The Raiders are well behind in their own division, a fact head coach Jon Gruden freely admits. The Kansas City Chiefs have the reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and he's just 23. Philip Rivers is a lot older, but still has the L.A. Chargers going strong.
The Raiders need significant upgrades to compete with the AFC West's top teams, and have plenty of opportunities to improve this offseason.
The NFL draft will play a huge role in that effort, though it seems clear Gruden knows this rebuild will take some time.
"Fortunately, we have some draft choices. We have four picks in the top 35 and we have a couple first-round picks next year," Gruden said on a podcast with JT The Brick released Friday on the team website. "We're in transition. We're moving to Las Vegas a year from now. We have a lot of issues that we have to address on this football team. Not only taking a look at how our quarterback can play better and possibly adding a receiver, another back, a lineman and a tight end, how do we get after (Patrick Mahomes) and Philip Rivers and (new Denver quarterback) Joe Flacco? We have to improve our defense at all three levels, on the defensive line, in the linebacking corps and in the secondary. That's a tall order for us."
The Raiders will put draft prospects under the microscope during next week's NFL Scouting Combine, where they'll see standardized individual drills and medical test while meeting with dozens of prospective Raiders.
Some highly touted ones are coming to Alameda this spring, with the Raiders owning the Nos. 4, 24, 27 and 35 overall draft picks.
The Raiders could use them all in that exact order, or make them trade bait for moves around the draft board or to acquire veteran talent. Gruden did plenty of both last year. He landed receiver Martavis Bryant for a 2018 third-round pick, and moved all over the board last year to secure more picks or guys they wanted.
"I think there's a lot of potential for trades," Gruden said. "That's one of the things I'm really excited about (general manager) Mike Mayock and what he brings to the table. He has great resources around the NFL. He's been in every building. He's on the first-name basis with many because everybody knows Mike. I think he's going to be on the phones quite a bit not only with (the Nos. 24 and 27 picks) but, who knows? We may move up from the No. 4 overall pick or we may move back from it. We'll see how it all unfolds."
The Raiders will be a wild card during this draft, given Gruden's penchant for movement and this being Mayock's first time running an NFL draft room (though Gruden will ultimately have the final say).
Gruden and Mayock have a dual focus right now, with a keen eye on draft prospects this week through April and another on prospective free agents.
"That's what we've been doing the last 10 days," Gruden said. "We've been doing nothing but studying free agents, guys whose contracts are up. Obviously, we're not looking to add players at the end of their career. We're looking for blossoming young players. Those guys usually don't get to free agency, so the pickings are slim for everybody but there are a couple diamonds in the rough. We'll see where the market goes, but you don't want to spend all the money you have on a few free agents. You want to try to keep some of that money available in case a trade might develop during the draft."
Let the Antonio Brown speculation grow from that. The Pittsburgh Steelers will make the talented, yet mercurial receiver available in trade this offseason, though they've made it clear the price to get him will be high. The Steelers have played hardball with star players before, creating a possibility they could prove stubborn on compensation.
Gruden has praised Brown in the past, though he praises many, and the Raiders are considering by many as a possible landing spot. They have the salary-cap space and draft capital to acquire Brown. Though adding a soon-to-be 31 year old doesn't fit a standard rebuilding plan, Gruden might go for a game-changing offensive weapon. With Gruden running the show, it's tough to rule anything out at this stage.