Analysis

The Raiders’ Big-Money Moves For Aging Stars Could Backfire

Big-Money Moves For Aging Stars Could Backfire

The Raiders have been the touchstone of controversy the past couple of days due to their brashness on the trade market. In 48 hours, Las Vegas signed edge rusher Chandler Jones, traded edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, released defensive end Carl Nassib, and exchanged the 22nd and 54th overall picks in the 2022 NFL Draft for star receiver Davante Adams. 

While the Raiders paid a pretty penny, former NFL General Manager Mike Tannenbaum said the Packers, “Could have gotten more value,” had they forced Las Vegas to sign Adams to an offer sheet which they didn’t match. That would have resulted in Las Vegas giving up two first-rounders instead of just one.

The flock of star-level talent to the AFC West has triggered some aggressiveness from the Raiders. The Broncos recently acquired star quarterback Russell Wilson, the Chargers acquired defensive stars, Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson, and the Chiefs push to remain atop the division with the signings of Justin Reid and Juju Smith-Schuster. The foursome of the Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers, and Broncos is likely one of the best divisions we’ve seen in a long time.

Despite Las Vegas giving top-tier dollars to Jones and Adams, they may still be favored to finish in last place in the standings when all is said and done this season.

The Packers placed the franchise tag on Adams on March 8, the same day that word got out that Aaron Rodgers would be returning to Green Bay for another four years. However, Adams expressed dismay about his tag designation, claiming he would not play on the tag in 2022 per Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. As part of the trade, the Raiders reportedly signed Adams to a five-year, $141.25M contract, $28.5M APY: the highest for a receiver ever. The deal expires when Adams is 34 years old. However, the practical terms of the deal are actually 3 years and $67.5M, which is $22.5M a year.

According to Daniel Jeremiah, no receiver over 30 years old finished in the top 30 for receiving yards last year. A.J. Green was closest to accomplishing the feat, finishing with 894 yards, which was good for 32nd in the league.

The Raiders made waves on the other side of the ball as well. After signing Jones, they released a good depth piece in Carl Nassib and traded away Yannick Ngakoue after he tied the team-high in sacks (with 10, tying Maxx Crosby) and forced fumbles (with 2, tying Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson). 

It is easy to see why they made this move, considering Las Vegas was able to land a premier pass rusher in Chandler Jones. Jones comes into the 2022 NFL Season with a relatively low cap hit: only $7.8M against the cap. However, per Over the Cap, Jones will count as $19.4M against the cap in 2023 and 2024. It is important to note that Jones will be turning 33 and 34 before those seasons, respectively. 

Both Adams and Jones will demand a large chunk of their cap despite their advanced age. The question looms: will these moves pay off this upcoming season and beyond when the Raiders compete with powerhouses in the West? 

Signing Jones will improve arguably the most crucial aspect of a strong defense. Jones reminded the NFL world of his dominance the first chance he got in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL Season against the Tennessee Titans, logging five sacks, tying for most since Adrian Clayborn registered six in 2017. A combination of Crosby and Jones should fare very well against opponents. 

Additionally, the Raiders were able to flip Ngakoue for a quality starting cornerback in Rock Ya-Sin. According to Pro Football Focus, Ya-Sin tied for 29th among qualified cornerbacks for pass-breakups with seven, and allowed the 3rd fewest yards in coverage among qualified cornerbacks with 248. Only A.J. Terrell and Tavierre Thomas allowed fewer. In a division that just got a lot better overall, adding a quality cornerback such as Ya-Sin was necessary.

Adding Adams should go a long way with sparking a passing game that hinted at untapped potential at the beginning of the 2021 season, but it will come with a hefty price tag for a receiver who turns 30 this December. Furthermore, the Raiders added a much-needed threat at receiver after losing former first-round pick Henry Ruggs III tragically last season. Yet, according to Pro Football Focus, Hunter Renfrow surely pulled his weight, hauling in 111 of 135 targets for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. Even more so, Renfrow finished with a PFF receiving grade of 80.3, good for 16th best among qualified receivers last year. 

The main concern is that Renfrow is limited to the slot and primarily contributes to the short and intermediate areas of the field in the passing game. Long story short, the Raiders needed another weapon to draw attention away from tight end Darren Waller. His production fell while defenses keyed in on him as the season progressed (both of his touchdowns on the season and one of his two hundred-yard games came before Week 5). The Raiders hoped that Bryan Edwards could quickly grow into a true “X” receiver that would fill the role Adams will, but he struggled to produce consistently, averaging 35.7 yards a game despite 16.8 yards per reception.

Overall, acquiring Adams, Jones, and Ya-Sin in the flurry of moves we have seen over the past few days will surely increase Las Vegas’s competitive pedigree. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones who have boldly reshaped their roster to pursue a ring, reminiscent of the Rams’ “win-now” strategy. 

The Raiders will have to fend off other colossal threats in their division before making the playoffs. It is theoretically possible for all four teams to make the postseason, but interdivisional play and an overall powerful conference will make it difficult. While Adams and Jones are paid handsomely, the Raiders are without two of their top draft choices this upcoming year and face an unfavorable cap situation moving forward, which could stunt their growth in the coming years. The Raiders have done what they can to put themselves in immediate Super Bowl contention, but their big-money moves for aging stars could backfire.