Las Vegas Raiders 2023 NFL Preview: Josh McDaniels turns to Jimmy Garoppolo for help

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Sofia Villar)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Sofia Villar)

The Las Vegas Raiders had a solid quarterback in Derek Carr. But he never played for the New England Patriots.

When the Raiders deactivated Carr late last season, it was easy to predict what would happen next. Carr would be gone and Josh McDaniels — who, like most former Bill Belichick assistants, has a strange infatuation with collecting former Patriots players — would go get the quarterback he once worked with in New England. It's not like Carr to Jimmy Garoppolo is an obvious upgrade. But it's clearly what made McDaniels more comfortable after Carr didn't play well in his scheme last season.

The Garoppolo era is not off to a great start.

It was reported that Garoppolo failed his Raiders physical, needed foot surgery and the team put an addendum in his contract stating that they can cut him at no cost if he can't pass a physical. Then Davante Adams talked to The Ringer about his thoughts regarding the Raiders offense.

“[The front office] think this is the best bet for us right now to put us in a position to be urgent,” Adams told The Ringer. “We don’t see eye-to-eye on what we think is best for us right now.”

Adams later said he likes Garoppolo and the quotes were taken out of context. Maybe Adams genuinely was wronged, or maybe that's trying to smooth things over after some explosive quotes — regarding his college teammate and good friend Carr — were published. You can decide. Perhaps it was a window into what's going on with the Raiders.

“I’m going to have to buy into this and try to be as optimistic as possible,” Adams also told The Ringer. “It’s not what I expected to happen, but it’s something that’s the reality now.”

McDaniels spent time rehabilitating his image after a truly bad first head-coaching stint with the Denver Broncos. McDaniels talked about noting all the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned. And he seems to be falling into the same traps (including a weird deja vu involving unnecessary changes at long snapper).

It wasn't just that McDaniels ditched the Carr era to sign Garoppolo, who probably wouldn't have been the choice if he didn't play for the Patriots once upon a time. They're comparable quarterbacks. It's that we've seen this unfold before.

When McDaniels was in Denver, he made curious personnel moves, ran then-promising quarterback Jay Cutler out of town, had players in the locker room wondering what was going on, and then alienated just about everyone in the organization before he was fired. He hasn't checked everything off that list with the Raiders. But it's just his second season.

The Carr-McDaniels pairing was supposed to work out very well, but it went sour fast. Carr's numbers dropped significantly after he had a fine season in 2021, the year before McDaniels arrived. The Raiders too often lost Adams in the game plan, and that was a reason the team blew so many leads. They became the first team to blow five halftime leads of seven or more points, according to AP's Josh Dubow. They became the first team since at least 1930 to lose four games after leading by double digits at the half. Three of those blown leads were by 17 or more. Perhaps the most memorable game the Raiders gave away was against the Los Angeles Rams, who were starting Baker Mayfield about 48 hours after he was claimed on waivers. That Rams loss was a coaching fiasco.

At the end of it all, Carr was the scapegoat. Carr must have taken some satisfaction in visiting the New Orleans Saints under the pretense that he might waive his no-trade clause and agree to a deal that would help the Raiders out. Instead, Carr said after the visit that he wouldn't accept a trade, was cut and signed with the Saints. The Raiders got nothing for a quarterback who signed for $150 million, which was nearly double what any other free agent got to switch teams this offseason. Las Vegas' replacement will be 32 years old this season, has a long injury history and still hasn't gotten past an injury that ended his last San Francisco 49ers season. But hey, Garoppolo knows "The Patriot Way."

The Raiders landed on Jimmy Garoppolo as their next quarterback. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The Raiders landed on Jimmy Garoppolo as their next quarterback. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Offense probably won't be the Raiders' issue. Garoppolo is competent (though it's worth noting rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy was more efficient than Garoppolo in the 49ers' offense last year), Josh Jacobs is coming off an outstanding All-Pro season, Adams likely locked up a Hall of Fame spot with a great season away from Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line is solid. And for all of McDaniels' missteps as a head coach, he's an excellent offensive mind. The Raiders also signed receiver Jakobi Meyers, who just so happens comes from ... the Patriots. Surprise.

The defense might be a problem. Maxx Crosby is an excellent defensive end but there's not much else. First-round pick Tyree Wilson, a good pick at No. 7 overall, could help. But if the Raiders make the playoffs, it's likely because Garoppolo helps lead a lot of shootout wins.

McDaniels probably isn't going anywhere, though he has a lot to prove. In every job McDaniels has had outside of the Belichick cocoon in New England, the results have not been good. He seemed ready for a second head-coaching shot, and the results since he was hired have been mixed. Since a 6-0 start in Denver, McDaniels is 11-28 as a head coach.

Maybe bringing on Garoppolo is the start of something special. Until we see the results, or even Garoppolo on a practice field, it's fair to be skeptical.

Offseason grade

There's probably not much more the Raiders could have done, but moving on from Derek Carr and getting nothing in return was a rough way to start the offseason. The Jimmy Garoppolo signing was fine, though everyone should have seen it coming. The Raiders are perilously thin behind Garoppolo, which isn't good given his injury history. Josh Jacobs was given the franchise tag after a remarkable season. The Raiders signed receiver Jakobi Meyers, the best receiver in a thin free-agent class, to a reasonable three-year, $33 million deal. Meyers will help replace the production of tight end Darren Waller, who was traded to the New York Giants after another injury-filled season. The Raiders also tried helping the defense by signing safety Marcus Epps, linebacker Robert Spillane and cornerback Brandon Facyson. The draft produced at least two players that should start right away in defensive end Tyree Wilson and tight end Michael Mayer.

Grade: C

Quarterback report

Jimmy Garoppolo has played every game in a season once (2019). In most other seasons he has dealt with injuries. A foot injury in 2022 opened the door for Brock Purdy and it was still an issue for Garoppolo when he failed his Raiders physical. In the seemingly unlikely event Garoppolo never plays for the Raiders because he can't pass a physical (“I have very good information that would tell me we’re going to be fine," Josh McDaniels said on June 1, via the Las Vegas Review-Journal) it will end up being one of the biggest fiascos in recent Raiders history. The Raiders have no viable backup plan. If Garoppolo misses time it's either newly signed 38-year-old Brian Hoyer (former Patriot!) or fourth-round rookie Aidan O'Connell taking over. The move from Derek Carr to Garoppolo is probably a downgrade, but it's close. The real problem comes if Garoppolo can't stay healthy.

BetMGM odds breakdown

The Raiders' win total at BetMGM is 6.5. That number seems right. If you like the under, it's probably because you think Jimmy Garoppolo will miss some time and the defense will be awful. If you like the over, it's due to a good offense and believing the Raiders can't possibly blow all those leads again. I might lean to the under due to Garoppolo's health history but I'll be laying off.

Yahoo's fantasy take

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "All in all, Josh Jacobs ran rather pure last year. He captured the rushing title. He collected 400 receiving yards and posted 4.9 yards per carry, both career highs. Jacobs also led the league with 2,053 scrimmage yards.

"Alas, Jacobs looks like a fade candidate for 2023. He somehow played in a full 17 games last season despite appearing on the injury report six times; he missed six games in his first three years. The Raiders offensive line looks problematic. And the Las Vegas team outlook isn’t rosy, which could be a mess for Jacobs. For his career, he has 32 touchdowns in Raider wins (27 games), but just eight touchdowns when the Raiders lose (33 games).

"Jacobs carries an ADP around 13 in early Yahoo drafts; it slides to 22 in NFFC formats. Count me out at both price tags. Regression is likely to bite, perhaps significantly."

Stat to remember

The Raiders defense had just 13 takeaways last season. They had only six interceptions, tied for the fewest in the NFL. That's a reason the Raiders allowed a 98.8 passer rating, which was last in the NFL. While turnover stats can fluctuate from year to year, that low number doesn't seem fluky for the Raiders. They don't have many playmakers on defense other than defensive end Maxx Crosby. Maybe former Eagles safety Marcus Epps helps, but he has three interceptions in 62 career games and none last season despite 20 starts including playoffs. The Raiders took some shots on defensive backs in the draft, but all after the top 100 picks. It's hard to depend on mid- to late-round rookies making a big impact. Unless defensive end Tyree Wilson, the seventh overall pick, has an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year season (and he might), the Raiders probably will struggle again on defense.

Burning question

What can Josh Jacobs do as an encore?

The Raiders traded for Davante Adams and he delivered an All-Pro season, with 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns. That wasn't a huge surprise. Jacobs being an All-Pro was a revelation. Jacobs, a former first-round pick, always left you wanting a little more. He had explosive plays on tape but it hadn't resulted in a great season. Then last season Jacobs had 2,053 yards from scrimmage, Pro Football Focus' No. 1 grade among tailbacks, made first-team All-Pro and in many ways became the focal point of an offense that was supposed to revolve around Adams. Jacobs was in a contract year and got the franchise tag. Jacobs hasn't signed the franchise tag tender and wasn't at the Raiders' mandatory minicamp as he seeks a long-term deal. While playing under the tag could be quite bothersome for a high-volume running back (a holdout can't be ruled out yet), there's no reason Jacobs can't have a season similar to his 2022.

Best-case scenario

Any team with an All-Pro at running back and receiver should have a great offense. Las Vegas was fairly average on offense last season. Maybe Josh McDaniels is right and Jimmy Garoppolo will unlock another level. Then we'll all see that Derek Carr was the problem. There's no reason the Raiders can't field a top 10 offense is Garoppolo is healthy. The defense would just need to figure out a way to make a few big plays a game. If that happens the Raiders could stay in playoff contention and things would look brighter for the McDaniels era.

Nightmare scenario

We won't even get into the possibility that Jimmy Garoppolo can't pass a physical and never plays for the Raiders, because that seems unlikely and it's too disastrous to even comprehend. But Garoppolo starting the season and then missing time is feasible, and the Raiders have nothing behind him. Even if Garoppolo stays healthy all season and plays well, the defense could be among the worst in the NFL. The Raiders went 6-11 last season and there are reasons to believe it could get worse. If it does, the only thing keeping owner Mark Davis from considering a coaching change would be blind faith.

The crystal ball says ...

The Raiders will have some games in which the offense puts up a ton of points and leads a win. I don't see that happening enough times to keep them in the playoff picture in a tough AFC. The Raiders play the second-toughest schedule in the NFL this season, via Sharp Football Analysis, and the defense won't be good enough to keep the Raiders in contention. Then they'll enter another offseason in their rebuilding project, which will probably include signing more former Patriots players.

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