While Monday marked the official end of the Raiders’ first season in Las Vegas, it also was the starting point for one of the most critical offseasons in franchise history.
The disappointment of another late-season swoon and another playoff opportunity wasted was still fresh. But of more importance was getting a head start on the process of making sure the same thing does not happen again next season.
Specifically, fixing a defense that gave up the 30th most points per game in the NFL at 29.9 and failed to hold late-game leads three times over the last seven games of the season.
That undertaking is expected to include hiring defensive coordinator, with interim Rod Marinelli, who replaced Paul Guenther three weeks ago, expected to remain in some capacity. Marinelli was hired last offseason to coach the Raiders’ defensive line, and it’s logical he will return to that post under the new defensive leader.
“He’s as good as there is on that side of the ball,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said of Marinelli. “He’s proved that for a long time.”
The Raiders, understanding the importance of building a defense capable of supporting a playoff-caliber offense are expected to be aggressive in identifying their next coordinator.
“We plan to move quickly,” Gruden said. “And we’re excited about this process.”
Among the coaches already connected to the job are Atlanta Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach Joe Barry, Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and longtime NFL defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Bradley, Barry and Morris all coached under Gruden in Tampa Bay.
The availability of Morris is dependent on whether he’s named the head coach of the Falcons. Bradley is likely to be available after the firing of Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn on Monday.
Barry, the son-in-law of Marinelli, was the position coach of Cory Littleton during Littleton’s development from an undrafted free agent into a Pro Bowl linebacker with the Rams from 2015 to 2019.
The Raiders are expected to ask for permission to talk to Barry.
Littleton was a disappointment in his first year with the Raiders, although Gruden still believes the veteran linebacker can become the impact player the Raiders envisioned upon signing him as a free agent.
Phillips is interested in the job, but one glitch could be his preference to play a base 3-4 defense. Gruden indicated on Monday he prefers to remain a 4-3 defensive team.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’d like to have some three-down elements and be multiple,” Gruden said. “But we want to play four bigs if we can.”
Aside from scheme, Gruden said strong communication skills, the ability to adapt on a weekly basis to stop the wide variety of offensive schemes across the league and developing players will be of utmost importance in the new coordinator.
“And a guy that has a history of success,” Gruden said. “A guy that has a great day-to-day work ethic.”
The Raiders are expected to pour draft and free agency resources into improving the defensive personnel, but equally important is hiring a defensive coordinator who can articulate and execute a plan that better utilizes the current players.
The Raiders have invested first-round picks the last two years in defensive tackle Cle Ferrell, cornerback Damon Arnette and safety Johnathan Abram. Second-year cornerback Travon Mullen was a second-round pick. In addition, they signed Littleton, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and defensive end Carl Nassib in free agency.
All of those players are expected to carry over to next year. And it will be understood that the new defensive coordinator must be able to get more out of them than his predecessor.
Defensive coordinator candidates
Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris
Rams assistant head coach/LB coach Joe Barry
Los Angeles Chargers DC Gus Bradley
Longtime DC Wade Phillips