HENDERSON, Nev. -- If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' blueprint for beating the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV on Sunday looked familiar -- keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field with a punishing running game while making Mahomes uncomfortable by winning up front with a four-man rush -- it should. At least, it should to the Las Vegas Raiders.
It's how they ended a seven-game losing streak at Arrowhead Stadium with a 40-32 Week 5 victory, and how they came within two minutes of sweeping the Chiefs. But there were far more unanswered questions for a youthful and often-skittish Raiders team as it careened toward the finish line. Questions that continue.
Following, then, five pressing offseason questions facing the Raiders ...
Whither quarterback Derek Carr?
There's speculation Carr, who is coming off an impressive statistical season with 4,103 passing yards and a 101.4 passer rating that ranked 10th best in the NFL, will be such a "hot commodity" he could command a pair of first-round draft picks in trade. If that is indeed the case, what are the Raiders waiting for?
Look, Carr is not the problem -- far from it -- but is he the answer? The man holds not only a $22.125 million salary cap number for 2021 but virtually every career passing record in franchise history, though he has a career record of 47-63 and has yet to play in the postseason (yeah, a broken leg suffered in Week 16 of the 2016 season squashed that hope). Marcus Mariota is cheaper with a cap number of $10.1 million for next season and was impressive in replacing an injured Carr against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15, nearly leading Las Vegas to victory. Despite having virtually no prep time.
No, this is not an advocacy piece for either quarterback. It's just shining a light on a small part of what the Raiders have to consider as coach Jon Gruden prepares for his fourth season back with the Raiders, and no winning season to speak of ... yet.
What about receiver Nelson Agholor?
What a feel-good story, right? Agholor had what has to be considered a career year after signing a one-year free-agent deal to be a complementary piece. The Raiders were returning Tyrell Williams -- who, with a cap number of $11.6 million, is a cut possibility -- second-year slot man Hunter Renfrow, selected speedster Henry Ruggs III with the 12th pick of the draft and took Bryan Edwards in the third round.
But after Williams was lost for the season in training camp with a shoulder injury and Ruggs and Edwards hit that rookie wall, Agholor was Las Vegas' most proficient wideout, with eight of his 48 catches being touchdowns (he also had a career-best 896 yards receiving and a career-high 37 first downs). Solid numbers, but not spectacular. But while somebody is going to give Agholor a big payday in free agency -- shades of Alvin Harper in the mid-1990s? -- it's hard to see the Raiders overpaying. Especially if Williams comes back.
Was offensive lineman Denzelle Good good enough to warrant big money?
Trent Brown -- who has played 10-plus snaps in 14 of the Raiders' 32 games since signing a four year, $66 million deal in 2019 -- might have ruined true big-money lineman contracts, as he is no sure bet to return in 2021, what with a $14 million cap number. But define "big money" when it comes to Good, a career backup who played three different positions on the offensive line at right tackle, right guard and left guard -- where he eventually settled -- due to injuries.
Remember, the Raiders' O-line was once a strength of the team and its most expensive asset, as Las Vegas invested a combined $52.15 million toward its projected starting lineup last year. But it has the potential to turn old, quick. Kolton Miller has been solid at left tackle since being the No. 15 overall pick of the 2018 draft, but how much tread is left on the tires of standout center Rodney Hudson and road-grading right guard Gabe Jackson? Richie Incognito, who Good replaced at left guard, will be 38 and coming off an Achilles' injury, so he's no sure bet, either. Good, who was called the team MVP at the midway point of the season by both Carr and Gruden, should be taken care of by Las Vegas, but he won't break the bank.
Can Gus Bradley fix the defense?
Can anyone? Critics will say the NFL's No. 29 total defense (according to FPI) cost Las Vegas three games, an 11-5 record and a playoff spot last season with late-game implosions at home against the Chiefs, Chargers and Miami Dolphins. Supporters will say the defense actually stepped up to make game-winning stops at Carolina, Kansas City and the Chargers, so it evens out. The truth is somewhere in the middle and it's up to defensive coordinator Bradley, an architect of the Seattle Seahawks' famed Legion of Boom secondary, to get the Raiders right.
The Raiders have some relatively young cornerstones in defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette and safety Johnathan Abram. But they need to be consistent and learn how to be every-down NFL players. Especially Arnette and Abram, said Gruden, who also advocated for adding an "alpha" in the secondary when talking with Richard Sherman on Cris Collinsworth's podcast recently. And yeah, Sherman knows a little something about Bradley's defense.
No more mulligans, right?
In his first go-round with the Raiders from 1998-2001, Gruden had them playing host to the AFC title game in Year 3. This time, he got the Raiders to .500. Baby steps, right? Meh. Gruden, courtesy of that 10-year contract, might have the best job security of any coach in the NFL, but that does not mean Raiders owner Mark Davis does not get frustrated. Late-season collapses the past two years have been concerning (the Raiders' 6-4 start in 2019 ended with a record of 7-9 while Vegas finished 8-8 last season after a 6-3 start). Gruden often says there are no excuses, then lists a litany.
Thing is, he's not lying. The lack of a true in-person offseason program, COVID and injuries laid waste to that promising start. Thing is, 31 other teams were dealt the same deck. And with no clarity on offseason workouts this year, the Raiders could be dealing with the same issues. The only difference, at least the Raiders would not be dealing with a move from Oakland to Las Vegas this offseason. And maybe, just maybe, the Raiders can get fans inside their $2 billion palace at the corner of Dean Martin Drive and Al Davis Way to help with some sort of homefield advantage. The Raiders were 2-6 at Allegiant Stadium in their inaugural Las Vegas season.