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They got rid of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. Maybe bringing that up is holding a grudge against the Las Vegas Raiders because it happened way back in 2018, but, dang it, those two were outstanding before they left and they have also been great ever since.
The Raiders are in a terrible salary cap position this year, 31st out of 32 teams, which is unusual for a team with an affordable quarterback, but understandable for the Raiders because they made Pro Bowler Rodney Hudson the NFL’s highest-paid center in 2019 and then traded him for a third-round pick in 2021.
And that curious transaction left behind $12 million in dead money the Raiders are being charged on this year’s cap, all for the privilege of not having Hudson on the roster.
The Raiders can’t seem to make up their minds about guys because in 2016 they drafted Karl Joseph in the first round, let him leave as a free agent in 2020, brought him back as a free agent in April 2021 — guaranteeing him $987,500 — and then cut him last week.
This roller coaster of decision-making and some questionable drafting paints a portrait of a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2002. A franchise that is +1700 to win the division on FanDuel.
But this year is different!
These Las Vegas Raiders are playoff bound!
That’s not me saying that. That’s expectation talking.
Getting to the playoffs, you see, is what Raider Nation is demanding this season.
Third-year general manager Mike Mayock, speaking on behalf of the entire organization including head coach Jon Gruden, knows it.
“We think we’re going to be a pretty good football team,” Mayock told an assembled group of reporters this week. “We’re not hiding from expectations. I think Jon and I would both tell you we feel like we need to be a playoff team this year. And I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
“And you guys are all going to put that in your headlines and I understand it. But that’s what the expectation is. We think we’ve done the infrastructure work necessary to put us in position. And we got to take care of business.”
(Let’s point out right here that Mayock is already wrong. OutKick did not put all that in the headline).
But are expectations high? Oh, yes.
Are there going to be consequences if those expectations are not met?
Well, not for Gruden because he’s got a 10-year contract.
But for Mayock and quarterback Derek Carr and a bunch of other players, yes, there would be consequences.
If the Raiders, who have not been to the playoffs in the three seasons Gruden and Mayock have run the organization, miss the playoffs this year, bad things are going to happen for some people not named Gruden.
The intriguing thing is Mayock just hung a target on his own back. When you talk of expecting to make the playoffs before the season, it might be a difficult career chat with ownership after the season if it doesn’t happen.
Mayock must know this. Carr, whose contract can be cast aside after this season with no salary cap ramifications, must know this.
So the Raiders better just win, baby.
And that won’t be easy because the Raiders play in a rough division.
The Kansas City Chiefs, the class of the AFC West, addressed their offensive line issues and are peeved they lost the Super Bowl.
The San Diego … Nah, not doing that.
The Los Angeles Chargers believe they have a great quarterback in their midst, an upgraded offensive line to protect him, and that Joey Bosa is a beast.
And the Denver Broncos have Von Miller back to team up with Bradley Chubb, and they added a functional quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater.
So it’s no certainty the Raiders, 8-8 a year ago, can climb into the postseason.
Mayock nonetheless says he’s as excited now as he was his first year in 2019.
“The first year I was here I was excited because you bring a group of kids in and you’re excited about it, we started out 6-3 or 6-4 that year and the kids played pretty well, they just didn’t play well going down the stretch,” Mayock recalled. “I was really excited going into that season.
“Last year I kind of had mixed emotions. I was very excited, but the lack of training camp, I’m not sure if people really understand, and all 32 teams deal with it so I’m not complaining, please don’t take it that way, but it’s just a different developmental path for the young guys.
“I was frustrated because in our system, both sides of the ball, it’s tough on young guys. The volume is tough, especially on offense, it’s tough.”
And this year, Mike?
“This year back to kind of normal and I’m fired up,” he said. “It’s part about, A, being back to normal, but, B, just the accumulation of three years. And at this point, as my dad used to say, ‘Don’t worry about whether the horse is blind, just load the friggin’ truck.’ And that’s where we are.”
Hopefully no one has to shoot that blind horse after the season.