Las Vegas Raiders' draft, choice to decline fifth-year options epitomize wait-and-see approach

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The first indicator was how quarterback Derek Carr's extension was written.

The next? Not one of the Las Vegas Raiders' three first-round draft picks from 2019 had their fifth-year option picked up. Not defensive end Clelin Ferrell, that draft's No. 4 overall pick, not running back Josh Jacobs, who has a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a Pro Bowl nod on his résumé, and not safety Johnathan Abram, a feared hitter but a coverage liability.

How this past weekend's draft unfolded was simply confirmation that the Raiders' new regime of general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels is taking a mostly wait-and-see approach with the roster it inherited when hired in January.

Because along with drafting two versatile offensive linemen in Memphis guard Dylan Parham (third round) and Ohio State tackle Thayer Munford (seventh) for a group of considerable need, Ziegler and McDaniels also added depth with a pair of versatile (there's that word again) defensive tackles in LSU's Neil Farrell Jr. (fourth round) and Tennessee's Matthew Butler (fifth), despite having already signed four DTs this offseason and re-signing another. They also drafted two running backs in Georgia's Zamir White (fourth round) and UCLA's Brittain Brown (seventh), despite RB not being an area of need.

Indeed, Ziegler and McDaniels stuck to the game plan the coach laid out at the owners meetings in March: Las Vegas would draft the best player available on its board, even if it meant doubling or even tripling up at a position.

Hence taking Farrell and Butler with consecutive picks.

"We try to do the best we can of evaluating what the player would be for the Raiders," McDaniels said Saturday at the draft's conclusion. "It doesn't really matter what they would be for any other team. It's in our system, the way we saw the players, the way we scouted them, the way we evaluated them, the way we would use them. This is the grade that was on that player, and there is a lot of work that goes into each grade.

"And so, when you trust the work and then you get to the draft and you say, 'Listen, the best thing to do for us is to add the best players we can.' If you understand that from the beginning, the process itself is kind of simplistic."

That's not to say the Raiders didn't have choices to make when it was their pick, or players at different positions with the same grade on their board.

Alas ...

"When you really follow it and you say, 'Listen, let's take the best players that we graded that we've thought all year long gave us the best opportunity to improve our football team.' That's what we tried to do each step of the way," McDaniels said. "... Whether we drafted somebody or didn't draft somebody, there's competition at every spot on the team. I don't care what the spot is.

"That's what we've tried to do at each spot that we could -- free agency, draft. We'll continue to try to do that. Dave and his staff are going to comb the college free agent thing. ... So that won't ever stop."

Now, Carr is the unquestioned starter at quarterback. The Raiders didn't sign Nick Mullens to unseat the franchise's all-time leading passer.

And yes, Carr signed that three-year, $121.5 million extension that kicks in next season and includes a no-trade clause. But it was a team-friendly deal, which Carr himself said, as only $25 million was fully guaranteed at signing, with another $40.4 million guaranteed for injury only. That money converts to fully guaranteed three days after next season's Super Bowl, giving the Raiders 72 hours to wait and see (there's that phrase again) if they want to part ways with Carr, provided he's healthy.

Not exercising the options on Ferrell (his price tag was $11.5 million), Jacobs ($8.034 million) and Abram ($7.901 million) is another step to give the team flexibility.

Because while Ferrell's defensive snap count has fallen from 66% as a rookie in 2019 to 24% last year (his special teams snaps went from 9% in 2020 to 22% last season) and the injury-plagued Abram has played in just 28 of a possible 50 games (including the postseason), Jacobs seemed the most likely to have his option picked up.

Instead, he looks to be in, ahem, "competition" with (checks notes) White, Brown, Kenyan Drake, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah and Trey Ragas in what seems to be a precursor to a running back-by-committee approach utilized by McDaniels in his previous job as the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator.

Ziegler would not go into the reasoning behind declining the options, but he didn't have to. Not with how the draft played out.

"Just like Josh said, everybody has certain types of players that you look for, right?" Ziegler said. "Certain teams like a certain style of -- whether it be a certain style of running back, a certain style of offensive lineman, defensive lineman, corner, whatever it is -- those are going to maybe drive in terms of what we like, maybe versus what someone else values. But at the end of the day we didn't go in and set out a plan and say, 'Hey, we're going to draft interior linemen and interior offensive linemen and power running backs.'

"That's how it kind of came together. Those were the players that were there. Those are the players that we felt fit the system, and then we selected them."

See, no need to wait, then.