The Raiders' 6 Biggest Needs After the 1st Wave of Free Agency
The Oakland Raiders have more needs than a clingy ex-girlfriend, but at least general manager Reggie McKenzie didn’t sit out the first wave of free agency. The Raiders released two players with out-of-whack contacts and signed three linebackers, two defensive tackles, two defensive backs, one defensive end and one offensive tackle.
The signings lack big names, but they bring with them quality games. The Raiders added players that at the very least will play a significant role on the team in 2013. The Raiders' moves have been solid, but a few of them were also just to replace players they lost.
The Raiders' list of needs is somewhat shorter today than it was two weeks ago, but it’s still a lot longer than the team or its fans would like. If the Raiders plan to improve in 2013, they will need to address their laundry list of needs before the start of the season. The Raiders could also create more needs if they decide to make more cost-cutting moves.
The Raiders added 9.0 sacks to the defense with their signings so far, but also lost 13.5 sacks with the departures of Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bryant, Matt Shaughnessy and Richard Seymour. Jason Hunter did not play in 2012, but his career best was five sacks in 2009.
At best, the Raiders have maintained the same production rushing the quarterback, and at worst, they have actually taken a step in the wrong direction.
The expected release of Tommy Kelly would further deplete a pass rush that had just 25 sacks in 2012. Only one team in the league had fewer sacks and only two teams had a worse sack percentage which factors in pass attempts. If the Raiders fail to add an impact pass-rusher via free agency, they absolutely need to add one in the draft.
Pass-rushers are among the most coveted players, which means the Raiders can’t afford any of the free agents still available, and they will also fly off the board early in the draft. If the Raiders aren’t targeting a pass-rusher in the first round, they should be targeting a quarterback, because there isn’t another position on the team that can make a bigger impact.
Michael Huff moved from free safety to cornerback because of injuries to starters Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell. The only cornerbacks the Raiders have under contract are Phillip Adams, Chimdi Chekwa and Brandian Ross. Taiwan Jones will also try to make the transition to cornerback, but that just underscores the lack of experience on the roster.
The cornerbacks on the roster have a total of four starts between them. At best, the players currently on the roster will compete for one of the two cornerback jobs.
Terence Newman will reportedly decide between the Raiders and Bengals by the end of the week. Newman would add a lot of experience to the secondary being that he is a 10-year veteran and has been a starter for his entire career. Unlike Spencer and Bartell, Newman has shown he can stay healthy and has missed just 12 games in his career.
The Bengals probably give Newman a better shot at winning immediately, which is something that could mean something to him at his age. If the Raider can’t sign Newman, they need to look at the other remaining free agents.
The Raiders’ need is so severe that inaction is not an option.
The Raiders have to sign a cornerback, draft a cornerback or both. The Raiders should also probably bring back slot cornerback Joselio Hanson. Fixing the secondary is a priority if the Raiders want to remain competitive in a division with Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and a team coached by Andy Reid.
The Raiders have a couple of defensive backs that could play free safety, but the two players that played the position last year are not under contract. Huff was released and Matt Giordano is a free agent. It’s possible the Raiders bring back Giordano, but finding an upgrade at the position would be preferred.
The only other player that played free safety for the Raiders at all in 2012 was Ross, but he transitioned to cornerback in Week 15. It’s possible the Raiders will go with some combination of young players at the position and Giordano, with plans to find a permanent fix in the future.
There are simply not enough resources to fill every need in one offseason.
If there were ever a position where you might be able to get by with a lesser player, it is at the free safety position. Finding a solution to the safety position in the draft is not out of the question, but neither is moving forward with a few lesser players competing for a starting spot.
The Raiders moved to a zone-blocking scheme last season and Mike Goodson was a perfect fit, but he’s now with the New York Jets.
The Raiders know that they can’t count on Darren McFadden staying healthy for 16 games and that bringing in a solid backup is necessary. The Raiders are just hoping they can get 12 games out of McFadden or that they can get a No. 2 who is productive enough to share carries.
In recent years, the running back has been devalued to the point that they usually come cheap. The Raiders will likely be able to add a running back like Brandon Jackson, Peyton Hillis, Cedric Benson or Felix Jones for near veteran minimum.
Jackson was drafted by the Packers in 2007 and has that link with McKenzie. Hillis and Jones both played with McFadden at Arkansas and complemented him well. The Raiders were reportedly interested in Benson last June but didn’t sign him presumably because of money issues.
It’s not a particularly strong class of running backs, so the chances of the Raiders spending a draft pick on one seems less likely than bringing in a value-priced free agent. The question is which value-priced free agent makes sense and when will the Raiders sign them?
The market for running backs is pretty slow, so the Raiders should be able to wait until after the draft to fill this particular area of need. The Raiders found a gem in Mike Goodson via a trade with the Panthers last year and will try to replicate that success with the player they bring in to back up McFadden in 2013.
Zach Miller signed with the Seattle Seahawks two years ago and was replaced by Kevin Boss. The Raiders released Boss after one season and went with the in-house option in Brandon Myers, who had a good season catching the ball and signed with the New York Giants.
The Raiders' options at tight end in 2013 include in-house options Richard Gordon and David Ausberry, a free agent or a draft pick.
Gordon and Ausberry seemed to be extremely underutilized last season despite strong preseasons and skill sets that Myers could not offer. Gordon has proven he is a good blocker, and Ausberry has a ton of potential as a receiver.
Although the Raiders don’t have a proven option at the position, they might be willing to risk going into next season without a proven player at the position. Myers entered 2012 having only shared time with Boss in 2011 and had a good season. The Raiders may try to replicate that success.
Like free safety, the Raiders' need for a tight end might just have to be satisfied with players already on the team and value-priced free agents. The Raiders only have so many resources and have already burned through a lot of what they had on linebacker and defensive tackles.
The Raiders re-signed Khalif Barnes and restructured the contract of right guard Mike Brisiel this offseason. Both guys will probably end up being starters like they were in 2012, but they will not be given the starting jobs outright.
Lucas Nix and Tony Bergstrom should also be in play at right guard, but they will have to prove they deserve more playing time in training camp.
The spot that remains wide open is the left guard. Cooper Carlisle was the starter at left guard last season, and he’s a free agent again. Carlisle was the oldest player on the team last season who wasn’t a kicker or punter. Carlisle is two years older than Andre Carter, Richard Seymour and Carson Palmer.
Although Carlisle didn’t have his worst season in 2012, he struggled in the power-blocking scheme the two years prior. The Raiders are going back to that scheme, which makes it less likely Carlisle is re-signed.
Brian Costello of the New York Post reported early in free agency that the Raiders were interested in Matt Slauson, who has started every game for the Jets at left guard for the past three years. The Raiders’ new offensive line coach Tony Sparano also coached Slauson when he was the offensive coordinator for the Jets in 2012.
Slauson would be an ideal signing, but there are other teams bidding for his services.
Slauson allowed just one sack, four hurries and nine pressures on the quarterback in 2012 according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required). That’s borderline amazing considering that Slauson’s quarterback was Mark Sanchez for most of the year, and the one sack he allowed was actually of Greg McElroy.
If the Raiders don’t bring in Slauson, they will likely add even more depth at the position through the draft and hope that one of Nix or Bergstrom can compete for the job on the left side. The Raiders are probably not interested in getting a lot older at the position, which rules out a lot of the other available free agents.