It was getting toward the end of a nearly hour-long interview session at the NFL owners meeting in Arizona when Raiders coach Jon Gruden covered all the bases.
“It depends when you’re on the clock and you’re sitting there at No. 4 and someone offers you to move back to whenever, what are they giving you?” Gruden said. “We’re wide open to moving up. We are wide open to moving back. We are wide open to just sitting there and taking a guy who falls to us.”
And the winner is ... door No. 3.
The Raiders will be best served on April 25 by staying where they are and letting their draft board do the talking at No. 4, No. 24 and No. 27 in the first round. Their next pick comes in the second round at No. 35, and general manager Mike Mayock understands the importance of going 4 for 4.
“If we do nothing but sit there and go 4, 24, 27 and 35, what we keep talking about upstairs is we better have four foundation football players,” Mayock said Thursday. “We define foundation as talent and football character. That’s what we want, guys who love the game. If we don’t move up, down or anywhere, we better get four of those guys.”
In that case, a roster that desperately needs it gets one immediate impact player and three potential starters, unless Gruden and Mayock decide they want to add a quarterback to groom behind Derek Carr.
Keep in mind that the draft that helped put the Raiders in the playoffs in 2016 occurred two years earlier under former general manager Reggie McKenzie. And McKenzie, a patient sort anyway, had everything fall his way in the first four rounds without making a move.
The Raiders, picking at No. 5, avoided the temptation to trade up to get Buffalo edge rusher Khalil Mack and were rewarded when defensive end Jadaveon Clowney (Houston), tackle Greg Robinson (Rams), quarterback Blake Bortles (Jacksonville) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo) went 1-2-3-4.
No need to rehash how well that worked out.
The second round brought Carr at No. 36 overall out of Fresno State, giving the Raiders their current franchise quarterback. Considering Bortles, Johnny Manziel (Cleveland), and Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota) all went in the first round, it was a bargain, no matter your feelings about Carr.
Gabe Jackson, now a foundation piece, arrived in Round No. 3 at No. 81 and Justin “Jelly” Ellis remains on the roster as a stout interior defender after being a fourth round pick (No. 107).
Surely not every draft works out that well, but there’s something to be said for not wasting picks and trading up when you may get more good players simply by standing pat.
The draft is a crap shoot, and the more picks you have, the better chance of getting someone who can stick and be of some help. And the Raiders need as many good, young players as they can get.
Just look at some of the picks the Raiders have made in the second round in recent years — defensive lineman Jihad Ward and Mario Edwards, and offensive tackle Menelik Watson. Not only are none of those players with the Raiders, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be on an NFL roster this season when Week 1 rolls around.
That makes it incumbent on Gruden and Mayock to hit winners near the top of the draft, and having three first-round picks plus another at No. 35 increases the odds.
Unless Arizona gets cold feet on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray at No. 1, the Raiders would be in line at No. 4 to get a plug-in-and-play game changer at No. 4. They’d wind up with either Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen or Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
Any one of those three players changes the look of the Raiders defense. While the smart money has Bosa going to the 49ers — he visited both teams Thursday — the Raiders would be thrilled with either Allen or Williams. Yes, Williams is a defensive tackle and not an edge player, and the Raiders already added P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst — two keepers — a year ago.
Williams however, wouldn’t be just a good defensive tackle, but potentially a great one. As Gruden noted, having Warren Sapp collapsing the pocket from the interior was huge for the Tampa Bay team which got him his Super Bowl ring.
Then there’s the wait for No. 24 and No. 27, and options are plentiful. If a quarterback slips precipitously, Gruden could pull the trigger on Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock or Daniel Bailey, provided he’s convinced they could push Carr in a year.
If not, no problem, wait on a quarterback for a year and there’s an edge player who would likely be pretty good out of the gate simply because Williams has been added in the middle. Or another cornerback (Washington’s Byron Murphy?) to go along with Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley and Nevin Lawson.
The feeling here is linebackers can be found after the first round and since they’re usually off the field in passing situations, there’s no need to take one unless it’s someone truly special.
As for offense, would Gruden want a bell cow running back? Josh Jacobs of Alabama is a possibility. A tight end to replace Jared Cook? How about Noah Fant from Iowa?
Regardless of how it shakes out, getting a difference-maker on defense and two potential major contributors on Day 1 is the best thing for the Raiders going forward.
Anticipation is heightened by the knowledge the Raiders traded Mack to Chicago and Amari Cooper to Dallas to get the Nos. 24 and 27 selections.
“As Jon keeps telling me, ‘Don’t mess it up, dude.’ I took a lot of slings to get you three first round picks,” Mayock said.