Raiders Continue Bizarre Offseason With Kolton Miller ExtensionApril 3, 2021
When the Las Vegas Raiders inked Jon Gruden to a whopping 10-year, $100 million contract to once again become the team's head coach back in 2018, it was supposed to spur a return to the franchise's glory days. A renewed commitment to excellence. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock were going to get the Raiders back into the postseason after the team made the playoffs just once since getting drilled by Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Instead, three years into Gruden's second stint, the Raiders are 14 games under .500 with no playoff appearances. And if the team's disjointed offseason to date is any indication, that return to the postseason won't be coming in 2021.
The latest puzzling move came on Friday. As Myles Simmons reported for Pro Football Talk, the team signed offensive tackle Kolton Miller to a multi-year extension that includes a robust $42.6 million in guarantees. Given that the 25-year-old is only just now entering his fourth season in the league, even he admitted in the post-signing press conference that he was a bit surprised by the timing of the extension.
"I was actually surprised coming out of Year Three, coming into Year Four," Miller said. "You dream about this when you're a little kid and through the season. But I'm excited — definitely excited — to continue my career here, continue to work hard and prove the coaches, prove this team that I'm invested and I'm going to continue to get better."
This isn't to say that Miller isn't worth locking up long-term—after an uneven rookie season the 15th overall pick in the 2018 draft has improved over the past two years, starting 30 games over that span. Last year Miller played 961 snaps and allowed just two sacks.
But the reality is that there was little reason for the Raiders to do this now. As a first-round pick (with a fifth-year option), Miller was already locked up through at least 2022. Outside of potentially buying the team a bit of short-term cap relief, the move is a puzzler.
And it's far from the only head-scratcher along the offensive line in Las Vegas over the past several weeks.
As Ian Rapoport reported for NFL.com, prior to the beginning of free agency, the Raiders shipped mauling right tackle Trent Brown (and a 2022 seventh-round pick) to the New England Patriots for a 2022 fifth-round pick. That was followed (per ESPN) by the Raiders trading Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson to the Arizona Cardinals for a 2021 third-round pick and Vegas dealing guard Gabe Jackson to the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth-round pick.
Yes, Brown has struggled to stay on the field since signing a four-year, $66 million contract with the Raiders in 2019. And all three players carried an average annual salary north of $10 million. But it was Mayock who drew up two of those pacts. All three of those players are higher-end starters, and both Brown and Hudson have Pro Bowls on their NFL resume.
As Vic Tafur reported for the Athletic, Raiders O-line coach Tom Cable tried to downplay the loss of Hudson by talking up his replacement in Andre James.
"When you're trying to build a top-level team, you need people of high quality and character like that," Cable said. "It's tough to lose a guy like Rodney, but at the same time, I think those are a lot of the characteristics that Andre James brings to this deal. He just hasn't done it as much, obviously."
But the cold, hard truth is that the Raiders effectively blew up an offensive line that was a strength of the team and got little in return. Now Las Vegas has to hope that Miller will live up to that fat new contract and become the anchor for the team's O-line. That 37-year-old Richie Incognito has something left in the tank after missing 14 games in 2020. That James or free-agent addition Nick Martin can step into the void at the pivot.
And even if all those things happen, the Raiders probably won't be as good up front as they were a year ago.
The confusing moves go beyond the offensive line. Despite the presence of one of the better young running backs in the NFL in Josh Jacobs, the Raiders handed free agent running back Kenyan Drake $11 million in guarantees. After losing Nelson Agholor in free agency following a career season, the Raiders signed John Brown and Willie Snead IV, making second-year pro Henry Ruggs III the team's No. 1 wideout and leaving quarterback Derek Carr with the shakiest WR corps in the AFC West.
This isn't to say that every move the Raiders made in free agency was shaky. After managing just 21 sacks last year (fourth-fewest in the league) the signing of Yannick Ngakoue added some desperately needed pop to the pass rush. Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was the No. 3 overall pick in 2017 and was certainly worth a low-cost, one-year flier.
But all in all, there isn't a team in the division that took a bigger step backward in free agency than the Raiders. They certainly don't appear to have done anything to narrow the gap between them and the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.
It's also hard to have too much confidence in the Raiders ability to turn things around in the 2021 NFL draft given that Mayock's early-round picks have included as many misses as hits.
As Levi Edwards reported for the team's website, at the outset of free agency Mayock insisted that he believes the Raiders are headed in the right direction.
"What gets me excited though is trying to apply what we learned last year, trying to get better and more than anything, you guys remember what we talked about Day 1 when I walked in this building: We talked about foundation players and what's a Raider fit. And that's what we want this year, both in free agency and draft. We want to bring the right fit of person into this building and we want to create something special and we think we're getting close."
But three years into Gruden 2.0, the Raiders don't appear to really have a direction. For every position group that got a boost this offseason (like the pass rush) there's another that backslid (like the offensive line). It's one step forward, two steps back.
The Raiders are a rudderless (pirate) ship sailing in circles.
And another sub-.500 season is looking more likely by the day.