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Antonio Pierce wants Raiders to find franchise QB, not ‘Band-Aid’

Updated February 28, 2024 - 5:40 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — With finding the face of their franchise their top priority, the Raiders got busy this week at the NFL scouting combine by meeting with the top quarterback prospects.

Among them was a familiar face to Raiders coach Antonio Pierce. In fact, his meeting with Louisiana State quarterback Jayden Daniels on Tuesday was more of a reunion than an interview.

“I’ve known Jayden since he was 14 years old,” Pierce said Wednesday.

Pierce was the recruiting director at Arizona State in 2019 when Daniels was a skinny high school standout in San Bernardino, California. Pierce convinced Daniels to sign with the Sun Devils by selling him on the notion that he would one day reach the pinnacle of college football.

Given how Daniels weighed 155 pounds at the time and was fighting off the perception he was too small to be a major college football player, that was quite the promise.

Seeing beyond the measurables, Pierce was convinced Daniels was a future star. And he sold him on that vision.

“That was my recruiting pitch,” Pierce said he remembers telling Daniels. “You’re gonna win the Heisman.”

Five years later, Pierce’s words came to fruition. Daniels, who eventually transferred from Arizona State to LSU, won the Heisman Trophy last season after throwing for 3,812 yards and 40 touchdowns and running for 1,134 yards and 10 scores.

A proud Pierce watched from Las Vegas as Daniels, now a 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound star, was accepting the award.

“That was cool,” Pierce said. “Then he called my name. I was like, ‘That’s even cooler.’ ”

Are their paths about to cross again?

It’s not out of the question. Pierce made it clear Wednesday that he’s not interested in the Raiders coming up with another stopgap solution at quarterback.

“You don’t want to put a Band-Aid at that position,” Pierce said. “That’s old, man. I think the Raiders, we’ve seen that enough in this organization.”

If so, it means the Raiders will lean into the NFL draft or the veteran quarterback market this offseason to find the difference-maker that has eluded them for decades.

“You want the face of your franchise to be the quarterback, to be that guy you can count on for the next 10 years,” Pierce said.

His preference would be for the Raiders to acquire that player through the draft.

Enter Daniels, a dazzling dual-threat quarterback who came a long way from that 155-pound kid Pierce recruited five years ago.

“All he’s done is prove people wrong,” Pierce said.

There’s one major problem, though. Daniels is projected to be selected with the second or third pick next month. The Raiders pick 13th, meaning it would take a king’s ransom to get him.

Pierce said he would have no problem doing whatever it takes to ensure the Raiders get their guy.

“That’s my personality, as you guys saw and witnessed,” Pierce said. “I’m a go-getter.”

Pierce said the entire organization will make the decision, including himself and general manager Tom Telesco.

“That has to be a collective agreement,” Pierce said.

Daniels and fellow top prospects Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and J.J. McCarthy fit the criteria Pierce is looking for in his next quarterback. All four started multiple seasons during their college careers, each facing their share of difficulties.

“You want guys with a bunch of starts underneath their belt. You don’t want a one-hit wonder,” Pierce said. “You want someone that’s been battle-tested, that’s been through adversity, that’s had challenges.”

It’s one of the handful of attributes Pierce seeks.

“I just want a leader. I want a guy who can lead, that wants to compete.” Pierce said. “I want a guy that’s not afraid of a challenge, because there’s a big challenge that we have in front of us. Especially that you’ve got the world champs in our division, again. I want someone that’s gonna go for that challenge.”

Pierce made it clear that player — whether through the draft or a veteran — would compete with second-year quarterback Aidan O’Connell for the starting job. But the more he talks, the more it appears the Raiders are looking for the new face of their franchise.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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