Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Raiders' organization, Raiders fans around the world and those who are inspired every time they hear John Facenda say, "The autumn wind is a Raider ..."
If you're a young kid who has no idea what the "autumn wind" is all about, you need to do some research. Although I do have to admit that Raiders fans are among the best at knowing their history. When they look back on 2021, well ... it was eventful. But it led to a playoff appearance that the team is poised to build off of.
One high from last season: Eliminating the Chargers to make the playoffs. If the teams had tied in Week 18, both would have reached the postseason. Instead, Daniel Carlson kicked a field goal in overtime, vaulting Las Vegas into the Wild Card Round and sending Los Angeles home. Interim coach Rich Bisaccia later floated the idea that they could have played for a tie. Putting that out there after ending the Chargers' season seemed sort of cruel, but on brand for this rivalry.
One low from last season: A staggering series of headlines. There was Jon Gruden's resignation as head coach, in Year 4 of a 10-year contract, after reporting emerged that he used racist, homophobic and misogynistic terms in past emails. Receiver Henry Ruggs III was released by the team after being charged with DUI resulting in the death of another person. And cornerback Damon Arnette was released by the team after he was seen making threats in an online video. The playoff loss to the Bengals seems inconsequential by comparison.
Head coach: Josh McDaniels. McDaniels' path here was kind of wild. His first stint as a head coach, when he was a 33-year-old up-and-comer out of New England, started off so strong in Denver, with the Broncos going 6-0 in his first six games in 2009. He won just two more games that year and three more in 2010. In the meantime, he traded away Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, traded up for Tim Tebow and really irritated Todd Haley -- which actually doesn't seem so difficult to do in hindsight. Fired by Denver after Week 13 of the 2010 season, McDaniels served as the Rams' coordinator in 2011, then returned to the Patriots, where -- setting aside his decision to back out of the Colts' job in 2018 -- he settled into a groove.
McDaniels was the Patriots' offensive coordinator for their past three Super Bowl wins. He helped Tom Brady claim his third career MVP award as a 40-year-old QB in 2017. And let's not forget what happened last year with Mac Jones, who earned a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie QB under McDaniels. In McDaniels' second New England tenure, from 2012 through 2021, the Patriots scored 27.8 points per game, the most in the NFL in that span. Now 46, with ex-Pats personnel director Dave Ziegler joining him as Mike Mayock's replacement at general manager, McDaniels has an opportunity to entrench himself with a franchise that has cycled through nine head coaches since reaching the Super Bowl in 2002.
Quarterback: Derek Carr. As I wrote last year, my annual summer traditions include golf, fireworks (long after the Fourth of July holiday has passed) and defending Derek Carr to Raiders fans who want to pretend that he isn't an elite quarterback. It's like listening to alleged Star Wars fans bash Kenobi and other Star Wars ventures over the years. At some point, you need to just let them be angry as you go and enjoy your show.
Carr ranked fifth in the NFL in 2021 with a career-high 4,804 passing yards. He's clutch, having authored six game-winning drives last season -- and he's tied with Matthew Stafford for the most game-winning drives in the league (30) since he entered the pros in 2014. He's also unflappable, throwing for 1,438 yards when blitzed last season (tops in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats), while additionally posting a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio and 103.3 passer rating in this environment. Yes, Carr's numbers dipped in the latter portion of the season. In Weeks 1-7, Carr threw for 324.1 yards per game, with a 12:5 TD-to-INT ratio and 101.2 passer rating; the rest of the way, he put up 253.5 per contest, with a TD-to-INT ratio of 11:9 and a passer rating of 88.6. Notably, Week 7 was also Carr's last game with Ruggs on the roster. These numbers are encouraging when you consider a certain upgrade made to the receiving corps that we'll discuss in a bit.
Projected 2022 MVP: Carr. Yeah, he's going to be a candidate for league MVP, as well.
New face to know: Davante Adams, wide receiver. Adams' trade from the Packers to the Raiders was one of the most shocking swaps of the offseason. (As a Bears fan, I know it also felt like a holiday to a lot of those who root for other NFC North teams.) Green Bay gave up the best receiver in the game for a first- and second-round pick. Adams signed a five-year extension worth $140 million (according to Over the Cap). And, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, Adams turned down a bigger deal from the Packers before joining Carr, his friend and former Fresno State teammate, in Las Vegas.
Since 2018, Adams has racked up 5,310 receiving yards, 432 catches and 47 receiving touchdowns, leading the NFL in all categories during that span -- and dwarfing the output of any single Raiders player in each category during Carr's eight seasons in the league.
Another new face to know: Sandra Douglass Morgan, team president. Two months ago, interim president Dan Ventrelle abruptly left the organization, stating he was fired in retaliation for bringing concerns from multiple employees to the NFL about a "hostile work environment." Owner Mark Davis declined to comment on the allegations, which the NFL is looking into. Meanwhile, last week, the Raiders made Morgan the first Black female president in the NFL. We'll have to see what comes of the league's investigation into Ventrelle's claims, but Morgan's appointment reflects the franchise's progressive history, which can be traced back to the hirings of people like Tom Flores, Amy Trask and Art Shell.
"It's no secret that this organization has faced some recent challenges. But I want to be clear: I'm not here to sweep anything under the rug or avoid problems or concerns that need to be addressed," Morgan said during her introductory press conference. "The fact is I accepted this role because I believe in the promise of the Raiders, I believe in the future of the Raiders and I believe in this organization's tenets of integrity, community and, most of all, commitment to excellence. I believe in the Davis family's legacy of celebrating and promoting diversity in every sense of that word. I believe in this community that we now call home that has embraced this team with open arms."
2022 breakout star: Tre'von Moehrig, safety. He came in and immediately started all 17 regular-season games (plus the playoff contest) as a rookie in 2021, proving himself to be the kind of player new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham can rely on in the secondary. The former second-rounder has the size (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) and athleticism that you love to see. I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a marquee player.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 at Los Angeles Chargers. Us Californians are very good about shaking off our Vegas losses when we get back. Will the Raiders provide an unpleasant reminder?
- Week 4 vs. Denver Broncos. The week after this, the Raiders take on the Chiefs --. meaning they will have played half of their AFC West slate before their Week 6 bye.
- Week 16 at Pittsburgh Steelers (Saturday night). The Raiders will be in Pittsburgh on the anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. (That's right, NFL playoff games used to be played in December!) If you don't know what the Immaculate Reception is, it's actually worth a Google.
Will the Raiders be able to ...
... stop some people on defense? In 2021, the Raiders ranked 26th in points allowed per game (25.8) and last in red-zone defense, with opponents scoring a TD on nearly 80 percent of red-zone drives. Free agent Chandler Jones will step in for Yannick Ngakoue, who was traded to the Colts in exchange for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin. I like Ngakoue, who led Vegas with 10 sacks last season, but Jones is one of my favorite dudes in the NFL. He had 10.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hits last year. His six forced fumbles were fourth in the NFL. And he tied for the league lead with five turnovers caused by pressure, according to NGS. He and Maxx Crosby (who signed a four-year, $98.98 million extension in March) could be one of the most dangerous duos in the NFL, capable of improving even on the Raiders' league-high quarterback pressure rate (33.6%) from last season. And don't sleep on the addition of Ya-Sin (City), whose 20 passes defensed over the past three years would rank him second on the Raiders in that span (behind fellow 2019 second-rounder Trayvon Mullen). The defense should be better.
... get something out of 2019's trio of first-rounders? The Raiders declined to exercise the fifth-year option on any of the players they selected in Round 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft: pass rusher Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall), running back Josh Jacobs (No. 24) and safety Johnathan Abram (No. 27), meaning all three are entering the final year of their rookie deals. Declining the option on Jacobs might be the biggest eyebrow-raiser; he's one of five players with at least 3,000 rushing yards since '19. And while Jacobs has averaged fewer carries, rushing yards per game and scrimmage yards per game in each ensuing season of his career, he's become more involved in the passing game, setting a career high with 64 targets last season.
Failing to unearth difference makers in the first round of this draft, which included capital acquired from the Bears in exchange for Khalil Mack (the Jacobs pick) and from the Cowboys for Amari Cooper (the Abrams pick), likely set this team back the last couple of years. And the decision to make Ruggs the first receiver off the board in 2020 -- ahead of players like CeeDee Lamb and Justin Jefferson -- indirectly cost the team in the future, too, because the Raiders had to give up their first two picks this year to make up for that miss by acquiring Adams.
As a Bears fan, it's also important for me to point out Chicago won the Mack trade. End of story.
One storyline ...
... people shouldn't overthink: Adams' quarterback "downgrade." I hear a lot of people wondering about the drop from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay to Carr, and not just from Raiders fans or Packers fans trying to make themselves feel better. But rather than comparing Rodgers and Carr now, let's look at where Rodgers stood after the 2013 season, which was his last without Adams. At that time, Rodgers was 30 -- one year younger than Carr is now. Through his six seasons as the Packers' starter at that point, Rodgers completed 66 percent of his passes; Carr has completed 65 percent. Rodgers threw for 274.3 yards per game; Carr has averaged 249.6. And Rodgers averaged 31 TDs per year in that span; Carr has averaged 24. OK, so Rodgers' MVP tally (four, including one in 2011) sets him apart. But let's not act like Carr can't throw the rock.
... people shouldn't overlook: The strong stable of pass catchers. Hunter Renfrow tallied 103 receptions, 1,038 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 to lead the team in all three categories, earning a two-year, $32 million extension. Darren Waller -- who recently declared himself the best tight end in the league -- had 665 receiving yards in 11 games. He's one of four tight ends all time with 90-plus receptions and 1,100 receiving yards in multiple seasons. What you should note is the 2022 Raiders will be the first team in NFL history to have two receivers and a tight end play together who all had a previous season with at least 100 receptions. (The Ravens had three receivers who entered the 2010 campaign having logged at least 100 catches in a season.)
For 2022 to be a success, the Raiders MUST:
- Win in the playoffs. If Davante Adams just wanted to make the playoffs and get bounced, he could have stuck with the Green Bay Packers. Teams don't make acquisitions like that just to make the playoffs. The Raiders did that last year. Now it's time to start winning in the postseason, which the franchise hasn't done since making its run to Super Bowl XXXVII. And if I'm being honest, this almost feels like a Super Bowl-or-bust team. Because the Raiders are built on excellence, and anything short of that would be a bummer.