Derek Carr wasn’t perfect operating Jon Gruden’s offensive system, but the Raiders quarterback got more comfortable and consequently more efficient running it over time.
The Raiders head coach/offensive mastermind was Carr’s fourth play caller in five seasons, and the high-priced passer believes continuity will help him improve play and execution.
Gruden’s unpredictability means there’s always a chance things could change, but right now Carr’s expected to be back running the offense in 2019. Gruden hasn’t said anything to contradict that thought, routinely praising Carr while vowing to improve his supporting cast.
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“You throw for 4,000 yards in the NFL with what he has been through, and that is quite a year,” Gruden said after the season finale. “It’s quite a year indeed with a new system, young tackles, playing inside with three guards (hurt), receivers coming and going and a new featured back. He did some really good things to build upon. We have to get better around him, and I have to get better myself.”
The Raiders have resources to improve Carr’s supporting cast in free agency and the NFL draft. Here are five realistic moves – there will be no pipedreams on the list, with knowledge that some young players will stay and develop -- the Raiders can make to help make Carr’s life easier next season.
Re-sign TE Jared Cook
This point isn’t reporting that Cook will return to the Raiders. It’s quite possible he doesn’t considering the Raiders added dynamic, young (and cheap) receiving tight end Darren Waller near season’s end, and that this is Cook’s best (and maybe last) shot to cash in on bigger-money deal in free agency. Though he enjoyed being the primary target in 2018, the highest bidder will have some sway here.
But…bringing Cook back would add some continuity to the pattern, especially with a major overhaul expected at receiver. Cook’s a versatile chess piece and a known commodity, which would be valued if the receiver corps gets a whole lot younger outside Jordy Nelson.
Draft a receiver in the first round
This receiver draft class is immensely talented, offering wideouts of varied skill sets. Use the No. 4 overall pick on a defensive player, but come back and take the best available wideout with one of the other first-round picks acquired from the Bears (No. 24) or the Cowboys (TBD, No. 25 at best). There will be several good options there, possibly a future No. 1 receiver.
Then…draft another one
This draft class isn’t just talented. It’s also deep. There’s quality to be found in the middle rounds, and the Silver and Black could find another target, with a slightly different skill set to the first-rounder. If the Raiders do it right, both receivers could make an immediate impact for Carr and the offense.
Add veteran competition/depth across OL
Let’s be real here. The Raiders are going to stick with Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker at offensive tackle. They believe in both guys, and will continue to develop them hoping they become long-term solutions and left and right tackle, respectively. They really missed a reliable veteran backup. Donald Penn wasn’t available while on injured reserve, but he wants to return for one more go-round. The Raiders should add a veteran tackle anyway as an emergency option the team’s confident could start in a pinch or take over should a young tackle falter.
The Raiders had issues at guard as well. They have to make a choice with impending free agent Jon Feliciano, who will have suitors, and find quality depth inside whether he returns or not. Did Denzelle Good show enough near season’s end to be that guy? More competition couldn’t hurt.
Bottom line: Carr got sacked 51 times last year. That’s way too many, especially for someone who functions far better trusting his pocket will remain consistently clean.
The RB room needs a power boost
This is true only if Marshawn Lynch doesn’t return. There’s no telling what he’ll do, but another year with the Raiders seems highly unlikely if the team doesn’t play within Oakland city limits.
Jalen Richard should be back, but isn’t a thumper. Chris Warren can be, but he remains unproven despite a strong 2018 preseason. Gruden has declared interest in a Doug Martin return, but he isn’t a long-term solution. A draft pick might help establish a more dominant run game, especially one that can run efficiently inside and within the Raiders blocking scheme.