The Las Vegas Raiders just barely missed the postseason in 2020, a fact that can be mostly attributed to the fact that the secondary was terrible and consistency on both sides of the ball was hard to come by. The franchise is now entering Year 3 of the Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock partnership, and results are expected. Even Gruden's 10-year contract only gives him so much wiggle room. Heads will roll if the Raiders disappoint in 2021.
Everyone in the building knows that, and the free agency period this offseason was the first step toward adding pieces to accomplish that end. And, uh, what the Raiders have decided to do has been... confusing. To say the least.
To kick things off, they've gotten rid of three of their five starting linemen from last season. They traded Trent Brown to New England, Gabe Jackson to Seattle, and Rodney Hudson to Arizona. Richie Incognito (remember him?) was cut but announced he was coming back. Only tackle Kolton Miller was left untouched. Continuity is a big part of offensive line success in the NFL, so this is certainly a decision, especially since it's not like the Raiders' O-line was bad last year. Derek Carr was sacked 26 times, which ranked 17th in the league. As a team, Las Vegas ranked 14th in the NFL in total rush yards. All in all, that linemen grouping was actually slightly above-average.
But slightly above-average does not make a playoff team. Surely the Raiders are going to use the money saved from moving on from three starters to rebuild the line, right? Or maybe invest a bunch of that money into the defense that desperately needs fixing everywhere other than on the edge?
Negative. The Raiders signed John Brown after trading Trent Brown. Brown is a good receiver who does the exact same thing as 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III. Like, the exact same thing. A Venn Diagram of their overlapping skill sets would be a circle. Shortly afterwards, they inked Yannick Ngakoue to a two-year deal worth $26 million, which is a good addition but doesn't really address a need. Then the news broke today they were signing Kenyan Drake to a two-year deal worth $14 million. In of itself, that's not a bad signing. Until you remember the Raiders have Josh Jacobs, a top-five running back, on rookie contract... and, again, got rid of three of their starting linemen whose job is to pave the way!
Sure, there's still plenty of free agents out there and the NFL Draft occurs between now and the start of the season. But are the Raiders really going to go bargain shopping for their offensive linemen and hope a high draft pick or two can step in immediately and play at a high level? In what is perhaps the most important year for the franchise as the team is currently constructed?
That doesn't seem very smart to me, but I'm not employed by an NFL team for a reason. Thus, the only answer is that Mayock and Gruden are throwing traditional logic aside and going Big Brain on us all. Offensive linemen are, in fact, overrated. It doesn't matter how long the QB has to throw as long as the guys catching the ball can do damage, even if the personnel is redundant. Also, the best defense is a good offense.
It's the only way to make sense of any of these moves.