Jon Gruden’s smirk turned to a frown momentarily in his post-game news conference Sunday evening in Denver.
The euphoria that came with a victory in the final seconds over the Broncos was interrupted for some emotion over the realization that the season had finished.
“I’m emotionally very sad to see the season end,” Gruden said. “These are my friends. These are my only friends. They battled. I’m excited about the future, but I’ll miss it.”
An NFL roster never stays the same from one season to the next, and almost always undergoes significant changes, so Gruden knew the victory over the Broncos was his final moment with this particular set of players.
Who will Gruden be working with again next year and who’s on their way out?
It’s never too soon to try to determine, so let’s dive into the first roster breakdown of the offseason.
Here’s my best guess on the status of every player either on the Raiders’ active roster or injured reserve as they begin to prepare for the 2021-2022 season.
Returning: Derek Carr
Likely returning: Nathan Peterman
Likely gone: Marcus Mariota
Don’t let Mariota’s one successful relief performance distract from the fact that Peterman was Carr’s backup over him in 11 of 16 games this season — and not all of those were because of injury. Mariota’s flashes of brilliance against the Chargers complicates things, but he’s owed $10.7 million if the Raiders keep him. It’s too much for a backup given roster needs elsewhere. Best-case scenario, Las Vegas finds a quarterback-needy trade partner and picks up a draft pick or some compensation for potentially helping to revitalize the former No. 2 overall pick’s career. Peterman is an unrestricted free agent, but the Raiders like him and he’s now intimately familiar with coach Jon Gruden’s offense.
Returning: Josh Jacobs, Alec Ingold
Likely returning: Jalen Richard
50/50: Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
Booker was a feel-good story after surprisingly winning the backup running back job in training camp and producing at a high clip to start the season. But he tailed off from there. The Raiders may bring the unrestricted free agent back, but at the least he’ll face new competition to keep the role. Richard, and Riddick to a lesser extent, are beloved teammates who provide depth and third-down options.
Returning: Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow
Likely returning: Nelson Agholor
50/50: Zay Jones
Likely gone: Tyrell Williams
Teammates’ campaign to keep Agholor is in full effect after he broke out with 896 yards and eight touchdowns on a 1-year, $887,500 deal this season. “We gotta pay that man,” is how Carr put it. Agholor is going to get paid somewhere and it will most likely be with the Raiders unless another team swoops in with an inflated offer. Williams, who was lost for the season in training camp with a torn labrum, would be the unit’s highest-paid player at $11.5 million if the Raiders keep him on his current contract. The chances of that seem slim to nonexistent. Williams is a gamechanger when he’s on the field — and could form a lethal big-play duo with Agholor — but he’s been banged up throughout his two-year tenure with the Raiders.
Returning: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau
Likely gone: Jason Witten, Derek Carrier
As he showed with a memorable 47-yard touchdown catch against the Colts, Moreau is ready for a bigger role and has the potential to give the Raiders one of the best tight-end duos in the league next to Waller. The Raiders seem to realize as much, which is why they probably won’t entertain bringing back the 38-year-old Witten for another year despite how much they valued his leadership.
Returning: Rodney Hudson, Kolton Miller, John Simpson
Likely returning: Brandon Parker
50/50: Gabe Jackson, Denzelle Good, Andre James
Likely gone: Trent Brown, Richie Incognito, Sam Young
For the first time in several years, offensive line is one of the units the Raiders most need to address in the offseason. Hudson, center, and Miller, left tackle, are two of their best players and make for quite the advantage even if Las Vegas otherwise goes with all new starters. And it just might otherwise go with all new starters. Jackson, right guard, is one of the team’s longest-tenured players and still under contract for two more seasons but rumors persisted that the Raiders were shopping him last offseason. Now they could release the 29-year-old without penalty for the first time. Las Vegas could also move on from Brown, right tackle, and Incognito, left guard, without taking a cap hit and free up more than $20 million in the process. Considering the two combined to play in only five full games this year — appearing in seven — that almost feels like a foregone conclusion.
Returning: Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, Maurice Hurst
Likely returning: Carl Nassib, Arden Key
50/50: Johnathan Hankins, Vic Beasley, Takkarist McKinley, Chris Smith, Kendal Vickers
Likely gone: Maliek Collins
The 3-year, $25 million contract the Raiders gave Nassib this offseason now looks like a mistake, and they’d surely jump at a chance to get out of it if one presented itself. But that seems unlikely until next offseason. Beasley and McKinley were midseason practice-squad signings that intrigued the Raiders. They may be interested in bringing one or both of them back at a low price, even though Beasley didn’t show much in five appearances at the end of the season. Hankins is a free agent but he’s been consistent, reliable and underrated in three years with the Raiders. He was far better than his fellow starting defensive tackle this season as Collins failed to live up to the 1-year, $6 million deal and team-captain status the Raiders bestowed him with. It would be a surprise if Las Vegas gave Collins another chance.
Returning: Nick Kwiatkoski, Cory Littleton, Tanner Muse
Likely returning: Nicholas Morrow
50/50: Kyle Wilber
Likely gone: Raekwon McMillan
Las Vegas is tethered to Kwiatkoski and Littleton for the next two years after signing them to big free-agent deals last offseason. Kwiatkoski was the team’s best defensive player in his first season in silver-and-black, but Littleton played “miserably,” in his own words. Littleton must return to the sure-tackling, coverage-excelling player he was with the Rams for the Raiders to turn around their defense next season. Morrow’s continued development was a bright spot as he easily outplayed the more heralded McMillan. The Raiders’ coaching staff loves Morrow after working with the undrafted free agent for the last three years and the front office will seemingly do everything it can to sign him to a new deal.
Returning: Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Isaiah Johnson, Amik Robertson
Likely returning: Lamarcus Joyner
50/50: Keisean Nixon
Likely gone: Nevin Lawson, Daryl Worley
The Raiders desperately need upgrades here. Mullen, despite a few rough moments, is a starting-caliber NFL cornerback but no one else currently on the roster has proven to be. There’s still time for Arnette and Johnson but neither the rookie nor the second-year player inspired much confidence this season. The veteran Joyner is talented, but the Raiders have struggled with how to best utilize him as he seems more comfortable at safety than nickelback. Releasing Joyner would make for a $2.5 million cap hit, so it seems more likely the incoming new defensive coordinator will try to coax something out of him in training camp this summer. Look for the Raiders to commit significant capital at cornerback whether it’s in free agency, the draft, or most likely, both.
Returning: Johnathan Abram
Likely returning: Jeff Heath
50/50: Dallin Leavitt
Likely gone: Erik Harris
The issues continue in the other secondary group where the Raiders are fully committed to Abram despite ample evidence that he was the defense’s biggest liability this season. Heath, who signed a 2-year, $6.7 million contract this offseason, was the team’s best safety before he went on injured reserve near the end of the season. Las Vegas should want him around for another year. Harris has fulfilled his three-year deal with the Raiders and though he mostly avoided injuries and stayed on the field — “availability” is a sticking point with Gruden — the team may look elsewhere to find someone to anchor their back end.
Returning: A.J. Cole
Likely Returning: Daniel Carlson, Trent Sieg
The Raiders were strong on special teams this year and there’s no reason they won’t go with the same crew again next year. Cole, punter, is under contract for one more year while Carlson, kicker, and Sieg, long snapper, are restricted free agents.