Oakland Raiders: The Case To Re-Sign Mychal Rivera


Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera is a free agent, and if the price is right, Reggie McKenzie should absolutely bring him back.

Not long ago, Mychal Rivera seemed to be a lock as the tight end of the future for the Oakland Raiders. The tide started to turn in the opposite direction in 2015, and even into 2016, but it seems that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the brother of Glee’s star Naya Rivera.

In 2013, Rivera played a full season and had pretty decent numbers, although he was listed as a starter in only three games. He finished with 38 receptions and 4 TDs. More importantly, he had a healthy average of 10.7 yards per reception. Things were looking good, especially because he managed to succeed at a time when the Raiders were a terrible team and the signal caller was the then-underwhelming-now-turned-into-WR Terrelle Pryor.

2014 was also a good year for Rivera, the first one with Derek Carr at the helm. Again, Rivera played in all 16 games, finishing with 58 receptions for 534 yards and 4 TDs, while maintaining a quality average at 9.2 yards per catch.

But Rivera has always had a flaw, which can be fatal for a tight end — poor blocking. And then things started to go south for him in 2015 when the Raiders drafted Clive Walford. At 6’4″ and 250 pounds, Walford was supposed to be a much better blocker than Rivera while having similar receiving ability.

At the same time, alongside Walford, the Raiders brought in Lee Smith, a primarily blocking tight end, but a damn good one at that.

Lee quickly took over the starting job — particularly due to Jack Del Rio’s willingness to run the ball more — and Walford was plugged in passing situations. Rivera was the odd man out, fading into darkness. He finished that year with 32 receptions, 280 years and a single TD — much lower numbers compared to his rookie year stats.

This trend continued into 2016. Rivera wasn’t even active in multiple games, which was a really bad sign. But a season-ending injury to Smith opened the door for Rivera at least to suit up on game days again. Walford was still the starting tight end, but he did not pan out the way the Raiders hoped.

After finishing 2015 with 28 receptions for 329 yards and 3 TDs, Walford had nearly identical stats in 2016 — 33 catches, 359 yards and the exact same 3 TDs. Not a lot of improvement, in fact. While Walford was having an unimpressive season, Rivera was there sitting pretty and waiting for another chance.

And the chance did come.

Acquiring Kelechi Osemele made the Raiders already talented offensive line one of the best in the league. At the same time, Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard handled the backfield well, meaning that a blocking tight end was not so desperately needed anymore. Hence, the offense could use a receiving tight end more often.

This led to Bill Musgrave started to call Rivera’s number again. Rivera’s only TD last season came in Week 8 against the Buccaneers:

Despite limited playing time, Rivera managed to make some really good catches, and once again proved himself as reliable option for Derek Carr.

Rivera finished the year with only 18 receptions for 192 yards and the TD above. However, it should be noted that these numbers came in less than half of Walford’s snaps — 702 to 313. If they had played more or less the same number of snaps, it is fair to assume that Rivera would have had similar production to that of Walford.

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My guess is the Raiders are not expecting Rivera to be highly sought in free agency. On the other hand, there are not many free agent tight ends who would represent a clear improvement over Rivera or Walford. Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook would be the most obvious ones, but their price tag would be prohibitive for Reggie McKenzie’s standards, especially Bennett, who is coming out of a Super Bowl victory and has already hinted he wants to get paid.

So if McKenzie will not go after a tight end in free agency and if this position is not addressed in the draft either, why not bring Rivera back, who already knows the offense. Especially if the price is right. Let him battle Walford for snaps, and maintain continuity with the offense.

The bottom line is that Walford has not exploded like the coaches imagined, and so far has failed to show that he is actually a superior receiving tight end to Rivera. If the latter shows improvement in his blocking skills, the Raiders should definitely re-sign him.