Why Raiders should find their next quarterback in draft, not free agency

Earlier this season, former NFL tackle Tyler Polumbus shared a series of stories on social media about current Raiders coach Josh McDaniels’ disastrous tenure as the coach of the Denver Broncos from 2009-10.

• Bryce Young, Alabama. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is the consensus best quarterback in the draft, with the only concern centered on his small frame, listed (perhaps generously) at 6-foot, 194 pounds.

• C.J. Stroud, Ohio State. The two-time Heisman finalist has all the physical traits but was somewhat inconsistent in college despite playing with one of the best receiving corps ever, which included standout NFL rookies Chris Olave (Saints) and Garrett Wilson (Jets).

• Will Levis, Kentucky. The Penn State transfer has far and away the biggest arm of anyone in the class but never put up very impressive numbers and struggled to stand out during his college career.

• Anthony Richardson, Florida. The freight-train runner also has a monster arm and might grade out higher than any other prospect in drills at the NFL Draft combine, but he needs more time to hone his accuracy, awareness and throwing fundamentals.

• Hendon Hooker, Tennessee. The dual threat, one-time Heisman Trophy favorite last season had snuck up to top-10 consideration by mock drafters before tearing his ACL late in the season, adding to concerns about him already being 25 years old entering the NFL.

• Tanner McKee, Stanford. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound former top recruit checks all the boxes as a prototypical NFL quarterback, but his outmanned Cardinal teams went 3-9 in both seasons with him as the starter.

The first anecdote might have been the most unflattering, as Polumbus recounted how McDaniels spoke to the team after infamously trading away promising young quarterback Jay Cutler. “Fellas, don’t worry about the QB situation,” McDaniels said, according to Polumbus. “I can turn a [high school quarterback] into an All-Pro.”

McDaniels spent his first season in Las Vegas preaching and ultimately proving that he has moved past the arrogance and authoritativeness that sunk his time with the Broncos. Despite a highly disappointing 6-11 season, McDaniels, now 46, was much gentler and drew unanimous respect from the locker room, even in the midst of tough moments like the benching of quarterback Derek Carr at the end of the year.

But Raider fans should hope that a bit of McDaniels’ bravado remains heading into his first full offseason with the team, at least as it pertains to the quarterback position. The immediate future of the Raiders’ franchise could depend on it.

Finding the right successor for Carr, who has been the Raiders’ starter for the past nine years, is “paramount” in McDaniels’ words and stands above every other decision to be made heading into the 2023-24 season. The best way the Raiders could address it is by drafting a quarterback and giving McDaniels a chance to show he’s truly the developmental ace he’s often purported to be.

Las Vegas holds the No. 7 overall pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, which will start April 27 in Kansas City, Missouri. That’s unlikely to be early enough to select one of the top two passers—Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud—but it doesn’t rule the Raiders out of those sweepstakes either.

The No. 7 pick potentially gives them precious capital to move up via trade if general manager Dave Ziegler and his staff fall in love with either Young or Stroud through the evaluation process. Even if they don’t, the next two quarterbacks projected to go in the draft—a pair of more flawed but high-ceiling prospects in Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson—could be available at the Raiders’ current slot.

Or Ziegler could trade down, a shrewd and favored strategy of the New England Patriots organization in which he and McDaniels built their careers, and target a fringe first-round quarterback like Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker or Stanford’s Tanner McKee.

Pair one of the aforementioned six rookies with a re-signed Jarrett Stidham, who showed more than enough ability while starting in place of Carr over the final two games of the year, and proceed into training camp. The two could compete for the right to be the starter in Week 1 of next season.

These are the types of scenarios that would most commonly be tossed around regarding a quarterback-needy team like the Raiders, but they’ve been relatively muted in this case. The louder rumblings indicate Las Vegas will go after a free agent quarterback to step in next season.

Two of the biggest names set to be available, Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo, have a history with McDaniels and are therefore linked to Las Vegas. The Raiders could put together a bounce-back season and win with either one of them, but the cost would be prohibitive.

Garoppolo fits very much into the Carr mold as a starting quarterback who can be slightly above average at best and mediocre at worst. Garoppolo would command a contract similar to the three-year, $121 million extension Carr signed last offseason.

Brady would be even more expensive on a per-year basis, though he would require a shorter-term commitment ahead of turning 46 years old before next season. McDaniels and Brady have won six Super Bowls together, so outright dismissing a reunion in Las Vegas would be unwise.

But signing a quarterback at the tail end of his career would also contradict everything McDaniels and Ziegler have vowed about building a long-term, sustainable winning franchise with the Raiders.

It might seem like Brady and Garoppolo fit better within the championship window of the team’s best player and now face of the franchise, 30-year-old receiver Davante Adams, but that’s a surface-level misconception given the NFL’s rookie pay scale.

A good young quarterback is a bigger competitive advantage, because he’s locked in at a bargain price a fraction of a veteran’s rate. The Raiders also need to upgrade elsewhere on their roster—namely on all three levels of the defense—and re-sign NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs.

They’d have ample salary cap space to attack all of those objectives with a rookie quarterback. It would be much more difficult to improve in every other area with someone like Brady taking up such a large chunk of resources.

Getting a proven commodity free agent might be the safer choice to boost the Raiders’ record next year, and that option might win out given the pressure McDaniels and Ziegler are under to show immediate progress. But a rookie quarterback would be surrounded with a more complete team, conceivably set up to contend for years to come.

There’s always a risk that a draft pick won’t pan out, but that should be minimized if McDaniels maintains shreds of the confidence he once held in himself when it comes to mentoring young quarterbacks.

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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