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“Raiders Off Season; Derek Carr & Kahlil Mack Contracts; Salary Cap; Who Stays, Who Goes”

NFL: Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders

It was a fun season for Oakland Raider fans but now the off season lull begins. I am extremely optimistic about the Raiders next season but there is work to do.  Let’s see if we can’t fill that void with early off season talk.

Salary Cap:

First off, if you are new to my writing my regulars would tell you I only write one way; honestly.  I’m not a homer and I don’t say what people want to hear.  I’m also not a hater.  I have the following I do because I respect the game and the readers.  I want to inform readers of all levels; whether you are new to the game and the Raiders or whether you know about schemes and techniques.  This is supposed to be fun and informative.

The salary cap was created by the NFL to create parity. The NFL felt that if they leveled the playing field and prevented dynasty’s, there would be more fan interest because different teams would be in the playoffs. Both Super Bowl teams from last year didn’t even make the playoffs this year.

Remember when Seattle won the Super Bowl? QB Russell Wilson was making under 1 million. His average annual salary is now 21.9 million. With that salary cap hit, they are struggling with their OL & depth at many positions. Well the Raiders are now in that same boat.

Last month the Raiders and Derek Carr both said that they wanted to finalize a deal in the off season. Carr is set to make 1.7 million in 2017. They were looking at a 4-5 year deal for 20 million a year. If the Raiders wait another year, they may get into a bidding war with teams and most feel the price would go up to 23-25 million per year.  Resigning players in their contract year is the smart thing to do.

In 2018 they now have to resign Kahlil Mack. He also is going to get a huge raise from his 4.6 million dollar average. The good thing is they can franchise him so they won’t lose him. Those are huge chunks taken out of the salary cap. Most that are looking ahead also think it’s near impossible for the Raiders to keep OL Gabe Jackson when his contract is up. He’s going to get a big raise from his 4 year average salary of 770k. Some think he’ll get around 7-8 million/year.

Derek Carr’s contract will dictate what the Raiders do in the off season.   The days of having a ton of money under the salary cap are gone. Seattle has done it right by emphasizing good drafts and player development through good coaching.  Raiders need to do the same.

The Reality:

The Raiders have to limit their busts. The Nate Allen’s and Sean Smith’s of the world can’t happen anymore.   The Jihad Ward and DJ Hayden draft picks can’t happen anymore (both picks that I took heat for from fans for hating them). If your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round draft choices aren’t starting within 2 years and at least playing fairly well, then they were not good picks.   Before the salary cap you could bench picks and let them learn over time. Those days are gone. The standards need to be high if you want to keep winning.  Let’s now look at each position.

Quarterbacks:

Derek Carr will be back and healthy after healing up from his injury. Matt McGloin’s meltdown in Denver pretty much sealed his fate.   He’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and he said he’d like a chance to start somewhere. Look for McGloin to sign elsewhere and Cook to be the backup.   I said it at the draft last year, I think Cook is a back up at best in the NFL and I’m not a huge fan of his but he’s ok.

Running Backs:

DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard at times really stole the show.   Both are explosive and can catch the ball. I don’t think either is a franchise back but they are very valuable in a RB by committee way which has been the trend in the NFL.

Latavius Murray is a nice back but he doesn’t thrill me at all. Some have said he’ll ask for 6-7 million a year.   If he wants a lot of money I let him go and pick up a free agent or a later round rookie power back. There are some steals that can be had in later rounds. I still like Jamize Olawale and I wish he’d get more carries. The Stanford RB “Christian McCaffrey to Oakland” in the second round rumors have already begun.

Wide Receivers:

The Raiders are set with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. They both dropped a lot of balls this season though, including one each in the playoff game so hopefully that improves. I said it last year; Seth Roberts is not a good #3 and he also had the dropsies. The Raiders have the rights to Roberts but you wonder if they move on. Lower down the Raider needs list, adding a good #3 WR would be a plus. Andre Holmes has his moments and is solid at #4, but where he shines is special teams where he has become a big contributor. He’s an UFA but I think he’ll come back.

Offensive Line:

The engine of the Raiders.

I still remember Donald Penn being raked over the coals on social media by many Raider fans when he asked for a lot of money in his last contract.   Well he is worth it. He had his best year and didn’t allow a sack until Carr was hurt late in the season; and on that play he slipped.

The OL will stay intact but there will be some changes. Menelik Watson is an UFA and may not be resigned. He is hurt a lot and his play is sporatic.   Mike Tice loved Jon Feliciano; I didn’t. I still didn’t get drafting him and he hasn’t been great either. Look for some new faces backing up the starters next year.

Tight End:

It’s hard to evaluate the TE’s because the Raiders throw so little to them (Part of the reason I didn’t like Bill Musgrave’s offense). During the year they were always top 8 in catches v.s. targets.   When they were thrown too they usually caught the ball.

Clive Walford is a good blocker and pass catcher. Mychal Rivera is a good pass catcher but can’t block and may not be resigned. Lee Smith; a loss that no one brings up that was a big one; will be back after breaking his ankle in week 4. He is the best run blocking tight end in the NFL and can catch a ball or two when needed.

Defensive Line:

The great Woody Hayes once said when asked about the potential of his freshman QB Rod Gerald, “Potential? Potential means you ain’t no damn good yet!”. The Raiders can’t be enamored with potential anymore. They need results.

The Raiders were LAST; DEAD LAST in sacks. They also were last in yards per play (6.1). I said it last year and I’m saying it this year; clean house in the DL.   Stacy McGee and Denico Autry have shown glimpses of good play, but injuries and inconsistencies have limited their success. McGee is UFA and Autry is restricted. Raiders need to move on unless the price is right.

I ripped on the Jihad Ward draft pick and still don’t get it. He started 13 games this year and played in all 16; did anyone notice?   They drafted him too high but I would not have drafted him at all. You can’t miss on early picks in the salary cap era.

Dan Williams and Justin Ellis were bad this year and their days are numbered.

The best way to help your DB’s is to have a great pass rush. The Raiders have to sign or draft a DT that can put pressure on the QB.   Mario Edwards so far isn’t the answer either. He’s hurt too much and has had some good play but it’s still not a given he’ll be good. Aldon Smith? In my personal life I avoid high maintenance people or drama so this whole thing gives me a headache.

Linebackers:

The Raiders LB’s this year at times were awful. They could not cover tight ends and they struggled in the running game. Malcolm Smith gets lots of tackles but many are much more downfield than they would like. He usually is good in coverage but he struggled at times there too.   He’s never been great against the run; that’s why in Seattle he was not a 3 down LB; and he’s not now to be honest.   Do you resign him for big money? No.   Lesser money? OK. He along with Perry Riley Jr. are UFA. Riley Jr. played great when he was first picked up but his play tapered off the longer he was on the field. He’s an ok player but as a starter, he may not be the answer.

The Raiders need to sign a physical LB that can shore up the position and they still haven’t found that.

Defensive Backs:

Clean House. For years the Raiders have wasted a ton of money, draft picks and signings on DB’s to fix their defense and it hasn’t worked. I’d rather spend less money on them and more money on the DL. The Matt McGloin fan club has almost been as annoying as the DJ Hayden fan club. No he’s not a shut down corner.   No he’s not a great slot cover guy.   Let him go. It didn’t work and I said it when he was drafted; it was a bad pick and it’s time to move on.

When Raider fans last year had David Amerson as the king of the world while holding up Pro Football Focus stats, I said hold your horses and give it time. I was right. Amerson is good on outs and short to mid range passes but he struggles a lot against the long ball. He was burned often this year with the deep ball and it’s the reason he struggled at Washington. The poor play of the safeties didn’t help him either.

Nate Allen has been a bust. He and Reggie Nelson take so many bad angles it’s hard to watch. Allen is an UFA and I let him go. Bad signing. TJ Carrie is more of a backup and Keith McGill was very bad at times and his days may be numbered.

Karl Joseph struggled in pass coverage but did well against the run for the most part.   Hopefully a healthy year and experience will fix that but the Raiders are hoping he’s not injury prone.

Sean Smith was a huge bust. Many of the people ripping on Smith now were applauding his signing back then (see, being a GM isn’t so easy). Smith is tentative and I’ve never seen a guy give so much cushion near the end zone. A couple of writers said he needs better technique; huh? So he’s great for 3 years but he forgot everything the next? Come on.   The truth is Smith played on a team known for their pass rush and great safety play at Kansas City. He seems to need it and he gets neither in Oakland.   The Raiders are stuck with him for one more year at least; possibly two.

Coaches:

Jack Del Rio has done a good job but these dumb penalties still need to be fixed.  Also, the Raiders lifeless performance against Denver can’t happen.  Even if you lose your QB you still die hard.  Del Rio has said the standards need to be higher now and that’s a good sign.

I don’t know what else Ken Norton Jr. was supposed to do. He did a great job at Seattle but Seattle had players. The Raiders LB’s are not good and their DB’s are worse.   Then add the poor DT play. Their Safeties and LB’s flat out can’t guard TE’s.   They have the worst pass rush in the NFL. Love to see what genius can make that work. The Raiders agree with me and are bringing back Ken Norton Jr. for 2017.

Some Raider fans are clamoring for Wade Phillips to take over as DC. Only thing is, Denver was 28th in the NFL against the run this year and it was one of the main reasons they struggled. What was different? Stud run stopper Malik Jackson signed with Jacksonville and LB Danny Trevathan signed with Chicago. The year before? Denver was #3 in the NFL against the run. Did Phillips forget how to stop the run? No. He didn’t have the same players.   Coaches help but some fans need to stop giving all the credit to the players when they win and then blame the coaches when their favorites don’t play well.

I wrote this article below when Bill Musgrave was signed and I flat out didn’t get it. The Raiders letting him go is a good thing. (Conservative; poor adjustments in game). The Raiders have the 2nd best OL in the NFL and great talent on offense.  They were #6 in the NFL in offense because of their great talent; not because of Bill Musgrave.

The only thing is they sure like to hire their friends.   Todd Downing goes from QB coach to OC.   Downing is a good friend of Mike Tice who hired Downing in the early 2000’s when he was coaching the Vikings.   He has very limited success up until now. Time will tell. Rookie OC’s don’t tear up the NFL either for the most part.

https://jimjax4.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/who-is-bill-musgrave-the-raiders-hire-a-new-offensive-coordinator/

How to Keep the Success:

With Mack and Carr making so little money compared to others, the Raiders have had it easy.   Now the hard work comes in. The Raiders can still keep their success but they have to stop taking reaches on some draft choices and their signings have to be right on. They also can’t keep dead wood around if they aren’t getting the job done or staying healthy.

Like everyone else, the Raiders have holes to fill; mainly on defense. For me, DT, LB and DB should be addressed in that order.   Personally, the Allen’s, Murray’s and Malcolm Smith’s of the Raider world may have to go. Even if they are doing a fairly good to good job, it’s all about the salary cap and staying under it. Look for the chips to fall after they sign Derek Carr. This will be the most important off season for the Raiders in 15 years, and one of the most interesting.  It will be stressful but exciting to see what they do.

“Ken Stabler & the HOF; Raiders Stadium Issue: Jim Jax Interview w/ESPN 97.7 The Zone”

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Here is my interview on 2/8/16 with the great Radio host Drew DeArmond of ESPN 97.7 The Zone.

We are discussing the induction of Ken Stabler into the NFL HOF as well as the Raiders stadium situation and their future home.

 

 

“The Raiders Improve to 7-9; Evaluating Derek Carr & the Offense & Moving Forward”

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Derek Carr Warming Up on the Sidelines

 

You could sum up the Raiders offense this year by saying it was a tale of two season. There were many highs and some lows.  Let’s look at straight forward answers as to the positives of the season and what actually went wrong.

Overall Personnel:

The Raiders spent a lot of money and personnel on the offensive side of the ball. No team in the NFL did more for their offense than the Raiders did.

Some fans seem to want track stars at every wide receiver position, Adrian Peterson at Running back, and every offensive linemen being all pro’s.   This is the salary cap era and you need to be real. Let’s look at the positions and see where the Raiders look good, and where there needs to be improvement.

Running Back:

I like the Raiders running backs. Latavius Murray is solid as a starter but he gets too many carries.   Jamize Olawale has talent but he’s not getting the ball enough, just like Marcel Reece.

It took the Raiders 17 weeks to realize they had Roy Helu Jr. on the team.   I’m shocked he wasn’t used more in the passing game this year.

This can be a solid group but the ball needs to be spread out more. They have the talent but you can’t see it if you don’t use it. The Raiders coaches did a poor job of using the players that they had.

Wide Recievers:

I think Tom Brady was using YMCA players at times this season. The thing is they still are the #2 seed in the playoffs.   If your QB needs a great OL, amazing RB’s and awesome WR’s, then he’s really not that good. NO ONE HAS THAT!

That being said I like the Raiders WR core. Cooper had the dropsies at times but he has a great future and Mike Crabtree is as reliable and as solid a WR as their is. He’s been the best addition in free agency that the Raiders had this year.

I’m not a Seth Roberts fan; he’s made some good catches but Andre Holmes is more talented and needs regular playing time. If they don’t think he can do it, then drop him and get a better #3 in free agency. You can get another player with speed that can stretch the field more.

Tight Ends:

Next year, I think the Raiders can have a top 5 core at tight end. Lee Smith is flat out the best blocking TE in the NFL and he even caught some passes this year. Mychal Rivera needs more touches and Clive Walford is going to be a good one. Unless the Raiders find a way to get the tight ends the ball though, it’s a waste.

 Why did the Offense Struggle In the Second Half?:

You can literally point to one game that changed the direction of the offense. That was the home game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings have a good team and even with injuries, they have a good defense.   Their coaches had 2 goals; take the long pass away, and rush Carr. They did both. They started playing their safeties back, taking away the long ball and the Raiders struggled. Teams started doing the same thing.

Another thing is teams started to blitz more. In the Kansas City game in Oakland, the Chiefs blitzed almost every play in the fourth quarter and it rattled Derek Carr. He ended up throwing 3 int’s in that quarter and that wasn’t a coincidence.

If you look at the changes teams made against the Raiders, in Derek Carr’s first 8 games of the season he had 19 TD’s and 4 interceptions. In the last 8 games he had 13 TD’s and 9 interceptions.

How do You Fix The Offense:

The Raiders stats in the mid range passing game is one of the worst in the NFL. They have to get the tight ends more involved. There needs to be near 10 passes a game to them. Not to get too technical but when the Raiders played a two tight end set, the seam pass was very successful and was there all day. With Amari Cooper going deep it occupies the safety. Have one tight end go straight up the field and there is a lot of space. The Raiders tight ends had several good pass catches using that play. The Raiders tight ends are solid and they have to be a weapon next year. If the Raiders continue to throw either deep or very short, nothing is going to change.   It will also make the run game predictable and hurt that.

Evaluating Derek Carr:

I didn’t think Derek Carr would be as polarizing as he has been. When fans ask me about him I always tell them that if people say he sucks, don’t listen to them, and if people are checking to see who will introduce him at his hall of fame speech, then don’t listen to them either.

The Good:

First off for those that either want him benched or dumped, you’ve got to be kidding. Have you seen the quality; or lack of; in the quarterback position in the NFL? Who is going to replace him? (And if you say Matt McGloin, it’s good to hear from the McGloin Family). Half of the teams in the NFL are begging to find a QB and there are teams like Buffalo that is one QB away from being a playoff team. In the 1970’s and most of the 80’s, even bad teams had good to fair quarterbacks.   Now most teams don’t have a good QB.

Derek Carr has a lot of good qualities that will make him a solid quarterback for a long time. He has a strong arm, can be accurate on the run, and is a solid leader. When he has great time he’s very accurate and productive.  His teammates appreciate and believe in him and that is a big thing to look at as well. He’s even keeled and doesn’t lose his mind if things don’t go well.

The Bad:

I like Derek Carr but he has weaknesses for sure. His biggest one is his poor play when he’s under a pass rush.   In the first part of the year he was barely touched and he flourished; the second half the pass rush rattled him some.

Tom Brady, Ben Roethlesberger, Ken Stabler, Joe Montana, etc….. These are just some of the guys that can get sacked 6 times in a game but they will still do well and their teams usually win. That’s not Derek Carr.

He’s now 1-12 as a starter when he’s sacked 3 times or more in a game.   He tends to rush his throws and throws high when he’s he’s under a pass rush.  His timing is way off and he struggles.

Some tried to say, “look at his stats against the blitz”. Well they dropped in the second half of the season plus they are very misleading. WHAT IF THE BLITZ IS PICKED UP! Then the QB gets credit for it when in reality it was the OL and RB’s that protected him that should get the credit. (see why stats can be misleading).

His 4th quarter quarterback rating is 31st in the NFL (only the Rams Nick Foles is worse) and he has more 4th quarter int’s than any qb in the NFL this year.  He needs to make better decisions late in games.

His Numbers:

Fans of his LOVE to bring up his numbers but let’s face it, these new rules have made passing the ball much easier than in the past.

Kirk Cousins threw for more passing yards than any other Washington QB in history. Does anyone in their right mind think Kirk Cousins is a good QB. Is he better than Joe Theisman, Sammy Baugh, Doug Williams, and Sonny Jurgensen? Cousins also has more passing yards than Carr. Do you want Cousins over Carr? Of course not.  And remember than in their second year, Dan Marino lead the Dolphins to a Super Bowl, and Tom Brady won a Super Bowl leading the Patriots.

Below are the NFL records for passing yards in a season. This is the 14 greatest seasons in NFL history.   Notice anything? Twelve of these seasons have happened in the last 4 years when the rules changed protecting Wide Receivers. What is a penalty now was normal play 5 years ago. They’ve also been setting records the last 4 years for the # of defensive back penalties called. Anyone think Matthew Stafford is one of the greatest QB’s of all time?

NFL Passing Yards in a Season:

1. Peyton Manning (37) 5,477 2013 DEN
2. Drew Brees (32) 5,476 2011 NOR
3. Tom Brady (34) 5,235 2011 NWE
4. Drew Brees (33) 5,177 2012 NOR
5. Drew Brees (34) 5,162 2013 NOR
6. Dan Marino+ (22) 5,084 1984 MIA
7. Drew Brees (29) 5,069 2008 NOR
8. Matthew Stafford (23) 5,038 2011 DET
9. Matthew Stafford (24) 4,967 2012 DET
10. Drew Brees (35) 4,952 2014 NOR
Ben Roethlisberger (32) 4,952 2014 PIT
12. Eli Manning (30) 4,933 2011 NYG
13. Tony Romo (32) 4,903 2012 DAL
14. Drew Brees (36) 4,870 2015 NOR

In conclusion Derek Carr is going to be a solid NFL qb for a long time but he does have issues. The Raiders protecting him is vital. They are going to have to have a great OL to keep him protected.

Bill Musgrave:

The Raiders were never thinking of having any coaching changes; that was just social media hype; but next year is a key year for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. The Raiders lack of adjustments to teams taking away the long ball was glaring.   They have to use the tight ends in the offense and use the other RB’s much more often. What good is it to draft a talented tight end in Clive Walford and sign the best third down running back in Roy Helu Jr. if you aren’t going to use them?  Next year is the year the Raiders offense needs to get to the next level.