NAPA - Aaron Curry landing on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury on the first day of camp is no doubt a downer for the Raiders' weak-side linebacker.But it's also an opportunity for rookie Miles Burris, Oakland's high-energy fourth-round draft choice out of San Diego State. So much so that Burris nearly had to pinch himself when he found himself lining up alongside the likes of Richard Seymour with the Raiders' first-team defense Monday during the team's opening training camp practice."Maybe when they're in the huddle a little bit and they're staring at me, probably wondering who I am," Burris said."The more reps I can get, Ill take. Its really good and beneficial for me as far as bringing me along quicker (and) being immersed out there with the first team and having to get a feel for the game more. It was a good time."Since it was the first day of camp and the Raiders were in shorts and helmets and not in pads and hitting each other -- that comes Wednesday -- it was hard to tell exactly how Burris fared. Even if his highly-publicized high motor was most definitely on display in drills.Still, coach Dennis Allen seemed impressed, when asked about Burris and fellow rookie linebacker Nate Stupar."I think both of them are instinctive football players," Allen said. "They're smart and they've done a nice job of picking up the scheme. They're still rookies and they make some rookie mistakes, but as far as the level of commitment, I've been real pleased with that."At San Diego State, Burris played in a hybrid 3-3-5 defense, so playing on the weak side in a 4-3 NFL defense will take some adjustments. But he had a rookie minicamp, three weeks of OTAs and a three-day minicamp to get ready for training camp.So where's his comfort level now, as opposed to two months ago?"A lot more comfortable," he said. "I made sure to stay studying and the book, the notes that I took from OTAs and minicamp, I took that home and was studying that every day. Just from the reps that I got there as well it did bring me a lot farther than where I expected to be and I felt pretty comfortable out there today.And the aspect of the game he feels he needs more work on is predictable.I think right now just the pass game," Burris said. "Theres a lot of ins and outs to the pass coverage. What were playing and also what the offense is giving us. And a lot of that comes from experience and reps and a lot also comes from the film room and studying your playbook."
The Raiders once again march into the offseason with significant salary cap space. That’s been the case a few years now, since general manager Reggie McKenzie got his franchise right with the cap by exchanging bad contracts for good.
McKenzie currently has $46.5 million available, according to overthecap.com, to spend on draft picks, free agents and his own players.
There are teams with more money available, but there’s plenty to do what’s necessary.
A top priority will be keeping superstar quarterback Derek Carr and edge rusher Khalil Mack in silver and black.
“You can say that,” McKenzie said last week. “The good thing is we do have time, but I’m not the type to wait until the last minute. Those two guys are not only great players but they are great men. They are true Raiders and I want to make sure we do the best that we can to make sure that they stay Raiders.”
McKenzie accurately points out the Raiders have some time to work these deals out. The Raiders have a fifth-year option on Mack, a luxury afforded teams on all first-round picks. He’ll have two years until the open market creeps up, with a possible franchise tag to extend that stretch.
There’s less sand in Carr’s hourglass. There’s no fifth-year option on the second-round pick’s four-year deal, meaning their franchise quarterback is ready to enter a contract year.
The Raiders don’t want him anywhere near free agency or the franchise tag’s exorbitant pricing on quarterbacks. A contract extension could come this offseason to keep Carr a Raider long-term – his broken fibula should have zero impact on contract talk – meaning the Raiders must in time adjust to life with a massive cap number for their quarterback.
McKenzie and his staff prepared well for that day. They have signed veteran free agents to contracts with up-front money that essentially become pay-as-you-go deals over time. That provides flexibility should money be needed elsewhere and not stuck to an underperforming player.
The Raiders might have to make tough decisions regarding popular supporting players who could command more money elsewhere.
“You can’t keep everybody,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said shortly after the season. “You can’t pay everybody, especially once you start paying your quarterback what he’s going to end up making, which I’m sure will be a pretty nice amount. So we’ve been fortunate the last few years, we’ve been able to do more other places because we didn’t have a lot put in the quarterback number. As that number goes up, it’ll limit some of the things you have to do.”
Attrition will happen as some quality players leave for greater riches, but there are several top NFL teams with highly-paid quarterbacks. For example, five of the top six teams with highest-paid quarterbacks in 2016 made the playoffs.
“Hopefully it won’t beat up the roster that much,” McKenzie said. “You try to do the best that you can to work the contracts so you can keep as many good players as possible. But, we all know that you cannot have a roster of a lot of multi-million dollar players. That’s just not the way this system works. So, we’re just going to have to continue to strive to get good players for the lesser amount. I mean, it’s just the way it is. Our quarterback is going to command a high dollar. Khalil’s going to command a high dollar. So, we’ll work around it. But we don’t feel, at this point, threatened by it.”
Big cap numbers for Carr and Mack also places a premium on drafting and developing players well. Those guys are cheaper, and can keep roster strength high.
The Raiders prefer to reward their own players but have to spend smart, starting with the 13 players set to become unrestricted free agents later this spring. That group includes running back Latavius Murray, tackle Menelik Watson, receiver Andre Holmes and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley.
“We’ll have decisions to make,” Del Rio said. “I’m sure we’ll want to keep as much of the nucleus. We have a good, young nucleus of players here. We want to keep as much of that nucleus intact as possible. That will be the plan going forward.”
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has hired former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano, the team announced on Monday evening. He will be the team’s assistant head coach on the defensive side of the ball.
Pagano has spent most of his coaching career in San Diego, working with the Chargers in various capacities since 2002. He was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in 2012, where he led that unit for five seasons.
Pagano and Del Rio worked together in 1997, when Pagano was a New Orleans Saints defensive assistant and Del Rio was the assistant strength coach.
Pagano was a longtime linebackers coach before becoming a play caller. He has worked with several quality pass rushers and has proven to be adept at creating pressure.
The Raiders created a position for Pagano, who will help a defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed and dead last in sacks. Pagano was looking for a different gig after new Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn hired Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator.
Ken Norton Jr. remains defensive coordinator, but Pagano will bring experience and creativity to the game-planning process.
He has worked within a 3-4 defensive scheme, but has experience in all formations. The Raiders run multiple defensive fronts.
Pagano is the assistant coach on defense, while offensive line coach Mike Tice has a similar title on the offensive side. The Raiders have a vacancy on the staff, and are looking for a new defensive backs coach.
John Pagano is the younger brother of Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano.