Nobody really knew what to expect when the Las Vegas Raiders (then residing in Oakland) announced the hiring of NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock as the GM they were to pair with new head coach Jon Gruden. A draft analyst jumping straight from television to a professional front office simply has not happened in the modern era of the NFL. Mayock had a lot of work ahead of them; the Raiders had a solid quarterback in Derek Carr, but otherwise the entire roster needed an overhaul.
Mayock tried to start off his tenure with a bang. Most notoriously, he traded a fifth-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Antonio Brown, who was cut before the season began. The move obviously did not work out but it's tough to blame Mayock for that. Nobody could have predicted Brown would sabotage his career in such a swift and dramatic manner. It was far from his only big move; the Raiders had three first-round picks in 2019, Mayock's first draft calling the shots rather than breaking down decisions on camera.
So far, that draft looks decent even if it's not spectacular. Taking Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 was a shock then and doesn't look great now, but Ferrell is an above-average edge defender and apparently an A+ personality and leader. Josh Jacobs was a great find in the latter half of the first round as the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jonathan Abrams, taken at No. 27, hasn't done much, but that miss is offset by finding Maxx Crosby in the fourth round, who has been one of the better late-round performers from that year's draft. In other words, a pretty typical draft for any GM: some hits and some misses evening out for an average draft.
Mayock's boldest moves in his first offseason on the other side of the industry came in free agency. He invested $152 million in three players; left tackle Trent Brown, safety Lamarcus Joyner, and wide receiver Tyrell Williams all signed on the dotted line to play in black and silver. It seemed a lot of money at the time for three players who most would consider good, but not great, on the best of days. Two years later, the signings look even worse because all three will not be on the roster in 2021.
The Raiders will reportedly trade Brown and a seventh-round pick to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick after he missed 16 games in two seasons with the team. A $66 million deal with $36 million guaranteed over four years, down the drain. Joyner missed four games in that same timespan and was generally fine when he played but certainly not worth the four-year, $42 million deal that Mayock gave him, and that's why he will be released when the new league year starts. Williams missed all of 2020 with a shoulder injury and was no better than a No. 3 option in 2019, catching 41 passes for 651 yards and five touchdowns. That's solid, but Mayock signed him for $11 million a year. The play did not nearly match the paycheck and that's why the Raiders outright released him last month.
The Raiders handed out $79.5 million in guaranteed money to those three players. In return, they are left with only a fifth-round pick from New England and over $20 million in dead cap as penalty for not having them on the roster come 2021. That's brutal. If any of the three had helped the Raiders make a playoff push, that would be one thing. But Las Vegas failed to quality for the postseason each of the last two years, and they didn't even come particularly close.
None of this is to say that Mayock is a terrible GM and should be on his way out the door. He found some foundational players in his first draft and the team has improved year-over-year under he and Gruden's watch, even if the playoffs remain out of reach for now. Like every one of his counterparts around the league, some of Mayock's decisions panned out and some did not. But it should be a teaching moment for the inexperienced GM.
The Raiders will have a bit of money to play with this offseason and it's time for everything to start coming together. Mayock can't have another flop of a free-agency period like he did with the above crop of signees. If he does, the seat will be hot.