HENDERSON, Nev. — While the Las Vegas Raiders’ Jayden Daniels-or-bust game plan ended without the rookie, their pending quarterback battle between the returning Aidan O’Connell and veteran free agent signee Gardner Minshew has an early leader.

“Aidan’s earned the right to go out there and earn the first snap,” Raiders coach Antonio Pierce said Friday. “What he’s done this offseason — changing his body, his work ethic, being here every day, blocking out the outside noise. He’s not worried about anything. I’m excited.

“Then you bring Gardner in here … talk about personality. … It’s great. It’s great for our building. It’s great for our quarterback room. And if you got competition in the quarterback room, what does every other room look at?”

The Raiders had been heavily linked to Daniels, as Pierce brought him to Arizona State when he was the Sun Devils’ recruiting coordinator. But the Washington Commanders were set on the Heisman Trophy winner who had transferred to LSU and selected Daniels with the No. 2 overall pick.

By the time the Raiders were on the clock at No. 13, six quarterbacks had been drafted. Las Vegas went with the best player available on its board and took three-time All-America tight end Brock Bowers out of Georgia.

Raiders general manager Tom Telesco said after the draft that no trade opportunity to move up arose in the first round and that they had no interest in drafting a quarterback after Day 1.

Instead, O’Connell and Minshew have been steady presences at the Raiders’ facility throughout the offseason workout program. The Raiders also have two other quarterbacks on the roster in Anthony Brown Jr. and undrafted rookie Carter Bradley, who signed out of South Alabama after the draft.

“What I see is guys getting out there early,” Pierce said. “Aidan is already kind of taking the bull by the horn and he’s leading the way, and Minshew’s right there doing it as well. Two guys that played against each other last year, they went neck to neck. But I’m really excited to see what happens. I think it’s going to be a process. We’re going to stick to the process.”

O’Connell was the final pick of the fourth round in 2023, at No. 135 overall. He replaced a concussed Jimmy Garoppolo in a Week 4 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers and then again — this time for good — after Pierce was elevated to interim coach in the wake of the Halloween night firings of coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler.

O’Connell went 5-5 in 10 starts as a rookie and threw eight touchdown passes without an interception in the Raiders’ final four games. He completed 62.1% of his passes for 2,218 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 games, finishing with an 83.9 passer rating and a QBR of 40.5. Mobility and pocket awareness were issues on occasion, as he was sacked 24 times.

Minshew, meanwhile, is on his fourth team in five years. He went 7-6 for the Indianapolis Colts last season, including a New Year’s Eve win over O’Connell and the Raiders, and had 3,305 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“Aidan has a certain thing mentally where he blocks out outside noise. He doesn’t worry about it,” Pierce said. “I’m sure he reads, like we all do, but when he comes to work, he’s focused, he’s prepared, he studies, he puts the time in. There’s been conversations that we’ve had that I’ve seen him grow in this short period of time in the offseason. I’m really excited to see Aidan as we go through OTAs, minicamp and training camp.”


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