Bargain-Bin Free Agents Oakland Raiders Should Target to Fill Biggest Needs
The legal tampering period for NFL free agency opened at noon on Tuesday. Oftentimes, general managers and front-office executives chirp about players during the NFL combine. Now, they have a two-day window to do it without fearing a penalty. Nonetheless, don’t expect much talk coming from the Oakland Raiders.
General manager Reggie McKenzie’s free-agent wish list shouldn’t have more than a handful of names. The Raiders have a playoff roster—only three players who started 10 or more games will test the market. Despite the free-agent frenzy that hypes fanbases for a better tomorrow, Oakland won’t cause a huge stir.
Last year, the Raiders signed three big-name free agents who played for a different team in 2015. After a 12-4 season with minimal roster turnover that number will dwindle to one or two. Oakland has $44 million to spend, per Spotrac, but a majority will go to quarterback Derek Carr and edge-rusher Khalil Mack’s extensions.
McKenzie will push the free-agent bargain bin through the NFL free-agency lanes as the new season arrives on Thursday. At the checkout line, he’ll use his negotiating skills as a spoken coupon on mid-level talents. Outside of the bigger names, who should the Raiders legally tamper with on Wednesday and Thursday?
Kevin Minter, ILB
There’s very little buzz about Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Kevin Minter, and he’s a good fit for the Raiders. According to Pro Football Focus, the fourth-year veteran ranks as the No. 25 player at his position and grades well as a cover linebacker.
New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s intention to test the market hurts Minter’s buzz as a top option at the position. Fortunately for the Raiders, the lack of offseason hype should lower the price at the negotiating table. At 26 years old, he’s just reaching his prime.
During the 2016 season, Minter logged four passes defensed and 3.5 sacks. As a run defender, he struggles at times, but an upgraded defensive line could minimize that weakness. On the bright side, the Raiders would acquire someone who's equipped to cover the middle of the field and add pocket pressure.
Zach Brown, ILB
The Raiders missed out on inside linebacker Zach Brown during the previous offseason. He signed with the Buffalo Bills and posted four sacks, four passes defensed and one interception. Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 17 among linebackers in 2016.
Quick on his feet, Brown would address the Raiders’ tight end coverage issues. In five seasons, he’s logged seven interceptions. Oakland can’t depend on its best coverage linebacker, Neiron Ball, who’s only played six games in two seasons. His extensive injury history should encourage McKenzie to add another defender within the front seven who can match against pass-catchers in space.
Similar to Minter, Brown doesn’t garner much buzz. He signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with Buffalo last year. The Raiders should lock him into a two-year deal, which allows a rookie understudy to develop behind him on the depth chart.
Perry Riley, LB
The Raiders signed inside linebacker Perry Riley after four games during the previous season. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup and made an impact in the middle of the defense. Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 15 at his position for the 2016 season.
Unlike the previous two linebackers, Riley possesses prominent skills as a run defender as opposed to coverage in space. He only posted one pass defense in 11 contests. However, with a weak defensive line, there’s a need for a downhill thumper at the position.
The Raiders know what they’re getting out of Riley. The seventh-year pro quickly processes information and diagnoses each play with veteran assurance. Without a training camp or a lengthy introduction, he managed to handle green-dot responsibilities and tighten loose ends within the run defense once the opposing running backs broke through the defensive line.
Keenan Robinson, LB
Robinson excelled primarily in coverage. He logged seven passes defensed. However, he didn’t add much beef against the run or push the pocket. Then again, the Giants fielded one of the best pass-rushing defensive lines during the previous year, which allowed the linebackers to clean up runs toward the edge or drop into coverage.
The Raiders should consider a one-year offer for Robinson to address their blind spots for receiving tight ends. McKenzie may opt to draft a new starting inside linebacker as opposed to signing one via free agency. If so, Robinson would fit as a matchup linebacker on passing downs.
Stephen Paea, DE/DT
After pursuing multiple options at inside linebacker, the Raiders should scour the free-agent wire for a versatile interior lineman who can collapse the pocket and seal the edge against the run. Cleveland Browns defensive end Stephen Paea fits the bill.
The 28-year-old defensive lineman put together better seasons with the Chicago Bears between the 2011-14 seasons. In that span, he recorded 12 sacks as a 3-technique defensive tackle within a four-man front.
Paea signed with the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns, spending one season with each club between the 2015-16 seasons. On both squads, he moved outside as a 5-technique defensive end where he struggled to pressure the quarterback. Furthermore, he lost snaps with both teams as a backup defensive lineman.
Coming from Cleveland, there’s a losing stench attached to the players unless they stand out with notable box-score numbers. At a less glamorous position, a grunt on the defensive line, Paea won’t receive too many offers on the market. McKenzie should be able to sign him on a bargain deal.
Anquan Boldin, WR
The Raiders also missed out on wide receiver Anquan Boldin during last year's free-agent frenzy. At 36 years old, he’s still a sure-handed pass-catcher. Oakland’s talented wide receiver corps struggled with dropped passes during the 2016 season. A savvy veteran who doesn’t leave the ball on the ground should compensate for mental drops.
In 2016, Boldin converted 70.5 percent of his targets into receptions and hauled in eight touchdown passes, which tied Michael Crabtree who caught the most among Raiders receivers. Carr would have a balanced mix among his wideouts, featuring two veterans and two developing talents.
Wide receiver Seth Roberts should continue to see a fair number of targets, but Carr needs another option in case the West Alabama product struggles with drops.
The Raiders haven’t highlighted the tight end position in the passing game over the past few seasons. New offensive coordinator Todd Downing may tweak the game plan to feature Clive Walford in the red zone. If not, Boldin would suffice as reliable option when throwing inside the 10-yard line.
Kelvin Beachum, OT
Offensive tackle isn’t an immediate roster issue, but Donald Penn’s contract expires at the end of the 2017 season, Menelik Watson will test the free-agent market and Austin Howard underwent two shoulder surgeries. The Raiders can take an early step toward adding depth or a potential starter at a low price.
Offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum played well for a year-and-a-half with the Pittsburgh Steelers between the 2014-15 seasons. In that span, he started 22 games at left tackle. He missed the last 10 games of the 2015 season with a torn ACL.
It takes at least a year for most players to fully recover from a torn ACL. Beachum signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars during the previous offseason and struggled at left tackle through 15 starts. The upcoming season will show the 27-year-old’s true worth as an offensive lineman in the league.
The Raiders should offer Beachum a two-year deal on a modest salary in an attempt to add immediate competition at right tackle or fill Penn’s spot in 2018.
Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
All Player contract details provided by Spotrac.