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Math doesn’t add up on Raiders’ strange roster move

Updated March 25, 2023 - 6:49 pm

There are those who believe decisions in sports should be made without consideration for feelings or emotions.

I plead guilty.

Part of the analytics revolution, of which I am a frontline foot soldier, is seeing sport as more of a math equation to be solved than a group of humans playing a game to determine a winner.

That goes for both in-game decision-making, where computer models are of far more assistance than whatever random gut feeling a coach has on a particular day, and roster construction, where historical data can lead to better personnel moves than a usually futile effort to just try to blend the right personalities.

I am resolute in these beliefs — until the random occasion when an exception rears its ugly head and tries to drag feelings into places they don’t belong.

It happened with the Raiders’ decision to release long snapper Trent Sieg last week. The move flew very much under the national radar, and why wouldn’t it? Nobody ever pays attention long snappers until they make a mistake.

It’s definitely one of the most thankless jobs in sports. Think about how hard it is to get that unbelievably consistent at something so unnatural, and yet never, ever get credit for it when it’s done correctly. That’s wild.

But back to the point.

Easy call on the surface

General manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels decided to sign Jacob Bobenmoyer and release the extremely popular Sieg. The move is easy enough to explain on the surface.

Bobenmoyer has a prior relationship with special teams coach Tom McMahon, and the Raiders believe he is a better player than Sieg, who was flagged for two holding calls and a false start last season, according to NFLPenalties.com.

Analysis, not emotion. It’s the kind of roster move the most hardened souls among us should celebrate.

But this felt different.

Should it matter to the decision-makers that Sieg is by all accounts a tremendous human being who brings a welcome dry wit to most every interaction in the locker room? No, not at all.

Should it matter when deciding whether to keep him around that Sieg and his wife, Carly, have a special bond with Las Vegas after their long journey to parenthood was finally fulfilled last year in the city? Absolutely not.

But, should it maybe be taken into account that punter AJ Cole and kicker Daniel Carlson are so comfortable with Sieg on and off the field that they have developed into All-Pro level players? Yeah, probably.

That’s the part of roster-building we analytics nerds often undervalue. It’s possible for Bobenmoyer to be a better player than Sieg and for this to still be a bad transaction by the Raiders.

High risk, low reward

There could also be another reason the Raiders decided to make this move. As Ziegler and McDaniels continue to overhaul the roster with more and more players with whom they are familiar, the special teams room was the last remaining bastion of the past regime.

All three players were in place when the current administration took over, and if McDaniels and Ziegler wanted to put their stamp on that unit, Sieg was much more dispensable than Cole or Carlson.

Now Bobenmoyer gives McMahon and the rest of the coaching staff a bigger presence in the room and, they believe, a better player. And Sieg immediately found a new home in Dallas.

The move will ultimately be measured in performance. Bobenmoyer is a very capable player and will likely blend well with Carlson and Cole, a pretty easy-going duo.

But perhaps nowhere on a football field is chemistry more important. The special teams group has been very good. Elite even. The players’ relationship on and off the field is a big reason why.

There really didn’t seem to be a reason to mess with that. It’s a high-risk, low-reward move that will only be noticed if it fails miserably.

That math doesn’t add up.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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