Josh McDaniels’ first season with the Las Vegas Raiders didn’t go as planned. The Raiders stamped themselves as immediate contenders by trading first- and second-round picks to the Green Bay Packers for All-Pro WR Davante Adams, but Vegas finished the 2023 season just 6-11 and in third place in the AFC West.
After failing to trade Derek Carr, the Raiders released the veteran quarterback, who had started 142 games for the franchise over the past nine seasons. Parting ways with Carr signaled an offensive reset, as did last week’s trade of tight end Darren Waller.
Even if the Raiders’ offense remains productive, their defense is the real problem. Coordinator Patrick Graham’s unit ranked 30th in efficiency last year, which isn’t going to cut it in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
Let’s run through Las Vegas’ free agency moves and grade what they’ve done so far, starting with their change under center.
Overall Las Vegas Raiders Free Agency Grades
The Raiders entered 2023 free agency with the third-most cap space in the NFL ($48 million). While Las Vegas ranks ninth in free agent spending on the year, the club didn’t make as many high-priced additions as teams like the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, or Atlanta Falcons.
McDaniels and Dave Ziegler have signed 18 players thus far, but more than half inked contracts at or near the league minimum. The Raiders still have more than $18 million in remaining cap space, so they have the breathing room to pluck another veteran or two from a dwindling free agent market.
Raiders Replace Derek Carr With Jimmy Garoppolo
In many ways, the Raiders’ transition from Carr to Jimmy Garoppolo will be a lateral move. Garoppolo has posted absurd efficiency numbers — he ranks second in adjusted net yards per attempt and expected points added per play over the past two seasons, while Carr finished 15th in both metrics — but Jimmy G. has benefited from working within the confines of Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Garoppolo will collect $33.75 million in full guarantees, which is roughly what Carr was set to earn with the Raiders in 2023. If Garoppolo and Carr are in the same QB tier, and the salary difference is largely a wash, why did Las Vegas cut Carr only to sign Garoppolo?
For one, Garoppolo has a long relationship with McDaniels, who helped draft and develop him in New England. That shared history should allow Garoppolo to get up to speed quickly, and he’s spoken glowingly of his new head coach.
“For me, it starts with he’s very smart. He’s very smart,” Garoppolo said of McDaniels. “Taught me the game of football basically in the NFL. But he cares, too, about the game. He cares about winning. You can really tell, just talking to him that winning is very important. I wouldn’t say that’s true about everybody in the NFL. When you do get an opportunity like that, it’s hard to pass up.”
Swapping out Carr for Garoppolo also allows the Raiders to plan for the future in a way they might not have been able to with Carr under center. Garoppolo has played the veteran mentor role before, and he likely signed in Vegas knowing there’s a decent chance the Raiders could draft a quarterback in 2023.
The Raiders could have dropped down to a lower tier and signed a signal-caller like Jacoby Brissett or Taylor Heinicke, but Garoppolo gives Las Vegas the best chance of competing during the upcoming season while allowing them the flexibility to add a young quarterback to the roster.
Jakobi Meyers Adds to the Ex-Patriot Party in Las Vegas
NFL head coaches love familiarity, so it’s never a surprise when they want to bring “their guys” along to a new destination. Jakobi Meyers — who spent three seasons under McDaniels with the Patriots — fits that bill.
The Raiders landed Meyers for just $33 million over three years. Meyers received only $10.5 million guaranteed at signing, meaning Las Vegas can exit the contract if something goes horribly wrong in 2023. And Meyers’ $11 million annual salary is equal to what Allen Lazard got from the Jets — and Meyers is a much more productive receiver.
Meyers is probably best in the slot, but he, Adams, and Hunter Renfrow all offer inside/outside versatility. While the Raiders will likely spend much of their time in 11 personnel, they should be able to offer varied formations and looks even while deploying the same players from snap to snap.
Meyers is 26 years old and has improved every season while dealing with substandard quarterback play and a lack of surrounding talent. He’s an ascending player who should benefit from the attention that Adams will draw from opposing defenses.
Franchise Tag for Josh Jacobs Was the Right Call
Josh Jacobs could hardly have done more in his contract year. After the Raiders declined his fifth-year option for 2023, Jacobs led the league with 1,653 rushing yards, 100+ yards ahead of second-place Derrick Henry. Jacobs generated more first downs (93) than any other rusher, and his 58% success rate ranked fourth among running backs.
Jacobs set himself up for a payday on the open market, but the franchise tag was too obvious of an option for Las Vegas. Almost every expensive RB contract has resulted in failure, and there was no need for the Raiders to tie themselves to a long-term deal.
Could Vegas eventually work out an extension with Jacobs? Maybe, but they have the cap space to easily carry his $10.091 cap charge next season. If Jacobs has another outstanding campaign, there’s a decent chance the Raiders will tag him again heading into 2024.
Jermaine Eluemunor Stabilizes Right Tackle for Raiders
We don’t yet have contract details for Jermaine Eluemunor, which makes it a little difficult to analyze his re-signing. But given that Eluemunor re-upped with the Raiders four days ago and the specifics of the deal haven’t been leaked, he probably received a relatively low salary.
If that assumption holds true, Las Vegas made a wise decision to lock in their starter at right tackle. After spending years bouncing between teams and positions, Eluemunor was allowed play full-time at RT. He started all 17 games, played 85% of the Raiders’ offensive snaps, and helped Vegas shore up their front five.
There’s some risk here, given that Eluemunor didn’t break out until his age-28 campaign. But he never really had a chance at playing time until last season, and he won’t prevent the Raiders from adding another tackle in the draft.
Can Marcus Epps Continue His Ascension?
Like Eluemunor, Marcus Epps spent most of his career as a backup before receiving a chance as a starter in 2023. Epps started 17 games as the Eagles’ deep safety, but Philadelphia prioritized other free agents over the 27-year-old DB.
The Raiders have Trevon Moehrig in the back end, so Epps will likely play closer to the line of scrimmage in Las Vegas. That’s probably a better role for Epps, who is better as a run defender than he is in the passing game.
Other free agent safeties like Vonn Bell, Donovan Wilson, Juan Thornhill, Jimmie Ward, and Jordan Poyer all grabbed higher annual salaries than Epps in this year’s market. But Epps might have more untapped upside than any of them, so good on the Raiders for securing him at $6 million per year.
Raiders Can’t Rely on Jerry Tillery as a Starter
Given their struggles against the run last season, I expected the Raiders to target at least one run-stuffing defensive tackle on the free agent market. Instead, the club’s only move up front has been to re-sign Jerry Tillery to a two-year, $6.8 million deal.
Tillery’s salary is so low that criticizing the move is almost meaningless. But Tillery — a first-round pick in the 2019 draft whom the Raiders claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers last November — is one of the worst run defenders in the NFL and offers limited production as a pass rusher.
Las Vegas might be hoping for Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler — the club’s fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2022 — to take steps up next season. They’ll need them to because Tillery will be stretched if he’s asked to play starter’s snaps.
Robert Spillane Could Have Outsized Role in Vegas Defense
Robert Spillane was another low-cost addition for the Raiders’ defense at just $7 million over two years. But given Las Vegas’ ample cap space, it’s worth asking why they didn’t target a higher-profile LB in a market that was chock full of them.
Spillane flashed for the Steelers down the stretch, but he only started five games last season. He’s primarily been a special teamer during his time in Pittsburgh. In 2023, Spillane allowed 83.7% of the targets in his direction to be caught while giving up a 109.2 passer rating — but the Raiders still plan to make a three-down linebacker.
“They told me coming here, I’d have the opportunity to be a green dot,” Spillane said after signing with Las Vegas. “What’s important to me is I come in here and earn respect.”
Off-ball linebacker isn’t necessarily a spot where teams should be investing significant resources, but the Raiders could have had Kyzir White or Azeez Al-Shaair for another $1.5 million per year.
Raiders Reunite With Brandon Facyson
Brandon Facyson is back with the Raiders after spending 2022 with the Colts. The upcoming season will be the first NFL campaign in which Facyson doesn’t work under former Vegas defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Like Spillane, Facyson is a limited starter who’s mostly been relegated to backup duty throughout his career. He can fill a spot on the Raiders’ depth chart, but they’ll be hard-pressed to count on him as a starter for the entire season.
Facyson is only getting two years and $6.5 million, so his contract is beside the point. But given how much help Las Vegas needed on defense, they might have been better off targeting a cornerback with more upside. Byron Murphy, who received $8.75 million annually from the Vikings, could have been a better option for the Raiders.