Raiders considering several avenues for quarterback upgrade

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Friday, February 16, 2024

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Antonio Pierce wants a quarterback.

Yes, we all heard the Las Vegas Raiders coach call then-rookie Aidan O'Connell his "BFF" after he promoted him and benched veteran Jimmy Garoppolo. And the coach said at the end of the season that O'Connell showed enough in his nine-game audition to compete for a starting gig going forward.

But when Pierce was barnstorming through Radio Row before the Super Bowl last week, he made one thing abundantly clear -- the Raiders need to add a quarterback.

No bridge guys. No band-aids. No journeymen. An honest-to-goodness, face-of-the-franchise QB with whom to grow and cultivate the Raiders' re-found culture and mystique.

"Whatever quarterback we go with, we're going out there and we're whooping ass," Pierce said recently on ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark's podcast "The Pivot."

But the Raiders hold the No. 13 overall draft pick, and the top three QB prospects probably will be gone long before they're scheduled to pick. So how do the Raiders get Pierce's desired quarterback, and who might he be?

The Raiders aren't known for drafting quarterbacks early, as they have used a first-round draft pick on a quarterback only three times since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger -- Marc Wilson in 1980, Todd Marinovich in 1991 and JaMarcus Russell in 2007.

But Pierce does have a link to Jayden Daniels, the LSU Heisman Trophy winner who shouted Pierce out in his acceptance speech in December. They have a connection that goes back years, to when Pierce recruited Daniels to his first college stop, Arizona State.

And yes, Daniels was in the Raiders' locker room after their feel-good season finale win against the Denver Broncos, showing Pierce some support and, well, love.

A few weeks back, when it appeared Kliff Kingsbury was going to be the Raiders' offensive coordinator, the prevailing theory was that Kingsbury, who was 2022 Heisman winner Caleb Williams' position coach at USC last year, had an inside track on bringing Williams to Las Vegas. Instead, Kingsbury changed course and bolted for the Washington Commanders, who hold the No. 2 pick.


As it stands now, getting from No. 13 into the top 3 to draft Williams, Daniels or North Carolina's Drake Maye would cost a lot. Especially with the three teams at the top of the draft -- the Chicago Bears, Commanders and New England Patriots-- all potentially in the quarterback market.

The cost might be too much for new Raiders general manager Tom Telesco, who spent the previous 11 seasons as Los Angeles Chargers' G.M.

Consider: Per ESPN Stats and Information, Telesco traded up only twice in the first round during his Chargers tenure. And neither time was it for a quarterback, as he traded from No. 17 to No. 15 in 2015 to draft running back Melvin Gordon III, then traded to get back into the first round in 2020 to draft linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr.

That's it.

And jumping at least 10 spots in April would seemingly be a Herculean task that would probably require moving a star player or two.

If receiver Davante Adams is that chip, well, the New York Jets (who reportedly are keen on reuniting him with quarterback Aaron Rodgers) have the No. 10 pick. Packaging the Nos. 10 and 13 picks probably isn't enough to move into the top 2 to ensure getting either Williams or Daniels.

Plus, Adams told he was looking forward to working with incoming offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, with whom he spent time when he played with the Green Bay Packers.

And wouldn't dealing away Adams be counterproductive for developing a young QB, who would need all the weapons he could muster as he adjusts to the NFL?

Should the Raiders stand pat, Oregon's Bo Nix might still be there at No. 13. Washington's Michael Penix Jr.and Michigan's J.J. McCarthy could also be on the board. But do the Raiders see them as franchise guys worthy of such a high pick?

That answer could be determined once Telesco gets full stock of the current Raiders players.

"I have a lot of learning to do to figure out this team from the inside, not from the outside," Telesco said in his introductory news conference when asked about quarterbacks on the Raiders' roster. "Obviously, Aidan played pretty well against us, so that's a plus."

Indeed, O'Connell had a career-best 120.7 passer rating with four TD passes, no INTs and 248 passing yards in the Raiders' 63-21 demolition of the Chargers on Dec. 14, after which the Chargers fired Telesco and former coach Brandon Staley.

"But I need to get a lot more in depth with this team as far as more than just a couple games and then talk with the staff," Telesco added. "I have to get to know this team as well as I knew the team I just came from, which I don't yet, but I'm going to get there pretty quick."

Therefore, Garoppolo and 15-year veteran Brian Hoyer remain on the Raiders roster ... for now.

Garoppolo is a cut candidate and, according to ESPN's Roster Management System, is in line to earn a base salary of $11.25 million with a roster bonus of $12.78 million and a workout bonus of $220,000 after signing a three-year, $72.75 million free-agent deal with $45 million guaranteed last March, then restructuring last summer. His salary cap number is $28.52 million, with a dead cap hit of $28.32 million.

Garoppolo, who underwent surgery on his left foot after joining Las Vegas, never found his footing with the Raiders. He was benched immediately upon Pierce being made interim coach and played only three snaps after the Halloween night firing of Josh McDaniels. Garoppolo was leading the NFL in interceptions (9) at that point and finished with career lows in passer rating (77.7) and QBR (33.9) in seasons in which he started at least six games.

Still, Garoppolo, lauded for his mentorship of O'Connell, was open to returning.

"You never know," he told ESPN the day after the season finale. "I just want to get back to playing, honestly."

As far as O'Connell, Pierce said he saw growth with the rookie.

"At the end of the season he was playing some really good football that led to some wins for us," Pierce said. "He put himself in a position to learn what it's like to be a pro in the offseason because he could reflect on what he just did. If he didn't have those opportunities, he would never know what mistakes he made."

The wild card is Getsy, who coached Justin Fields in Chicago. What kind of QB would the new offensive playcaller prefer, and what type of influence might he have in that decision?

If the Bears decide to move on from Fields, a reunion of coordinator and quarterback might be awkward considering their mid-season beef.

The Arizona Cardinals, who have the No. 4 pick, might be willing to dangle Kyler Murray, but undersized QBs are not a favorite of Raiders owner Mark Davis.

And while Pierce may desire that young, franchise-type QB, going the reclamation route with a vet is in the Raiders' DNA. Paging Jim Plunkett, Jay Schroeder, Jeff Hostetler, Jeff George, Rich Gannon, Kerry Collins, Daunte Culpepper, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer and, well, Garoppolo.

If the Raiders go that way, a gaggle of vets --Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Baker Mayfield and Gardner Minshew-- could hit the open market.

The only sure thing is O'Connell will not be alone.

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