Biggest Offseason Contract Decisions for Raiders
After going 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the third straight season, the Las Vegas Raiders enter an offseason in which they will have some key decisions to make. They'll also likely need to figure out a way to create some financial flexibility so they can add to their roster for 2021.
According to Over The Cap, the Raiders would be about $7.6 million over the salary-cap threshold for the 2021 season. It's known that the NFL salary cap will be going down from this past season's number, an effect of the coronavirus pandemic, and OTC is projecting that figure will be $176 million.
Las Vegas could use some help on defense, which could be an area it addresses via free agency, the draft or both. It may also depend on how much cap space the team is able to clear with other moves, as well as what other additions it's hoping to make to improve its roster.
Here's a look at some contract decisions the Raiders will have to make this offseason involving players who are either already signed to a deal or are about to become free agents.
Should Mariota Return as Backup Quarterback?
Last offseason, the Raiders signed Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $17.6 million deal. However, he appeared in only one game this past season, coming in for an injured Derek Carr in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers and going 17-of-28 for 226 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The 27-year-old will have a $10.7 million cap hit in 2021, which may be too much for Las Vegas to be paying its backup quarterback considering it also needs to find some ways to clear some cap space. He fared well during his lone 2020 appearance, so perhaps he'll have some trade value and the Raiders will explore the market to see if he's drawing any interest.
Or maybe Las Vegas wants to keep Mariota and move on from Carr, who will have a $19.6 million cap hit next season. The 29-year-old passed for 4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 16 games this past season, so while it may be unlikely for the Raiders to cut ties with him, perhaps it's something they'd consider.
Can Las Vegas justify keeping both Carr and Mariota on its roster and investing that much cap space for its backup? Maybe the Raiders will clear cap space with other moves and decide they want to keep both quarterbacks, ensuring they'll have somebody capable of stepping in.
Earlier this month, Adam Schefter told ESPN NFL Sunday Countdown there's "no intention" for the Raiders to move on from Carr. If that remains the case, they will have a decision to make regarding Mariota's status.
Will Williams Get Cut, and Will Agholor Return?
Tyrell Williams didn't play during the 2020 season, but he's set to have an $11.6 million cap hit in 2021. Meanwhile, Nelson Agholor was the Raiders' top receiver this past season, but he's going to become a free agent after only signing a one-year deal last offseason.
So, perhaps it would make sense for Las Vegas to cut ties with Williams to help clear space to bring back Agholor, who is likely going to cost more than the $1.05 million it paid him in 2020. The 27-year-old emerged as a top playmaker for the Raiders, hauling in 48 passes for 896 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games.
Las Vegas would be able to pay Agholor more if it cut ties with Williams, who suffered a torn labrum during training camp. He had a solid showing in his first season with the Raiders in 2019 (42 receptions for 651 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games), but he may not be worth the cost, especially because it's unknown how he'll fare once he recovers from injury and returns after missing a whole season.
It's hard to imagine the 28-year-old would have much trade value at this point, especially because he's still under contract for two more years (and he'll have an $11.5 million cap hit in 2022). So if Las Vegas wants to get rid of his salary, it may have to release him.
But if that's what it takes for the Raiders to bring back Agholor, who will be 28 when the 2021 season arrives, then it could be worthwhile for them to do so.
How Will Brown's Health Affect His Future?
One way the Raiders could quickly get under the salary-cap threshold for 2021 without making any other moves? By releasing Trent Brown, the offensive tackle who has played only 16 games over the past two seasons because of injuries. He was limited to five games this season because of calf and knee injuries.
The 27-year-old can be an effective player when he's healthy, as he was in 2018 when he played all 16 games for the New England Patriots. However, he's played in 11 or fewer games in four of his first six NFL seasons, which can make it harder to justify the $14 million cap hit that he'll have in 2021 for Las Vegas.
If the Raiders don't want to cut ties with Brown and hope he can stay healthy moving forward, perhaps they could restructure his contract, which still has two years remaining. It may not completely solve its salary-cap situation, but it could at least help.
Earlier in January, Las Vegas head coach Jon Gruden made it seem like he wants Brown back in 2021.
"We'll hope to get Trent back and ready to roll for next season," he said, per Levi Damien of Raiders Wire. "He's a great player. He's a great football player, he's just got to get healthy and stay healthy."
But there's a long offseason ahead, so perhaps the Raiders will at least consider moving Brown before the 2021 campaign arrives.