Raiders' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 14, 2021

Raiders' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders have been working hard to restructure deals to create more cap space. And they've been successful in doing so. With the NFL's salary cap for 2021 set at $182.5 million, the Raiders currently have $40.8 million of available cap space, per Spotrac.

    That number may continue to go up, as it's possible Las Vegas will be parting ways with backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, who may not be worth the $10.7 million he's set to earn next season if the team plans on sticking with Derek Carr as its starter. If Mariota is traded or released, the Raiders will have even more cap space.

    In each of the past two seasons, the Raiders have gotten off to strong starts before falling short of the playoffs. They went 8-8 in 2020, marking the fourth straight year they've missed the postseason. With some strong players in place and plenty of financial flexibility, this could be an important offseason for Las Vegas as it looks to break into the playoffs next season.

    Here's a last-minute guide for the Raiders' top storylines as they enter free agency.

Agholor May Be One of Top Priorities on Offense

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    Steve Marcus/Associated Press

    One of the few moves the Raiders may make for their offense during free agency could be bringing back their top wide receiver from last season. Nelson Agholor, who signed a one-year deal with Las Vegas last offseason, turned out to be a steal, as he had 48 receptions for a career-high 896 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games.

    Although Agholor is going to cost more than the $1.05 million that the Raiders gave him for 2020, he's proved that he can be a strong contributor to their offense. And with several young wide receivers still developing (like Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, who were both rookies last year), having a veteran like Agholor will be important for Las Vegas again next season.

    "What he brought to the Raiders last year was off the charts. He brought a work ethic, a toughness, he brought the young guys along with him, and he brought productivity and trust with our quarterback," Raiders general Mike Mayock recently said, per Myles Simmons of ProFootballTalk. "So all of those things he brought, we don't want to lose. We'd love to have Nelly back."

    If Agholor's price range ends up being higher than the Raiders want to spend, perhaps they could try to find a wide receiver in a similar spot to Agholor last offseason. It worked out once for Las Vegas, so maybe a low-risk, high-reward signing could prove to be a smart move once again.

    But that's only if the Raiders can't bring back Agholor, who should be one of their top priorities on offense during free agency.

How Will Raiders Bolster Pass Rush?

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    Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

    The Raiders defense needs to get better in several ways, but the biggest area that needs improvement is their pass rush. Las Vegas was one of the worst teams in the NFL at pressuring opposing quarterbacks in 2020, and it ranked 29th in the league with 21 sacks.

    Several top pass-rushers who were slated to become free agents won't be hitting the market. J.J. Watt signed with the Arizona Cardinals, while Leonard Williams received the franchise tag from the New York Giants. But there will be other available players whom the Raiders should consider going after.

    Among the top defensive ends on the free-agent market will be Carl Lawson and Melvin Ingram. Neither is an elite pass-rusher, but Las Vegas could use either in a rotation with its current pair of starting defensive ends, Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.

    The 25-year-old Lawson could have plenty of suitors after recording a career-high 36 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 16 games for the Cincinnati Bengals. It would be riskier to sign Ingram, as the 31-year-old is coming off a season in which he had no sacks and was limited to seven games for the Los Angeles Chargers.

    The Raiders must find a way to improve their defensive front. Maybe they'll wait to do so until the 2021 NFL draft next month if they miss out on the top free-agent pass-rushers. However, Ferrell and Crosby are both only 23, so the best move could be to add a veteran to the mix to help that duo continue to develop.

Safety Is Also a Top Defensive Need

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Another spot that could use improvement on the Raiders defense is the safety positions. While they're likely going to stick with 24-year-old Johnathan Abram at strong safety for the time being, they may go after a free safety in free agency rather than starting Jeff Heath again in 2021.

    There are several strong free safeties who will be on the market, including John Johnson III and Anthony Harris. Johnson, 25, had 105 tackles, one interception and eight pass deflections in 16 games for the Los Angeles Rams last season. Harris, 29, had a career-high 104 tackles and seven pass deflections in 16 games for the Minnesota Vikings in 2020.

    It may take a sizable deal to land either Johnson or Harris, but that could be why the Raiders have been clearing cap space, so that they can sign a top defensive free agent. By bringing in one of these talented defensive backs, their secondary would likely become much improved quickly.

    With a better pass rush and a deeper secondary, Las Vegas' defense could make major strides in 2021 under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. And perhaps that could be a key to the Raiders ending their postseason drought in the near future. But it all starts with making the right moves during free agency.ย 

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