Mike Mayock knows NFL draft prospects as well as anyone. The new Raiders general manager and former NFL Network analyst has spent a career breaking down and ranking college players going pro, and started dissecting this year's class well before joining the Silver and Black.
He's ready to go on that front, though it's only half the battle in terms of player acquisition. Free agency comes first in the offseason calendar, and the Raiders have salary cap space required to make big splashes where they see fit.
Mayock has been draft-centric, leaving many to question his stance on free agency now that he's involved in all facets of personnel acquisition.
He explained it Monday during his introductory press conference, and it centers on a ‘buyer beware' mentality. That's especially true for superstars hitting the open market.
"You have to be honest with yourself," Mayock said. "If you want to look at a tier one free agent … what's a tier one free agent? It means it's a guy that's age-appropriate, clean medically, already a starter in the league and a difference maker. How many of those guys hit the market? Very few. Now you want to call some of those people tier one guys and they're really not. You have to be careful."
"It doesn't mean we don't want to go out there and sign the right guys, but you have to be careful with the major ticket guys."
"Then there are the tier two guys that I think are critical for every team. Which ones are the emerging players that you can get that won't kill you on the salary cap side? Then the tier three guys that fill in your roster and make you better. Bottom line for me is that it's buyer beware. There's nothing wrong with being aggressive, but do your homework, understand who that person is as a person in addition to a football player."
As a slight aside: Let's be clear here. Jon Gruden holds absolute authority on who gets drafted and signed in free agency. Mayock will have a loud voice in player acquisition -- though others, namely salary-cap expert Tom Delaney, will work on fitting players in well with the cap – which makes his free-agency philosophy influential in Gruden's decisions.
While Mayock spends most time analyzing college prospects, he expanded horizons some a few years back when he started doing color analysis on NFL broadcasts.
"I've spent more and more time on the pro side in the last seven or eight years and part of it was driven by the fact that I got Thursday Night Football for our network and part of it was a couple of coaches around the league who I trust and respect an awful lot and have helped me over the years," Mayock said.
"They said, ‘Mike, if you want to take this thing to another level, you just can't be a college guy comparing college players. You have to take those college guys and say does he make a pro roster? Is he a backup? Is he a starter? Is he a difference maker?' So, seven or eight years ago, I made that a priority. So, I've watched a heck of a lot of pro tape over the last seven or eight years, both to prepare for games that I had and then also to try and get better at my craft."