Z’ receiver in this offense, you’ve got to be a workhorse. You can’t come off the field. You can’t be tired. If guys like Sterling Sharpe and Jerry Rice can do it, you can do it too. It’s going to be grind and a different way of playing football.”
After his personal struggles and the coaching in 2017, Cooper is likely ecstatic to embrace a different way of playing football.
It’s not just Cooper who hopes for a bounce-back 2018. Nor is it just Cooper that Gruden has been speaking about in terms of praise and high expectations. Whatever happens with Trumaine Johnson and in the draft, Gruden and McKenzie are expecting…
Big Things From Gareon Conley
As Gruden said at the combine, the team needs Conley. While he doesn’t have a lot of sample size in NFL film, Gruden is confident in his ability as a player. Gruden mentioned him and Obi Melifonwu as keys to improving the defense in 2018:
“He’s our first-round draft choice,” Gruden said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Everybody liked Conley at Ohio State. He had an excellent training camp. When I studied the training camp film he was inside playing the nickel position. When the season started he was out at right corner. He’s a young player. We’re counting on him and (second-round safety) Obi Melifonwu to play – and we need them to – but we’re really exciting to start with them.”
Conley suffered through a mysterious shin ailment most of 2017. Turns out he was kicked in the shin in June mini-camp and it just never healed properly. When he did play he played well, but he regressed and had season-ending surgery in November.
He has unquestioned talent but it’s really key that he gain more experience. McKenzie is confident he’ll come back strong, as he was everything they thought he was prior to getting hurt:
“Prior to his injury, we saw what we thought he was: a No. 1 cornerback. Our evaluations of him coming out of Ohio State were really strong, and his first few weeks in Alameda were really strong. Leading up to the injury, he did not disappoint as a player. …We feel good about his rehab process, but he still has a ways to go to get where he needs to be.”
It’s great to hear Conley’s rehab is going well. All indications are he’ll be ready for OTAs and mini-camp and there’s no concern or setbacks at this point. Great news, and exciting to think what he can do with a full off-season and pain-free running ability.
Now, let’s look into some administrative things going on with the team. While not the most exciting news, it certainly affects a lot of folks. So it’s good news to hear that…
Raiders Are Addressing Parking For Their Las Vegas Stadium
First, the actual big news. The Las Vegas Stadium Authority officially approved the documentation put forth for the financing of the $1.9B stadium that will be home to the Silver and Black in the desert. This was on Thursday, and there was much rejoicing among those who had worked hard to make this happen.
The lease documentation is now headed to the NFL owners, where it needs approval as well. But this is a big step toward the stadium deal. Part of the discussion was providing at least 16,000 parking spots for fans at the new stadium.
By Friday, the Raiders believed they had a viable plan in place to address this as well. Raiders President Mark Badain spoke about how important accessible parking is to the fans and the team:
“We’ve actually identified over 100,000 spaces within three miles (of the stadium),” Badain said. “Now, obviously, people don’t want to walk three miles, so you have to have a pretty strong infrastructure program and transportation plan in place. We’re working on all of that.”
And he not only addressed the need for parking — and the Raiders plans — but also acknowledged Raider Nation and their need to celebrate and tailgate in traditional fashion:
“We have approximately 3,000 active tailgates at our stadium (in Oakland) right now and approximately 9,500 parking spots. I don’t know if the numbers will be identical (in Las Vegas), but it gives us a good ballpark number. The (parking) has always been consistently important to the organization, to (owner) Mark Davis, and how the game-day experience revolves around it.”
So while things inch ever closer to becoming official in Las Vegas, the Raiders are doing what they can do address potential issues before they arise.
Well, that’s about it for another week of Raiders news. As I mentioned at the first, stay tuned early next week for a special Combine Roundup news article. Always be sure to check Only1Nation.com and follow @Only1Nation_ daily for all your Raiders offseason news, combine analysis, free agency updates and much, much more.