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Raiders mailbag: Fans have questions about Aidan O’Connell, defense

The surging Raiders head to Miami to play the high-flying Dolphins on Sunday. Coming off two straight wins, the Raiders face their toughest test yet under interim coach Antonio Pierce.

Their fans have a lot of questions as a result. Here is a sampling of what arrived in this week’s mailbag.

Raiderette T. (@Renee_1393): How many roster stops are open with the release of Jakob Johnson and Isaac Rochell. What is the possibility of building around a defense and Aidan O’Connell?

Vincent Bonsignore: Rochell’s roster spot was assumed by new cornerback Jack Jones, who was claimed off waivers from the Patriots. The Raiders are at 52 players with one open spot. One would imagine they will address that between now and kickoff in Miami.

In terms of building around defense and the rookie O’Connell, part of that depends on how well he plays in the final seven games. With all due respect to his 2-0 record as the starting quarterback, he’s been more of a game manager. At some point, he has to show he can be a difference-maker to become the unquestioned future quarterback.

Gregg Burke (@BreggGurke): Why wouldn’t the Raiders sign general manager Champ Kelly ASAP? That way, he could start putting his scouts and draft personnel in place instead of waiting after the season.

VB: Even if they wanted to, NFL rules don’t allow it.

The Raiders have to open their head coach and general manager jobs to an extensive search after the season. That process might lead back to Kelly, but it has to play out.

In terms of the college and pro personnel departments, keep in mind that Kelly was part of the hiring process that turned over those departments the past two years. As the right-hand man to former general manager Dave Ziegler, he had say in all the various changes. That doesn’t mean he won’t make some additional changes if he gets the job permanently, but most of the heavy lifting has been done. For that reason, it seems unlikely there will be major turnover if he remains on the job.

Ernie Pineda (@ErniePinedaSG95): Will the Raiders waive quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after the season?

VB: It’s hard to imagine it going any other way. At the moment, anyway.

Garoppolo is on the books for $22.5 million next year, but half of that remains nonguaranteed. His $11.25 million salary does not kick in until the fifth day of the new league year in March, so if the Raiders release him before then, they will be on the hook for just the $11.25 million roster bonus that was fully guaranteed at signing.

The Raiders will face either a $28.3 million cap hit next season or $15.5 million hit in 2023 and $12.8 million hit in 2025, but the savings in actual cash would make that almost a no-brainer.

All that said, the game has a funny way of circling back to players. While the Raiders hope O’Connell seizes the opportunity and remains healthy, there is no guarantee either happens. Should the football end up in Garoppolo’s hands again this season, he’ll have a say in what happens.

Ed Helinski (@MrEd315): Do the Raiders have a chance against Miami?

VB: A tall task, to be sure. But the Raiders are in a pretty good head space right now, and it should enable them to go to Miami and put up a fight. But O’Connell is going to have to make some big-time plays, and the defense needs to come up with at least three big stops and at least one turnover.

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

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