HENDERSON, Nev. — One of the most critical junctures in the history of the Raiders franchise is upon us.
The NFL Scouting Combine begins Monday as general manager Dave Ziegler, head coach Josh McDaniels, a bevy of team scouts and officials are in Indianapolis throughout the week to watch, evaluate, interview and grade what they hope will result in the organization’s selection of its quarterback of the future.
Derek Carr is gone. Who knows who his replacement will be? Aaron Rodgers has emerged from his dark retreat but he has not given any indication of what his future plans are and if the Raiders are part of them. Tom Brady is still retired, at least for the moment. Jimmy Garoppolo could be in the mix I guess if the Silver and Black are seeking an experienced quarterback with a history of success along with a history of getting injured.
Right now, there is no QB on the roster. Jarrett Stidham, who would be my choice to be the guy, at least in the short-term, is a free agent. I’ve come off my initial stance that he is not the answer. He knows the system and knows McDaniels. Given starters reps in practice and some confidence that he’s the man, he could get the job done. He could re-up with Las Vegas and emerge as the starter for Opening Day at a very reasonable price. But we’ll see where that goes.
However, if you’re looking at the big picture, what Ziegler, McDaniels see this week at Lucas Oil Stadium will go a long way in formulating a decision when the team drafts in the first round come April 27 in Kansas City. The Raiders currently hold the No. 7 spot overall, which normally would yield a pretty good quarterback. And it still might, depending on what happens in front of them.
The consensus top four QBs on the board are Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Will Levis of Kentucky. I’m guessing Ziegler and McDaniels will sit down and chat with each of them, get a feel for the kind of person each is and who perhaps fits the Patriot, er, Raiders Way the best.
Let’s say they fall head over heels in love with Young, who most mock drafts have going as the first QB taken. It would likely mean moving up in the draft to get him and that means relieving yourself of assets in order to do so.
Or what happens at the end and Ziegler and McDaniels come to the conclusion that none of them fit their vision for the organization going forward? Do they keep the pick and look on defense? The Raiders need help at linebacker and in the secondary and getting another edge rusher to pair with Maxx Crosby wouldn’t be the worst thing. Do they trade down and get some additional picks and still fill their needs on defense?
Maybe the Raiders believe their quarterback of the future is still a year away — hello, USC’s Caleb Williams — and they’ll wait (tank?) for 2024.
The problem with that kind of thinking is another losing season, especially one bad enough to propel a team to the top of the draft order, might mean yet another change in the football operations side and Ziegler and McDaniels could find themselves on the outside looking in, a la Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden.
No, I think Ziegler and McDaniels address their QB concerns now, not later. Which is why the task for them is pretty straightforward — they better get this right.
But we all know drafting is an inexact science. Every team has had their share of busts over the years. But owner Mark Davis made the changes he made with the idea that Ziegler knows what he’s doing when it comes to building a football team. So he needs to see this through to know whether he was right or wrong.
Davis already said McDaniels is his coach. So for now, he’ll be the one in charge of developing whoever the Raiders draft. Or, if they go the veteran route with Rodgers, Garoppolo or whoever, he’ll be the one who has to be able to work with them and get their best effort every day.
There hasn’t been this amount of uncertainty surrounding the Raiders in years. Remember, Carr played nine seasons with them so there was no effort to replace him. Now, with Carr moving on, the time has come to make a decision, one that will impact the franchise for the next decade, maybe longer, depending what unfolds.
Whatever decision Ziegler makes, we’ll have to wait and see whether or not it was the right one. They may draft someone you think can’t play and he turns out to be a star. Or they pick who everyone wants and he’s the second coming of JaMarcus Russell. Remember, it’s the draft. Nothing is guaranteed.
So for Raider Nation, you better hope Ziegler, McDaniels, the scouts and anyone else in the team’s decision-making process spend more time evaluating than eating steaks and shrimp cocktails at St. Elmo’s while in Indy this week. The franchise’s future depends upon it.