ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There's just a little something different in the air when it comes to the Raiders, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the start of free agency for the 2020 season.
"In previous years, the agents don't get up and come across the hallway to see you," Raiders coach Jon Gruden mused recently at the NFL combine. "You've got to go look for them."
And why not?
The team's move to Las Vegas has given the franchise certain lures for free agents, from state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium, to the appeal of playing for a young team on the rise, to, wait for it, no state income tax.
As general manager Mike Mayock noted, players and their agents are "very aware" of that last perk.
"But players want to come play for the Raiders, I think, because of the Silver and Black and their tradition to start with," Gruden added. "But the stadium, the excitement, Las Vegas, it really gives us, I think, an outstanding vehicle to recruit players and, hopefully, it all works out for us.
"It's exciting, man."
Consider: The Raiders have more than $47.7 million in salary-cap space, the 12th most in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Information.
Combined with the draft, where the Raiders have five picks in the first 91 selections, that's plenty of money to attack the top positions of need, yes? As Mayock said in Indianapolis, the Raiders feel better about their station today than they did a year ago.
"The challenge is, we need another great draft, and then we've got to make intelligent decisions in free agency," Mayock said. "We do have some money. I've always said free agency is a buyer-beware market. For the most part, there are reasons guys are in free agency, and you better be surgical and you better be smart. And I think that's really the challenge."
As well as at ... (drum roll, please) ... quarterback.
Of course, a million times of course, you've heard and read the rumor about the Raiders moving on from Derek Carr -- who carries a cap number of $21.5 million for 2020 but would cost the Raiders a relatively small cap hit of $5 million should they cut him this offseason -- and signing Tom Brady. But the latest grist from the rumor mill has the Raiders intrigued by former No. 2 overall draft pick Marcus Mariota to back up Carr.
Mariota would be significantly cheaper than Brady and would have more upside as a quarterback not afraid to extend plays with his legs, as Gruden wants from his QB. And Mariota might be invigorated from a change of scenery after five years in Tennessee and push Carr more than, say, Nathan Peterman. Plus, Las Vegas, with its Polynesian popularity, is considered the ninth Hawaiian island, so that has to appeal to Honolulu native Mariota, no?
Cornerback? The Raiders have been linked to Byron Jones, who has just two interceptions in 79 career games (73 starts) with the Dallas Cowboys but is the type of bigger, more physical shutdown corner Gruden covets.
In fact, Trayvon Mullen, a second-rounder a year ago, seemed to be recruiting Jones on his Twitter account recently.
Somebody tell Byron Jones, T Mullen want to get some work in 🦅— Trayvon Mullen Jr (@MullenIsland1) March 6, 2020
And later ...
I spoke with Byron, everything is all good 😎— Trayvon Mullen Jr (@MullenIsland1) March 8, 2020
At linebacker, the Raiders need a playmaker who can not only call out the defense, but also cover tight ends and running backs.
And at receiver, well, Gruden has been burned there the past two years in acquiring veterans Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown, while Tyrell Williams dealt with plantar fasciitis in both feet last season.
And wouldn't it be ironic for the Raiders to kick the tires on Amari Cooper, should the Cowboys slow play their re-signing of him? Otherwise, A.J. Green, named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, would be enticing as a veteran in need of a change after missing the entire 2019 season with an ankle injury suffered in training camp.
Safety Karl Joseph -- who broke his right foot making a game-sealing interception against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 10 -- versatile defensive back Daryl Worley, who played all over the secondary late in the season, and middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict -- who remains one illegal hit away from being banned by the league again -- are the biggest names to watch on defense.
"All I can tell you about free agency, because I'm not allowed to talk about any of them, anyway, is that I've watched tape of just about every guy out there at every position," Mayock said. "All that does is uphold what I'm telling you -- every position is evaluated every year, and if we can upgrade it, we will."
Unrestricted free agents (17): QB Mike Glennon, RB Isaiah Crowell, RB DeAndre Washington, RB Rod Smith, WR/RS Dwayne Harris, TE Eric Tomlinson, OL Jordan Devey, DE Benson Mayowa, DE Josh Mauro, DE Dion Jordan, DT Olsen Pierre, LB Kyle Wilber, LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Will Compton, CB Daryl Worley, S Karl Joseph, S Curtis Riley.