HENDERSON. Nev. — When it comes to the salary cap for the 2021 NFL season, not much is known other than the floor is expected to be no less than $180 million. ESPN Stats & Information is projecting a cap of more than $184.57 million, and as such, the Las Vegas Raiders are currently between $17.69 and $22.31 million over said cap (prior to the Raiders officially releasing Tyrell Williams with an injury settlement on Wednesday).
So yeah, some accounting/shedding/restructuring will have to be done by the Raiders to not only get under the projected cap, but also account for a six-man (for now) draft class while making room for free agency.
A few questions, then, regarding some contracts (and the players attached to them) that could be acted upon to garner some relief …
We are knee-deep in the annual Used Carr Speculation Season and what better place to start this exercise than with the player who carries the largest cap number on the team for 2021, at $22.125 million? Looking solely at the numbers, Carr carries just a $2.5 million dead money hit for 2021, so the Raiders could save $19.625 million against the cap by simply cutting him.
Except … that ain’t gonna happen. Nor should it, really. Thing is, were Carr as hot a commodity as speculation had him a few weeks back — he could have been had for two first-round picks, really? — that deal probably should have been made.
Then who replaces Carr in that scenario? How about the guy who came off the bench in Week 15 when Carr strained a groin, gave the offense a jumpstart with his ability and willingness to run and would have beaten the Los Angeles Chargers at home if not for another defensive meltdown? Mariota, with a cap number of $11.35 million and zero dead money, would only be a fraction as expensive as Carr in a cap hit so the Raiders, in moving on from Carr and going with Mariota, could allocate more than $8.27 million toward fixing the defense, as well as any draft picks acquired in a Carr trade.
Then again … giving Carr an extension would give the Raiders some immediate cap relief, probably somewhere between $5-$8 million in a re-structure of his contract while marrying the Raiders to Carr, who turns 30 on March 28, for another five or six years. But again, Carr still has two years remaining on the five-year, $125 million extension he signed in June 2017. So, on one hand, what’s the hurry? If the Raiders truly believe he is their guy, so be it. But it is hard to see Las Vegas retaining both Carr and Mariota, who could also potentially get some fair compensation in trade, what with no dead money in his deal.
Yeah, the Raiders could save $11.35 million in cap space by cutting Mariota. But keep this in mind — Carr is not the problem, but is he the answer? And if you have to ask that question, then you probably do have a problem. Got it? Good.
Speaking of (Denzelle) Good, what’s the deal with the offensive line?
Yeah, there are lots of savings to be had here in a major overhaul, with Good — who was called the team MVP by Carr and coach John Gruden last season — about to become an unrestricted free agent and more than deserving of a new contract and pay raise. But where would he play?
He acquitted himself well at right tackle but made his bones at left guard. And the guy at right tackle, Trent Brown — who was brought in and paid to be “the LeBron James of right tackles,” per coach Jon Gruden — seems to be a prime cut candidate. He has a cap number of $14 million and zero dead money, so the Raiders could find a lot of space by parting ways with a guy who has played 10-plus snaps in a mere 14 of 32 games since the Raiders signed him to that massive, four-year, $66 million free-agent contract in 2019. That’s not a good investment.
But again, when Brown is right, he is nice. Witness the clinic he put on against Khalil Mack in London in 2019. Or his latest social media posts showing his svelte-ish figure working out and looking motivated.
OK, so what about left guard, the prior domain of Richie Incognito, who injured an Achilles’ in Week 2 last year and did not play again? He turns 38 in July and has a cap number of $6.35 million and, yes, zero dead money, meaning moving on from him would save the full $6.35 million in cap space.
So, let’s say the Raiders free up more than $20 million in cap space by cutting Brown and Incognito (hard to see them doing that, but play along), what would the O-line look like? Let’s go Kolton Miller at left tackle, John Simpson at left guard, old reliable Rodney Hudson — who carries a massive $13.636 million cap number in 2021 with $10.974 million in dead money — at center, Gabe Jackson and his $9.6 million cap number with zero dead money at right guard and Good at right tackle. Keep an eye on Jackson, too, for possible savings.
Any other moves on offense?
With the Williams release official and set to save the Raiders $11.6 million against the cap with no dead money to account for, Las Vegas is closer to the magic number it needs to reach. Plus, the Raiders are carrying over $3.6 million in cap space from last year, according to the NFLPA, so that’s $15.2 million to apply to the estimated $17-$22 million the Raiders are over. Now we’re cooking with gas.
That said, with Williams gone, the Raiders need more consistency out of the receiving corps and have to decide whether they want to give looming UFA Nelson Agholor a payday. Running back Jalen Richard might also bear keeping an eye on. Sure, cutting him is just a $3.5 million savings against the cap, but hey, it’s $3.5 million.
How do they ‘fix’ the defense, then?
There has been much speculation on Lamarcus Joyner, who many contend has been misused in the slot and is much better at safety. Maybe. But this much is true — the 5-foot-8 Joyner has no interceptions and just eight passes defensed since coming to the Raiders in 2019. Those aren’t playmaker numbers. The Raiders seemed to draft his heir apparent in Amik Robertson, but he only played in eight games as a rookie and saw most of his time on special teams.
So while Joyner’s $9.95 million cap number, with no dead money, looks appealing, what would the Raiders do in his absence? The Raiders do need an alpha male presence in the secondary help calm and mentor the likes of Johnathan Abram, Damon Arnette and Trayvon Mullen. Richard Sherman-converted-to-free safety in free agency, anyone? Jeff Heath could also be a target with his $3.15 million cap number and no dead money.