LAS VEGAS — General manager Dave Ziegler will make the final call when it comes to who to cut to get the Raiders’ roster down to 53 players Tuesday, but it’ll naturally be a collaborative process involving the personnel department, head coach Josh McDaniels and the rest of the coaching staff.
The front office has some tough decisions to make — especially at offensive line, receiver and along the defensive line — so it makes sense to include as many perspectives as possible.
“We go through it every day,” McDaniels said Wednesday. “There’s an element of constant communication and effort put in because there’s a lot you learn each day. Things change pretty quickly. Plus, you have injuries and things like that to consider. … Again, I have great faith and trust in (Ziegler) because he knows exactly what we need to do, when we need to do it and he usually sets the table pretty well. We try to get all the best information we can from the coaches, the scouts, the people that are watching practice every day and see the players in every single drill to try to make the best decisions we can. … We’ll see how it all plays out.”
The Raiders’ 23-6 win over the Patriots at Allegiant Stadium on Friday to wrap up a perfect 4-0 preseason will definitely factor in. Most starters didn’t play, but offensive linemen Andre James, Lester Cotton Sr., John Simpson, Dylan Parham, Jermaine Eluemunor and Alex Leatherwood all did, which makes sense considering the position group is in flux. The starting lineup was Jackson Barton at left tackle, Simpson at left guard, James at center, Cotton at right guard and Eluemunor at right tackle. Parham and Leatherwood worked in with the “backups.”
We have talked all preseason about the right tackle and right guard spots, and Ziegler and McDaniels have some tough decisions to make. Can they really start Cotton – who has definitely improved since being cut four times by the last regime – at the guard spot? And what do they do with Leatherwood? The 2021 first-round pick was given every chance to win the starting right tackle job but has struggled and might even be in fourth place. ESPN reported Friday that other teams were watching Leatherwood play Friday to gauge their trade interest. The Raiders releasing Leatherwood feels unrealistic because it would result in a dead-money hit of about $7.8 million this year and $3.9 million next year. In a sense, Friday was a last stand for Cotton and Leatherwood.
Here’s our last 53-man roster projection ahead of final cuts:
Starter: Derek Carr
Backup: Jarrett Stidham
Cut: Chase Garbers
Analysis: Stidham had only attempted 48 regular-season passes across three seasons with the Patriots and didn’t play last season after undergoing offseason back surgery, but Ziegler and McDaniels felt confident enough to trade a 2023 sixth-round pick to New England for him in May. It proved to be the correct decision as Stidham handily won the backup quarterback job over Nick Mullens, who was traded to the Vikings this week for a conditional 2024 seventh-round pick. Stidham looked pretty good — albeit largely against backups — in the preseason despite playing behind a struggling offensive line. The Raiders want this to be the second straight regular season that Stidham doesn’t take a single snap, of course, but he looks like he can be a capable spot starter if something happens to Carr.
Running back (4)
Starter: Josh Jacobs
Analysis: It was only a month ago when people were freaking out about Jacobs playing a lot in the preseason opener, but he looked good and is certainly motivated in what has become a contract year after the Raiders declined to pick up the 2019 first-round pick’s fifth-year option. This will be a committee approach — with Abdullah and Bolden likely factoring in the most on third downs — and the big question is if the rookie White will overtake Jacobs for the lead role this season or wait until next when Jacobs is likely playing somewhere else. Brown, a seventh-round pick, has made some tough yards when given the chance and would be a nice stash on the practice squad.
Starter: Jakob Johnson
Analysis: Raider Nation wasn’t too pleased when the team let go of fan-favorite Alec Ingold in favor of Johnson this offseason, but you can’t blame the front office for siding with familiarity. Johnson was the starting fullback and a special teams contributor across three seasons with the Patriots and walked in the door with a thorough knowledge of the system. He doesn’t add a dimension to the offense as a receiver like Ingold did, but he’s much bigger at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds and should be more effective as a blocker.
“He’s a grinder, man,” McDaniels said in June. “He’s a self-made football player. He comes to work every day, takes great care of his body. He’s a tough guy. He’s really a tough player, good teammate, unselfish, willing to do anything you ask him to do. … Jakob knows what his role is. He embraces it every day and he’s an unselfish teammate. I just really enjoy being around him. A lot of what Jakob does rubs off on a lot of people and I think there’s a lot of value in that.”
Analysis: We felt pretty good about Cole making the roster, but him playing through the fourth quarter of the final preseason game gave us shades of John Brown from last season. While Turner isn’t the receiver that Cole is, he adds value as a return man on special teams. Turner and Johnson played against the Patriots, too, but they both were sat down before Cole. That’s usually a sign of things to come on cut day. Johnson is still a work in progress, but his speed gives him an element the Raiders don’t have otherwise. Adams and Renfrow are two of the best in the league and big reasons why the Raiders should return to the playoffs. Meanwhile, Hollins came in and locked down the No. 3 job rather quickly; he is a big target who is faster than you think.
Tight end (4)
Starter: Darren Waller
Analysis: Waller’s hamstring injury made us add another tight end. McDaniels uses 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) and 13 personnel pretty often, so it’s good to have depth here anyway. Waller and Moreau have things covered as receiving tight ends while Horsted and Hollister bring more to the table as blockers. Especially with the offensive line looking like it’ll be a liability, the Raiders will likely need to rely on tight ends serving as extra blockers pretty frequently.
Offensive line (9)
Starters: Kolton Miller (LT), Dylan Parham (LG), Andre James (C), Lester Cotton Sr. (RG), Jermaine Eluemunor (RT)
Analysis: Simpson started over Parham at left guard in the preseason finale, but we think Parham ultimately gets the job. Parker and Munford can’t go on injured reserve until after the 53-man cuts or else they would be out for the season. Parker will be out longer than Munford, who probably steps back in as the starting right tackle once he’s recovered. Their injuries may buy Leatherwood some time. The right tackle has really struggled this preseason, and the fact that the new staff has tried the other linemen at different spots but Leatherwood hasn’t seen a snap at guard seems damning. The Raiders could trade for or sign better options at both right guard and right tackle once other teams start trimming their rosters. If they don’t make any outside additions, Barton could be a candidate to rejoin the roster if Parker winds up on IR.
Defensive line (11)
Analysis: This is a lot of defensive linemen, but the Raiders will need plenty considering defensive coordinator Patrick Graham runs a multiple defense that uses both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, and one of us couldn’t convince the other to cut Ferrell. Crosby and Jones are as good as advertised, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Koonce, Bower and Ferrell are able to bring something to the table as rotational pass rushers off the edge. Bower had two sacks in Friday’s game and led the team in the preseason with four; Koonce also had a sack Friday and was second on the team in the preseason with two. The other major question is the interior pass rush as Nichols is the only defensive tackle on the roster who’s had much success getting after the quarterback so far in his career. The Raiders want their defensive tackles focused mostly on stopping the run and filling gaps, but it’s always nice to be able to create pressure from the inside.
Cut: Curtis Bolton
Analysis: The Raiders don’t really need a lot of linebackers in this defense, as they will be in nickel and using extra defensive backs often. Perryman is coming off a Pro Bowl season, while Deablo has the size and speed linebacker coaches dream of. Brown has a reputation as one of the better coverage linebackers in the league and had a pick-six in Tuesday’s joint practice with the Patriots. Butler and Masterson are two undrafted rookies who the staff really likes and can help out on special teams and Masterson picked off Patriots quarterback Mac Jones in Friday’s game. The Raiders could try and get one through waivers and onto the practice squad if they feel they need the roster spot elsewhere right now.
Analysis: The cornerback group was short-handed for most of training camp. Mullen practiced for the first time last week after offseason foot surgery while Ya-Sin and Averett also missed chunks of time, respectively, with undisclosed injuries. Everyone’s back now, though, and with Hobbs showing he can be an inside-outside player, the Raiders have four legit starting-caliber outside corners on the roster. Hobbs will still spend most of his time at nickelback while Phillips handles backup duties and works as a return man. Robertson impressed the staff both as an outside corner and nickelback in practices, but it didn’t translate very well to preseason games. Inconsistency has been a consistent theme for Robertson through three seasons with the team. Perhaps the former mid-round pick sticks around on the practice squad.
Analysis: It will be interesting to see how Graham uses Abram, and how much Harmon plays instead of him on passing downs. Abram has made some plays rushing the quarterback and lowering the boom on ball carriers. He also had to fly to South Florida and play in the third preseason game, while Harmon was one of the two dozen players who got to stay home in Vegas and fall asleep on the couch. Moehrig had a good rookie season and will try and take the next stop and finish more plays and get some turnovers. Teamer is a special team dynamo who also likes to hit people.
Kicker: Daniel Carlson
Punter: AJ Cole
Long snapper: Trent Sieg
Analysis: There was never any intrigue here as the Raiders didn’t bring in competition at any of the three designated specialist positions. The trio had to get creative to keep themselves from getting bored.
“Trent has been trying to legitimately tape my thumbs together and actually go through with the wrestling thing, which I think it’s kind of dangerous; probably shouldn’t do it during the season, so we’ll save that for the offseason,” Cole said Wednesday when asked about their legendary fight against each other that’s never happened. “We’ve spent so much time together that we’re just coming up with ridiculous hypotheticals all day long. It’s really the only thing we can do to keep ourselves sane.”
(Top photo of Chase Garbers behind Raiders offensive line: Kirby Lee / USA Today)