On Tuesday, the Raiders report to training camp. Set to embark on their 2021 season in which there is a lot riding. Some have a lot more riding on this season than others.
Not every year has to be THE year for every player. Some guys have a past of great play that gives them the benefit of the doubt for a down season while others will still be given time to reach their full potential. Some, however, are set to face seasons where it could be crucial to step up or step down. Here are five for the Raiders this season.
5. DT Solomon Thomas
The former third overall pick started his career having a fairly standard rookie season. The kind that suggests there’s talent there, but it’s still to be developed. Then his career didn’t quite take off from there.
Thomas spent four seasons with the team that selected him and gave him a short trip from his dorm room at Stanford to nearby Santa Clara. But the 49ers let him walk with no fifth-year option. Now he signs on to a one-year deal with the Raiders, hoping to prove that a change of scheme and position (5-tech DE to 3-tech DT) will prove to the league that he is no bust. This could be his best chance to do that.
4. S Johnathan Abram
A lost rookie season gave way to a rough first full season. And just like that, he’s going into his pivotal third season. Fair or not, the reality is teams don’t wait more than a couple of seasons before deciding whether a player is the answer. Even for a first-round pick like Abram.
The former highly regarded rookie is now on the hot seat. He has a rookie in fourth-round pick Tyree Gillespie breathing down his neck and it’s somewhat of a contract year for Abram because next offseason the team will decide whether they want to use the fifth-year option on him or take their chances. By then they may have already made up their mind whether Abram can be the long-term answer.
3. DE Clelin Ferrell
Like Solomon Thomas, Ferrell was a top-five pick (fourth overall) as a defensive lineman. And like Abram, he was taken in the 2019 draft which means this season will be when the team will need him to show he is worth using a fifth-year option on him.
Ferrell has not shown himself to be worthy of even a first-round selection, let alone a top-five pick. He has just 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons despite 26 starts. Sacks aren’t everything, but if a player isn’t getting them, he has to make up for it in other areas and Ferrell has yet to do that. Now he will have to prove he is worthy of seeing the field over the likes of Maxx Crosby (17 sacks in two seasons) and newcomer Yannick Ngakoue (16 sacks in the past two seasons).
2. QB Derek Carr
His stats have gone up each of the past two seasons. So, there’s that. But the results have been pretty much the same — the team looks like they could be in the playoff hunt at midseason only to tank down the stretch and miss the playoffs.
A lot of people prefer to put the blame solely on the defense. And, yes, the defense has been bad. But while everyone wants to say Derek Carr is not the problem, the correct question should be is he the solution? You can point the finger anywhere else you want, but the bottom line is the quarterback must be able to put the team on his back and pull out some wins even when the rest of the team isn’t ideal. This year he must prove he is that guy or the team must find something who is or could be. That’s just the nature of the business.
1. HC Jon Gruden
Yeah, yeah, he has a ten-year deal, blah blah blah. But does he really? Can you prove that if he were let go after this season that the Raiders would be on the hook for six years and whatever remains of a supposed $100 million deal?
Keep in mind that Gruden has in the past denied that he signed such a deal. He has also said that if he can’t get it done, he wouldn’t take Mark Davis’s money. And that doesn’t necessarily mean he would refuse to be paid for the years he has coached. It could simply mean he won’t take money for years remaining on his contract.
Let’s just suppose, for the sake of argument, that Gruden’s contract is more of a ‘Five years and we’ll see’ kind of deal. He’s already lasted longer than most coaches who couldn’t take a team to the playoffs. His first year he took a team that went 6-10 the previous season and was one season removed from a playoff appearance and led them to a 4-12 record.
And fans like to say the Raiders have seen progress the past couple of seasons, but he’s still not led the Raiders to a winning record in a season and the team is 5-15 over the final six games of each season under him. Do you think he can or should survive another season missing the playoffs? I highly doubt it.