Kaye’s Take: Raiders’ Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler remodeling playoff team in their own vision, no matter the cost

Kenyan Drake will never play a regular-season snap for first-year Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler. However, the running back’s impact will still be felt within their bottom line.

Drake, who was released by the team on Tuesday, will count as $3.6 million in dead money on the Raiders’ salary cap this season and $4.4 million in 2023.

Save your draft. Save your team. Win money.

Raiders attempting to compete in loaded AFC West despite dwindling cap space

Drake, who was signed by the previous regime, played one season for the Raiders and ended up making $11.25 million, according to Over The Cap. But the duo of McDaniels and Ziegler can’t worry about those lost dollars and cents of a failed brain trust as they continue to rebuild the Raiders’ roster in their own image.

Drake’s release further solidifies the McDaniels-Ziegler approach to their rebuild on the fly: Money doesn’t take precedence over the mission. It’s the smart angle for a duo who inherited a playoff team with plenty of cap space.

The new regime’s first major move was to trade first- and second-round picks to the Green Bay Packers for All-Pro wideout Davante Adams. Las Vegas then gave Adams a five-year, $140 million contract, placing him as the second-highest paid wideout in the league from an annual standpoint. From there, they doubled down on QB Derek Carr, defensive end Maxx Crosby, and receiver Hunter Renfrow with lucrative contract extensions.

Throughout free agency, McDaniels and Ziegler remained aggressive with their retooling. They shipped well-paid pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin before signing former All-Pro EDGE Chandler Jones to a three-year, $51 million contract to fill an immediate hole. They also released high-priced linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and replaced them with internal options.

And while the heavy price they paid for Adams excluded them from a buzzworthy draft haul, the Raiders were able to fill out the second phase of their depth chart with some young role players like guard Dylan Parham and running back Zamir White. A mix of proven talent and potential lines the depth chart heading into Year 1 of the McDaniels era.

But, with the aggressive departures of Ngakoue, Kwiatkoski, Littleton, and Drake, the Raiders have over $35 million in dead money this season, according to Over the Cap. And while that’s just a few million over Adams’ annual salary average, that chunk of wasted cap space is still a daunting obstacle to overcome.

That’s $35 million that can’t be rolled over to next year’s cap. It’s also $35 million that the Raiders can’t spend this year. And yet, Las Vegas still has the second-most cap space in the league, at roughly $21.6 million, so they can afford to take their lumps now.

The Raiders are a team that is on the upswing. They’ve upgraded where they needed to and taken calculated risks elsewhere. Las Vegas is better than they were a year ago, and that was a playoff squad amid the controversy surrounding Jon Gruden’s departure. Now, they have stability — especially with their star players locked into long-term deals — and imagination that they didn’t have previously.

McDaniels failed miserably with the Denver Broncos during his first stint as a head coach because he made several miscalculations as an evaluator and leader. With Ziegler now working by his side — after McDaniels spent a decade away from the big job –, the head coach is in position to do what he does best on the sideline. From a roster-building standpoint, that has worked out for the tandem this offseason.

The process has been shrewd, even at that expense of receding cap space. And that’s okay. The Raiders clearly have a plan, and as long as they stick to that vision, lost dollars in 2022 won’t matter in the long run.

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