At first, the idea that the Oakland Raiders won’t draft a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft seems extreme. If your first response to the idea is to mumble “ridiculous” under your breath at a volume loud enough that your neighbor in the next cubicle can hear it, well, that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.
The Raiders haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Rich Gannon. Even then, Gannon was a journeyman who arrived at the ripe age of 34 and only had three great seasons during his time in the silver and black. After a disastrous 2013, Matt Schaub doesn’t seem like the long-term answer.
Many teams need a franchise quarterback, but the Raiders need one for the sanity of their fans. Despite many attempts to draft a franchise quarterback, the Raiders have failed repeatedly. It’s no wonder the franchise is 130-190 since the start of free agency 20 years ago.
All the facts are there and there is certainly a need, but ignoring the quarterback position in the 2014 NFL draft is still probably the team’s best move. No one factor makes it a good move, but collectively there are a number of reasons.
Among the factors is the strength of the 2014 quarterback class, the trade for Matt Schaub, the number of draft picks (or lack thereof) and the organizational structure. None of them would prevent the Raiders from taking chances at the end of the draft, but that may not be the wisest use of draft picks on a team stuffed with veterans on short-term contracts.
The 2014 Quarterback Class
One of the worst-kept secrets of draft season is that the Raiders like Derek Carr. David White of The Fresno Bee reported that the Raiders have a “massive crush” on Carr, but not enough of one to take him No. 5 overall.
If the Raiders want Carr, they will have to jump through several hoops to get him if they aren’t willing to take him with their first pick. If the Raiders plan to move down or up from the second round in order to land a quarterback to groom, they need to have an alternative if a team snatches Carr up earlier than expected.
Doing their due diligence ensures the Raiders have a quarterback in mind when the time comes to snag their guy. Of course, this assumes the Raiders plan to draft a quarterback at some point.
The Raiders hosted Johnny Manziel on Sunday night and Monday, and in the next month they will have poked and prodded just about every quarterback prospect in the draft. It seems like a safe assumption that they will target a quarterback at some point because the Raiders wouldn’t have so much interest otherwise.
At least that’s one thought.
There are two other important factors to consider. The Raiders are keeping their options open, or they are meeting with players publicly as a smokescreen.
If a quarterback unexpectedly falls to the Raiders, they have to have all the information needed to make a good decision if they met with all the quarterbacks. If Teddy Bridgewater were to fall into the second round, the Raiders would need to have a complete scouting report, for example.
Good drafting is all about being prepared for the unexpected. Based on what we know right now, the Raiders will have to get very lucky to land one of their targets in the second round or later.
Hosting Johnny Manziel for a visit allows the Raiders to check a few boxes, but it also puts doubt into the minds of any Manziel-loving teams that the Raiders might take him at No. 5. For every player the Raiders don’t want that goes in the first four picks, one player they do want has the potential to drop.
It’s usually easy to spot a smokescreen, but the Raiders have very slyly kept the rest of the NFL wondering what they are going to do in the draft. After surprising everyone and taking cornerback D.J. Hayden last year, the Raiders are one of the draft’s biggest wild cards.
Al Davis would be proud.
Outside of Manziel, Carr, Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, a couple more tiers of quarterbacks exist. There is a David Fales, a Tom Savage, a Jimmy Garoppolo, a Zach Mettenberger and a Logan Thomas, to name a few.
The Raiders could draft one of these quarterbacks as a project who can sit behind Schaub. General manager Reggie McKenzie tried and failed to do that last year when he selected Tyler Wilson in the fourth round only to release him prior to the season.
If the Raiders are going to draft a quarterback, selecting one in the middle rounds makes a lot more sense than using a premium pick on a player who can’t help the team for a year or more. Since the Raiders are already without two picks in the middle rounds, they will either have to draft one earlier or later.
Which brings us back to the quarterbacks the Raiders have on the roster.
The Matt Schaub Effect
The biggest indictment on this class of quarterbacks at the top was that the Raiders felt the need to trade for Schaub. McKenzie said he had a good idea who the starting quarterback was going to be back in March, something he couldn’t possibly know if that starter was going to be a rookie.
Back in January, McKenzie told reporters he’d rather not have a rookie start. This plan at the quarterback position has been in place for a long time, it seems.
"To make [a rookie] do everything his first year is not an easy task,” McKenzie said via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “You'd rather not. You'd rather have a guy in place who can get you through the season, especially the early part of the season."
Head coach Dennis Allen made clear on a conference call with reporters that Schaub was the starter and could start for three or four more years. Allen may just be trying to rebuild Schaub’s confidence, but drafting a developmental quarterback would send the exact opposite message.
If we take Allen’s comments at face value, the Raiders would have no reason to draft a quarterback at all. If the Raiders believe Schaub is really going to be good enough to start for four more years, that would be the entire length of a rookie contract.
Few believe that Schaub is that player at this point, but the Raiders have been unafraid to make bold player evaluations in the past. If you ignore 2013, the case for Schaub isn’t that hard to make.
The Raiders are already out two draft picks in the 2014 NFL draft that they used to acquire quarterbacks. There may be no limit to the resources a team should use to land a franchise quarterback, but using too large a volume can hurt just as much as a single top pick, depending on the team.
At some point, taking chances on quarterbacks using trade picks hurts the depth of the team. The Raiders need an infusion of young talent, so wasting any picks is a bad idea. Specifically, the Raiders need developmental players to replace veterans in the next year or two, and the only place they are going to find those players is the draft.
|Wasted Draft Picks on Quarterbacks|
|2014||6||Matt Schaub||Reggie McKenzie|
|2014||5||Matt Flynn||Reggie McKenzie|
|2013||4||Tyler Wilson||Reggie McKenzie|
|2013||2||Carson Palmer||Mark Davis/Hue Jackson|
|2012||1||Carson Palmer||Mark Davis/Hue Jackson|
Since McKenzie has taken over, the Raiders have wasted fourth- and fifth-round selections on quarterbacks not on the roster. With a sixth-round selection sent for Schaub, McKenzie has now burned through three draft picks on the position in just two years.
Is a fourth in two years wise? This is in addition to the first- and second-round selections the Raiders gave up for Carson Palmer before McKenzie was hired.
McKenzie claims he wants the ability to build the team through the draft, but he can’t do that without draft picks. When McKenzie is using his draft picks, he isn’t getting much value for them. That needs to change in 2014.
Owner Mark Davis may bring up the wasted picks if he fires McKenzie at the end of the season. The Raiders need to show significant improvement in 2014 or everyone in Oakland will be on the hot seat.
The instability of the front office and coaching staff is another reason to hold off on bringing in a young quarterback. A rookie quarterback with potential needs a stable offensive scheme, system and coaches to blossom.
Jason Campbell started several games for the Raiders over a span of a few years, but he had a new offensive coordinator seemingly every year of his career. It’s not ideal to bring in a developmental quarterback only to have a new head coach change the terminology and offensive scheme that he ran the year before.
It’s hard to reconcile the Raiders' apparent interest in draft-eligible quarterbacks with what they are saying about Schaub. Taking a quarterback early in the draft sends the wrong message, but taking one late that is less likely to develop into a starter may be just another wasted pick.
The Raiders need to turn things around now, and a quarterback that sits on the bench isn’t going to help them. With this in mind and with so much invested already at the position, it only makes sense if the Raiders are seriously considering not drafting a quarterback at all unless they get very lucky.