Las Vegas Is Asking the Raiders, Where’s the Beef?

Nov 1, 2018; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Brandon Parker (75) lines up with tight end Lee Smith (86) and offensive guard Gabe Jackson (66) against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Trimming the fat?

The Las Vegas Raiders have made a series of questionable moves along the offensive line, leaving many fans to question the direction the team is heading. They kicked things off by agreeing to trade right tackle Trent Brown and a 7th round pick to the Patriots for their 5th round pick. They also released guard Richie Incognito in a move to save cap space. Then things got interesting with reports that the Raiders planned to release Pro Bowler guard Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson. Both Jackson and Hudson would later be traded for draft compensation (a 2021 5th and 3rd rounder, respectively). 

Teams rarely go through such wholesale changes along the offensive line as these units often function more cohesively the longer they play together. At initial glance, the Raiders were looking at an 80% change along their offensive front. They did retain and extend left tackle Kolton Miller and brought back 38-year-old Richie Incognito on a team-friendly deal. The rest of the line, as it stands right now, consists mostly of career backups. The Raiders did sign center Nick Martin, a former starter of the Texans, to serve as a backup to roster holdover Andre James. The remaining projected starters are re-signed guard Denzelle Good and tackle Brandon Parker. On paper, that group does not jump off the page as one that will be successful.

How they got here.

While Hudson and Jackson are both former Pro Bowlers, their play, and the overall play of the offensive line have been on a downward trend the past few years. Last year the unit ranked 24th overall per Pro Football Focus, after being ranked 15th overall the year prior. This can largely be attributed to injuries to starters Incognito and Brown, but also beacons further exploration into the remaining starters. Miller and Hudson both posted good overall PFF grades of 72.9 and 73.6 respectively, for the year. Jackson on the other hand posted a second consecutive year of average play with scores of 63.7 in 2020 and 61.8 in 2019. 

With the 2021 salary cap crunch, the Raiders, like most teams looked for creative ways to create cap space. That creativity came at the expense of the offensive line. The Jackson ($9.6 million), Brown ($14 million), and Incognito ($6.35 million) moves saved the Raiders $29.95 million in cap space. Jackson and the Raiders were in an apparent contract dispute, with Jackson wanting an extension and the Raiders wanting him to take a pay cut. The Raiders moving on from Hudson makes even less sense. Whether it was by trade or release, his move cost the Raiders $2 million in cap space and created $15.6 million in dead money. The team’s only saving grace was the 3rd round pick they were able to get in return.

What’s next for the Autumn Wind?

With limited cap space ($2.6 million remaining) and a free agent offensive line market largely dried up of impact talent, the Raiders will need to look towards the draft for additional help. Luckily, they look to have enough draft capital to potentially add two prospects within the first four rounds (5 picks total) of the draft without completely ignoring other areas of need. The Raiders will look to add at least one guard, tackle, defensive back, and possibly a safety or linebacker within these first 5 picks. Potential first-round offensive line targets (Teven Jenkins or Samuel Cosmi) or later-round targets (Wyatt Davis, Dillon Radunz, Deonte Brown, Walker Little) could all be targets should they be available when the team is on the clock. Whatever the case may be, the Raiders will need to address the offensive line early for head coach Jon Gruden to employ the offense he envisions.