HENDERSON, Nev. — With the Las Vegas Raiders‘ latest late-season pratfall — they are now 6-7 after a 5-2 start — and after last Sunday’s utterly embarrassing 48-9 loss at the rival Kansas City Chiefs, a structure-wide housecleaning could be on the docket.
And with that likelihood comes the inevitable question — does general manager Mike Mayock deserve to return, or could he potentially join interim coach Rich Bisaccia and, yes, even quarterback Derek Carr in a sweeping teardown, the Raiders’ third in a decade?
Owner Mark Davis is not talking … yet. But this much is clear — something’s got to give with the Raiders, who made the move from Oakland to southern Nevada last year and will host Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024, and team sources are anticipating wide-scale changes.
This process started Oct. 11, as Jon Gruden’s abrupt resignation as coach/All-Powerful Silver and Black-cloaked Oz of the Raiders sent shock waves through the organization.
It also presented a unique opportunity for Mayock.
Sure, he had been the Raiders general manager going on three seasons, but Gruden had final say on personnel decisions. And upon Gruden’s departure in the wake of his email scandal, the decision-making power flipped.
Mayock 51% to 49% for Bisaccia
That’s how Davis described the balance of power to ESPN.com that week. Where Gruden once held that sway over Mayock, it’s Mayock who holds it over Bisaccia, who was promoted from special teams coordinator.
And when asked about Mayock at the NFL owners meetings a few weeks later, Davis gave a somewhat tepid endorsement.
“I’m not going to speak for the future,” Davis told reporters. “But right now, he is the general manager of the Raiders. And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be in the future.”
Mayock, 63, has to see the writing on the wall — winning solves everything. And as strange as it sounds, especially after what went down in Kansas City, if the Raiders can somehow run off four straight victories — starting at the Cleveland Browns on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network), then home against the Denver Broncos, at the Indianapolis Colts and home against the Los Angeles Chargers — they could make the playoffs.
Mayock, who had spent the previous 15 years as a draft and on-air analyst for NFL Network, was hired by the Raiders to help specifically with the draft, long a quagmire for a consistently rebuilding franchise.
Consider: the Raiders have had 18 first-round selections since 2005, and only three of those players were deemed good enough to warrant second contracts — defensive back Michael Huff (2006), running back Darren McFadden (2008) and left tackle Kolton Miller (2018).
Enter Mayock, hired on Dec. 31, 2018, and whose first assignment as GM was scouting the Clemson–Alabama national title game a week later. He joked he could be successful if he only drafted players from those two loaded programs.
A look then, at the Raiders’ first-round picks via the Gruden-Mayock dynamic the past three years:
Armed with three first-round picks (their own and one each from the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades), the Raiders reached for Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall (edge rusher was the Raiders’ top need and Ferrell was their second-rated defensive end), Alabama running back Josh Jacobs at No. 24 and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram three picks later.
Ferrell makes more of an impact on special teams these days, Jacobs authored a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons his first two years and was named to the Pro Bowl last year but his production has dipped precipitously this season. While Abram can be a force against the run, he is a liability against the pass.
The Raiders were enamored enough with Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III, the fastest player but third-ranked wideout in an historically deep class for receivers, to make him the first receiver drafted at No. 12 overall. Even Davis told ESPN.com at the time Ruggs was the only player he wanted in that draft. Then, with another first-round pick secured in the Mack trade, they took Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette at No. 19 when many scouting services had a third-round grade on him.
Neither are with the team anymore, which is a theme for this draft. Ruggs was released Nov. 2 and faces up to 50 years in prison after his high-speed and fiery car crash in the early morning of Nov. 2 claimed the life of a 23-year old woman and her dog, while Arnette was cut six days later after video surfaced of him brandishing guns and making death threats.
This year, the Raiders needed a right tackle after deconstructing an expensive but effective-when-healthy offensive line and drafted Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, despite many draft experts having him with a second-round grade. Leatherwood struggled mightily on the outside, was moved to right guard and is the second-most penalized offensive lineman in the NFL.
Not a good résumé, right?
But again, it raises more questions — were these Mayock’s picks or Gruden’s? And at the end of the day, does it really matter?
51% to 49%
And while Mayock fell on the sword for the Arnette pick, the Raiders have found success in the middle rounds. Because for every bizarre Lynn Bowden Jr. and Tanner Muse decision (third-rounders in 2020 who never played a regular season game for Las Vegas), there is a Maxx Crosby, a Foster Moreau and a Hunter Renfrow (taken in the fourth, fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, in 2019).
Plus, this year’s rookie class is well represented with free safety Tre’von Moehrig (second round), defensive back Nate Hobbs (fifth round), linebacker Divine Deablo (third round) and fellow third-rounder Malcolm Koonce — a defensive end who has two sacks in each of his first two games — all making an impact as rookies.
The counterargument to that, though, is that epically bad 2020 draft, with four of Las Vegas’ top five picks — Ruggs, Arnette, Bowden and Muse — gone in less than a season and a half. As for the other picks, receiver Bryan Edwards (third round) and left guard John Simpson (fourth round) are starters, while cornerback Amik Robertson (fourth round) has more inactives (10) than starts (2). Not exactly foundation pieces.
“It’s my job, and my department’s job, to service the coaching staff, to find them players that they want,” Mayock said two days after Gruden left. “And trust me, nothing is going to change there. Nothing will change there. It’s my job and our job in that department to supply the coaches.”
Curiously, the Raiders signed placekicker Daniel Carlson, a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2018 who was cut after three games and signed off the street, and punter AJ Cole, an undrafted free agent in 2019, to extensions last week. The conspiracy theory — given that neither Mayock nor Bisaccia are guaranteed to return in 2022 — is that Las Vegas wanted to lock up their specialists, lest Bisaccia, one of the more respected special teams coaches in the NFL, spirit them away to whichever team he lands with in the future.
ESPN front office insider Mike Tannenbaum, a former GM and executive vice president of the New York Jets and executive vice president of football operations for the Miami Dolphins, said Mayock has “done an effective job recently,” pointing to the Raiders locking up their specialists.
“[It] shows really smart strategic planning that’s not short-term in nature,” Tannenbaum said. “I think he deserves a lot of credit for that. And when you don’t have final say, sometimes your job is to execute the vision of the head coach. So, if you want to be honest about it, it’s sort of a grade of incomplete on some of these other decisions.
“It’s kind of hard to just evaluate one person’s performance when he didn’t have final say. Mike’s a hard-working, strong-willed guy who’s a company guy, so you don’t know where he may have disagreed [with Gruden]. And once you make a decision, you come out unified. So I just think it’s hard to extract one for the other but he’s a guy that’s well thought of, works hard, obviously has a big scouting background, so it’s really hard to isolate what he did compared to what maybe was done and he didn’t necessarily agree with.”
Tannenbaum would not say if he thought Mayock deserved to stay, but said the Raiders’ roster is “far from bare” when it came to “bedrock principals” and the roster, referencing Carr, Jacobs, tight end Darren Waller and Crosby.
“Look, they’ve missed on some picks there; so does everybody — but there is some talent there,” Tannenbaum said. “I just don’t think this is one of those situations where the cupboard is as bare as maybe people think.”
Mayock and the Raiders continue to try to implement the advice given to him from “half of the GMs in the league” in the immediate aftermath of Gruden’s resignation — trust your gut and do the right thing.
“I think that’s great advice,” Mayock said. “That’s kind of what my dad told me … about the job in general.
“Our jobs are to win football games. We have to get our focus back there. That might sound cold and that might sound calculating, but at the end of the day, that’s our job.”
But for how long?