Mercifully, delightedly, finally the Josh McDaniels era for the Las Vegas Raiders has come to an end (with his buddy Dave Ziegler gone too).
Say what you want about the time of night the decision was announced or where we are in the season — but the only decision Mark Davis could make was the one right in front of him, and on Tuesday night, he made it wisely. While he couldn’t go back in time and prevent McDaniels from ever coming, from overpaying for his buddy Jimmy Garoppolo (and getting nothing for Derek Carr), what he could do was fire the guy who never seemed to have answers and whose piloting of this franchise had it clearly headed in the wrong direction.
In less than two years, McDaniels somehow took a playoff team that added Davante Adams and turned it into a team that was getting blown out by Tyson Bagent and the lowly Bears. The supposed offensive genius was overseeing an offense that was only matched in its incompetency by a team quarterbacked by Zach Wilson despite having Adams, last year’s top rusher Josh Jacobs and secondary weapons like Jakobi Myers and Hunter Renfrow.
To say that the 2023 Raiders were an embarrassment would be an understatement, but on Tuesday, Davis started the process of changing that.
And then, on Wednesday, we got step two of the course correction: Jimmy Garoppolo had been benched, and rookie Aidan O’Connell was named the starter for the remainder of the year. In all honesty, there was no way to interpret this decision other than a shot at McDaniels — the guy who not only stuck with Garoppolo despite leading the league with 9 interceptions in just six games but named Brian Hoyer the starter in his place in Week 8.
And again: It was clearly the right move from Davis.
This team was headed nowhere as it was built and as it was being coached — and while they’ll outperform my season win total prediction of three, it won’t be by much. From here on out, the only two things they should care about are:
1) Figure out if O’Connell is a building block at quarterback
2) Position yourself in the draft to get more high-end pieces
The 2024 NFL Draft is going to be one of the better quarterback drafts in recent memory, and the Raiders will be well-positioned to pick one if O’Connell doesn’t perform. And to be fair, he’s a rookie who was picked in the fourth round — so expectations aren’t exactly sky-high, despite his impressive preseason performance.
If he plays well, the Raiders will win some games and can use their coveted picks on a much-needed rebuild of the offensive line and defensive backfield — but if not, the second tier of quarterback prospects (Shadeur Sanders, Michael Penix, Bo Nix, etc.) will be there waiting to be selected with Caleb Williams and Drake Maye both sure to be gone.
Beyond all this, of course, the Raiders need to get the next hire right.
This rebuild doesn’t have to be a three-year project — in fact, it can’t be that long, given the talent they have on the roster at critical spots. Teams with a top-five pass rusher, top-five wide receiver and top-ten left tackle can’t wait around for everything else to fall into place — and yet, sometimes, it is necessary to slow down and be patient. The reality is, if they get the right general manager and the right head coach in the building — along with a plan at quarterback — this thing could get headed back in the right direction as quickly as next year.
But get it all wrong? And guys like Davante Adams and Maxx Crosby won’t be around to see whoever comes next.
While my money is on Jim Harbaugh to be the guy after Michigan gets crushed with penalties for their sign-stealing program, you never know what the Raiders are going to do. History says they’ll screw it up because they’re the Raiders, but hey, this week Mark Davis had a tough choice to make, and he made it.
Who’s to say he can’t do that one more time?