When the Oakland Raiders drafted Clive Walford, it seemed as though the writing was on the wall for Mychal Rivera. Walford was intended to be the starting tight end for the Silver and Black and Rivera looked like he was headed out the door. To start the 2016 season, Rivera wasn’t even active for the first three games.
But then, when Lee Smith went down with an injury, Rivera started to suit up. And then he started to get some looks. And by the end of the season, Rivera had done pretty well with limited opportunities.
His stat line of 18 receptions for 192 yards and a touchdown is far from impressive, his performance in 2016 was very comparable to Walford when you take snap counts and targets into consideration. Walford finished the year with 33 catches for 359 yards and 3 touchdowns. But Walford also had more than twice the targets as Rivera with 52 compared to Rivera’s 25 and played far more than Rivera with 702 offensive snaps compared to Walford’s 313 snaps.
In addition, Rivera caught 72% of his targets while Walford only caught 63% of his. At that rate, Rivera was on pace to catch 37 balls for 395 yards and two touchdowns, very similar numbers to what Walford put up in 2016. Now obviously, I know you can’t really do that. But you can’t do it for two reasons: Rivera might not have kept up that pace OR he might have done better with more opportunities to get a rhythm going.
Either way, you can’t look at the performances by tight ends this season and say for a fact that Clive Walford is a significantly better option than Mychal Rivera.
But that’s not the question. The question is whether or not the Raider should re-sign Rivera. Sometimes with an impending free agent, getting them back “at the right price” is what’s most important. But sometimes, the decision of whether or not they fit in the plans for the future is the deciding factor far more so than cost.
No, Walford has not distanced himself from Rivera but Rivera hasn’t shown he’s better than Walford either. So the Raiders need to ask themselves, do they want two guys, neither of whom have really shown they are the future at tight end, or do they let Rivera walk and look for a tight end who represents an upgrade over both he and Walford.
If Walford and Rivera both had contracts coming up at the same time, the Raiders might have a somewhat difficult decision in deciding which one to keep. But that’s not the situation we are faced with. The fact of the matter is, Walford is under contract through 2018. And since he is on a rookie contract rather than a Reggie McKenzie special, the Raiders would have to take a cap hit in order to cut him.
Are the Raiders patient enough with the tight end position that they would let Walford and Rivera duke it out one more year before making any major changes? It’s hard to tell. I can certainly understand if the Raiders would rather draft a tight end or sign one in free agency.
But since free agency and the draft are so unpredictable, if I were Reggie McKenzie, I would try and bring Rivera back on a cheap one year deal and have him, Walford and whomever else they bring in compete for roster spots. Then, feature all three heavily in the preseason and try and trade the odd man out before the year starts.