Raiders' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 8, 2021

Raiders' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Steve Marcus/Associated Press

    What will the Las Vegas Raiders do to try to turn a corner and get back into the playoffs in 2021? We'll soon soon find out.

    NFL free agency is quickly approaching, with teams will able to sign players from March 17 at 4 p.m. ET. After the Raiders went 8-8 this past season and missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, they'll be looking to make the necessary moves to reach the postseason for the first time since 2016 in the near future.

    However, if Las Vegas hopes to add to its roster via free agency, it will still need to clear some cap space in order to do so. Over the Cap is projecting the Raiders to currently have a little more than $3 million in cap space (assuming the NFL's salary cap is about $180.5 million), so they may have to restructure contracts or cut ties with some players on their roster.

    Once that happens, here are three players who Las Vegas should prioritize during free agency.

Nelson Agholor, WR

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    Justin Edmonds/Associated Press

    Agholor ended up being one of the Raiders' best free-agent signings last offseason after signing a one-year, $1.05 million deal with the team. Despite signing at a low price, the 27-year-old ended up being Las Vegas' top wide receiver during the 2020 season.

    Over 16 games, Agholor had a career-high 896 yards on 48 receptions and had eight touchdowns, his most since 2017. After his five-year tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles ended on a down note, he proved that he can play at a high level last season.

    Now, Agholor is a free agent again. And Las Vegas could still use a veteran receiver on offense to complement some of its young playmakers, including Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, who were both rookies in 2020.

    However, Agholor will sign a larger contract than the one he received last offseason. If the Raiders end up not being able to afford him, perhaps they should try to find a low-cost receiver. But if they can, they should try to bring back one of their top offensive players from last season.

Leonard Williams, DT

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Las Vegas needs to find a way to improve its pass rush before the 2021 season, as that was one of its biggest weaknesses on defense last year. The Raiders ranked 29th in the NFL with 21 sacks in 2020, so they need to find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks moving forward.

    Williams will be one of the top pass-rushers on the free-agent market, and whether or not Las Vegas pursues him could depend on how much cap space it is able to clear. However, it should prioritize trying to make enough room to add the 26-year-old defensive tackle, as he would immediately provide a boost to the Raiders defensive front.

    Last season, Williams had a career-high 11.5 sacks while also collecting 57 tackles, one fumble recovery and one pass deflection in 16 games for the New York Giants in 2020. It was an impressive bounce back showing after he had only 0.5 sacks in 15 games in 2019.

    While the Raiders may still want to add to their pass rush during the 2021 NFL draft, Williams could become a leader for the unit and play at a level that helps Las Vegas post better defensive numbers in the near future.

Malik Hooker, FS

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Currently, the Raiders' starting free safety is Jeff Heath. But they may want to upgrade the position while also bringing in depth for the secondary in case starting strong safety Johnathan Abram continues to have trouble staying on the field.

    With Heath and Abram on the roster, Las Vegas may not want to spend big on a safety. And that's why Hooker, who will be looking to have a bounce-back year in 2021, could be a perfect fit for the Raiders' secondary.

    Hooker played only two games last season for the Indianapolis Colts due to a torn Achilles tendon. He's had previous injury issues as well, which is why he's never played more than 14 games in a season and has been limited to 36 games over his first four years in the NFL.

    But when Hooker is on the field, he's proved he can be a strong contributor, like when he had 51 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games in 2019. If the Raiders take a chance on the 24-year-old, it could end up being a move that pays big dividends for their secondary in the near future.