Short-Term Free Agents to Consider for Raiders

Hello and Welcome to the Autumn Wind Blog!

It’s been a while, #RaiderNation. Since the last post, we’ve gone from top 5 pick to top 5 Super Bowl contenders. We have a legit quarterback, beast offensive line, stud receiver and perennial DPOY candidate, plus a long-term coach for the first time since Jon Gruden (1998-2001). The future is bright in Oakland, Las Vegas, Mars, or wherever the Silver & Black end up calling home.

Despite going 12-4, this roster is not without its weaknesses. With over $47 million in cap space, Reggie McKenzie and Co. can do some shopping to fill holes, but that cap space is about to tighten up. A new deal for Derek Carr is expected this off-season, while big extensions for Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and possibly Gabe Jackson are coming in the next one to two years. Given the ability to win now, I foresee the Raiders front-office going for short-term deals to fill the current roster holes in order to maximize cap flexibility. Here are five veterans who could be had on short deals that would bolster this team for a legit Super Bowl run.

Andrew Whitworth, OT

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Whether it was the slow-footed Austin Howard or “wait till next year” Menelik Watson, right tackle was a glaring weakness for the Raiders in 2016. Seeing Jadeveon Clowney and Von Miller abuse our right side and then Derek Carr break his leg (due to pressure from the left) should be just the prescription for an aggressive solution to this problem.

Enter Andrew Whitworth. Now, soon-to-be 36 year-olds aren’t usually a hot commodity, but Whitworth has maintained amazing consistency during his 11 seasons in Cincinnati. The question here would be if either he or Donald Penn would be willing to switch to and excel at playing Right Tackle, a position neither has played in the NFL. If Whitworth is willing to chase a title on a one year, $7.5 million deal, he would be the final piece in the NFL’s best offensive line.

Pierre Garçon, WR

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In 2016, Player A had 1 drop compared to 79 catches and an impressive 69% catch-to-target rate. Player B had some late-game heroics but totaled 5 drops compared to only 38 catches and a poor 49% catch rate. Player A was free agent Pierre Garçon. Player B? Incumbent slot receiver Seth Roberts. Garçon has totaled more than 750 yards receiving and at least 68 catches in his four years in Washington. He’s coming off a 1,031 yard campaign and 79 catches, and is a prolific route-runner out of the slot.

Garçon’s 52 catches for a first down in 2016 ranked 12th in the NFL, meaning he would give Derek Carr a great option over the middle on 3rd down to complement the outside duo of Coop & Crab. Maybe his presence could remind Crabtree, who lead the league in drops, how to catch the ball consistently. If Garçon is okay being the #3 on a prolific offense, a two year, $16 million deal would likely do it, front-loaded of course.

Perry Riley Jr., MLB

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Ben Heeney & Cory James. Alex, what are career backup linebackers? Those are your current 2017 contenders at MLB, a similar situation to what the Raiders saw this past year. The results were not good. Heeney was replaced after two games of abysmal defense, and James saw his first two career starts before being supplanted by in-season free agent signing Perry Riley Jr. The defense made noticeable strides after solidifying the middle. With Riley in the lineup, Oakland allowed more than 5 fewer points per game (27.6 ppg over 5 games vs. 22.3 ppg over 11 Riley starts).

Now, some of the improvement was the result of new pieces jelling, but there is no doubting Riley’s ability in this defense. He’s currently Pro Football Focus’ #2 graded free agent linebacker, with borderline elite grades against the run. I am fully comfortable signing Riley to a two year, $7 million contract, similar to what Malcolm Smith received but with proof of concept in our scheme to back it up.

Eddie Lacy, RB

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I saved Fat Eddie for later in this post so that new and returning readers wouldn’t hit “Back” and block this blog immediately. I know his story: always overweight, oft injured, yada yada yada. But the nice thing about players who have flashed brilliance but been an overall disappointment is that they tend to come cheap. The funny thing is, Lacy was on pace for a career year before ankle surgery sent him to the I.R.

Through five games, Lacy averaged 72 yards rushing per game and 5.1 YPC; a full yard per carry more than fellow free agent Latavius Murray. Lacy’s bruising running style would complement the scat-back duo of 2nd year players Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to form a formidable three-headed monster. A one year, $3 million contract could keep Lacy in his P90X workout mode and provide the Raiders with a cheaper replacement for Murray, who will likely command a silly large deal from a running back needy team.

Captain Munnerlyn, CB

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“Pass Interference. Defense, Number 25.” Stop me if this sounds familiar. Over the course of his career, when not injured, D.J. Hayden has drawn an astounding 31 penalties to the tune of 391 yards. That’s five more penalties than his 26 career pass deflections! I’d love to say he’s improving, but the numbers are hard to argue. The solution: O Captain! My Captain!

In 160 more snaps, Captain Munnerlyn only drew four penalties in 2016 compared to Hayden’s eight. With plenty of experience in both Nickel and Dime, Munnerlyn can be a versatile piece to complement the weaknesses of Sean Smith (short, quick receivers). Reggie McKenzie may not have given up on D.J. Hayden, but I sure have. Give me two years of Captain at around $8 million for a quality slot defender.

Summary

There you have it! Five short-term signings who can help put Oakland over the edge in 2017. Even if we signed all five, we could afford our rookie class plus the first year of Carr’s extension, depending on how that is structured and who we cut. Thoughts? Hate it or love it, let me know on Twitter @Josh_Gabel.

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Three Players the Raiders Should Look to Add Before the Draft

With an estimated $14,264,793 in cap space accounting for the 2016 NFL Draft pool (per Spotrac), the Oakland Raiders have the flexibility to add a few bargain veterans at key positions. To put the finishing touches on what has been a great offseason, the front office must keep pushing to set the Reggie McKenzie and Co. up for their first winning season since 2002. Here are three players that could help Oakland succeed in 2016 (plus a bonus!).

Reggie Nelson, SReggie+Nelson+Cincinnati+Bengals+v+Cleveland+1mWyVz_6NM1l

The current starters at safety are very much penciled-in as Nate Allen and Tevin McDonald, so an infusion of talent and veteran savvy is badly needed. For ProFootballFocus‘ highest rated defensive free agent remaining, age (32) may be the reason Reggie Nelson’s market has been slow to develop.

Nelson has accrued 30 interceptions over a 9-year career playing Free Safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals. In 2015, the Raiders finished 26th in passing yards allowed and gave up 56 plays of 20 yards or more despite a resurgent season from the ageless Charles Woodson. Nelson would solidify the back-end and give Oakland’s pass rushers that much more time to wreak havoc.

Tony Jefferson, STony-Jefferson-696x471

Recent reports have stated that the Raiders will not be pursuing Tony Jefferson, but I could see that tune changing in the coming weeks (see: Nate Allen, Tevin McDonald). Entering his 4th year in the NFL, Jefferson is only 24 and has shown the promise of being a well-rounded in-the-box safety.

A successful signing of the former Oklahoma Sooner would also allow Reggie McKenzie to move on from the bad taste of last year’s failed RFA attempt, Sean Richardson.

Karlos Dansby, ILB1408049106000-USP-NFL-Preseason-Cleveland-Browns-at-Detroit-Lio

Despite turning 34 this past year, Karlos Dansby showed that he can still play quality downs in the middle of the defense. Over his 12 year career, Dansby has been a model of consistency, averaging 100 tackles and over 3 sacks per season. Unlike last year’s bust signing Curtis Lofton, Dansby is skilled in coverage, garnering ProFootballFocus‘ 5th best coverage rating among linebackers.

Signing the veteran Dansby would allow Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. to move the athletic but undersized Malcolm Smith outside in certain packages, while providing 2nd-year linebacker Ben Heeney with another year as a reserve to continue his development.

Bonus: Aldon Smith, EDGEusa-today-8821810.0

So why have the Raiders seemingly halted their spending after the big three additions of Smith, Osemele, and Irvin? Three words: Aldon Jacarus Smith. Smith is eligible to return from a one-year ban in November, just in time for a Raiders postseason run.

While there is strong interest from both sides, it is unlikely a signing will occur before this April’s draft, as the Oakland front office wants to ensure that Smith is getting his mind right. Any long-term deal with the talented but troubled pass rusher will likely mimic last year’s incentive laden deal ($3 million base and $5 million for sack incentives). Smith is likely the reason for the Raiders halt in spending, and he could be well worth the wait if his problems are behind him.

Leinart or Sorgi?

It is being reported that the Raiders are interested in the services of both Matt Leinart and Jim Sorgi to backup starter Carson Palmer. This backup position has been identified as a need all offseason, but GM Reggie McKenzie waited, knowing that there were many options that could be had for cheaper as OTAs approached. Project Terrelle Pryor and unkown Rhett Bomar are the only other quarterbacks currently on the roster, so it makes sense to be shopping for a veteran backup. Leinart and Sorgi come from different backgrounds but have had similarly unproductive NFL careers. Here’s a look at each guy.

Matt Leinart – Age: 28. Height/Weight: 6’5″, 234 lbs. Drafted: Round 1, Pick 10 of the 2006 NFL Draft

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Leinart had high hopes coming out of USC. He was a Heisman Trophy winner (back-to-back finalist) and National Champion (back-to-back appearances). It all goes downhill from here. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the hopes that his accuracy and decision-making would make-up for a lack of arm strength. However, he was never able to supplant veteran Kurt Warner in his time in Arizona. He had his chances, but was unimpressive. Leinart spent the last two seasons with the Houston Texans, where he backed up Matt Schaub. In his one chance to prove himself as a starter once again, he suffered a season ending collarbone fracture against the Jaguars in Week 12 of this past season. He’s familiar with Gregg Knapp’s offense, however, and at one time had high potential that has yet to be realized.

Career Stats: 31 games, 57.6% Completion, 3,950 yards passing, 15 TD/20 INT, 71.6 Passer Rating

Jim SorgiAge: 31. Height/Weight: 6’5″, 196 lbs. Drafted: Round 6, Pick 193 of the 2004 NFL Draft

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Sorgi had some success with the Wisonsin Badgers, but was not a highly touted prospect coming out of college. He’s known throughout the NFL as Peyton Manning’s backup; not the best reputation to have. But with that moniker has to come with it some sort of knowledge gained. Surely, six years of clipboard holding made him a student of the game. If nothing else, he is a veteran NFL backup quarterback who can be smart and accurate if he is called upon.

Career Stats: 14 games, 63.5% Completion, 929 yards passing, 6 TD/1 INT, 89.9 Passer Rating

My Take:

While Sorgi’s numbers indicate better (safer) quarterback play, he doesn’t have nearly the sample size. Leinart has vital starting experience, and already has experience in the Gregg Knapp system. Both guys are check-down artists (Leinart: 6.5 ypa, Sorgi: 5.96 ypa) and should not actually see the field. Should Carson Palmer experience an injury (knock on wood), either guy would be a better option in reserve than what is currently on the Raiders’ roster. Leinart seems to be a slightly better option, but what do you think?

Giordano Re-signs

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The Oakland Raiders announced Monday that they have agreed to bring back safety Matt Giordano. Giordano saw action due to injuries in the secondary last year, and played admirably. In his nine starts, Giordano totaled career highs in tackles, 70, and interceptions, 5. He was one of the few playmakers in a secondary which was shredded time and time again. While a liability at times in coverage, Giordano is a high-effort, athletic player who finds himself around the ball consistently. He is ideally a reserve, but can fill in with the starters if need be.

DE Tollefson a Raider Once Again

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Northern California native and former New York Giant defensive end Dave Tollefson has signed a two-year, $2.5 million deal. Tollefson was a key reserve for the Super Bowl winning Giants, having tallied 5 sacks in a rotational role. He will add to an already talented defensive line, and gives the Raiders defense another pass rusher. Based on comments from the various football sites, Tollefson was a fan favorite who was known as being a high-character and high-motor guy. This signing brings Tollefson full circle; he is from nearby Walnut Creek, CA and was a practice squad player for the Raiders in 2007.

New GM Reggie McKenzie is now six-for-six in signing free agents who he has had visit. This is another solid signing, but also further signifies that the Raiders free-spending days of the past are over. Bringing in good football players at a bargain is what makes teams competitive for years.

Raiders Add Starting Linebacker

The Raiders signed former Colts LB Philip Wheeler Friday to a one-year deal at an undisclosed amount. Wheeler has started 24 games over the past three seasons for Indianapolis, including 84 tackles in 11 starts (this past year. He will likely take the “Sam” linebacker spot vacated by Kamerion Wimbley, who was cut earlier this off-season. While Wheeler does not rush the passer as well as Wimbley, he is a better run defender, and a solid player overall.

This move gives Oakland much needed depth at the linebacker position. Wheeler also offers versatility, as he can play OLB in a 4-3 or ILB in a 3-4. He may prove to play a key role in Dennis Allen’s multiple-look defense. If Wheeler proves to be a good fit, the Raiders can lock him up long-term, as he is only 27 years-old.

Barnes Re-Signs; Lee in, Bush out

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The Raiders have re-signed RT Khalif Barnes. The incumbent starter, Barnes will be pushed by second year player Joe Barksdale. Barnes is big and surprisingly athletic, but has technique issues and too many mental lapses.

Cornerback Pat Lee has also been signed to a 1 year deal. A former second round pick for the Green Bay Packers, Lee has been almost strictly a special teams player. He adds depth to the secondary and coverage unit.

In other news, the Chicago Bears have signed free agent RB Michael Bush to a 4 year, $14 million contract ($7 million guaranteed). The Raiders will now need to find back to sit behind the injury prone Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones. Bush ran well for the Raiders last year, but seemed to fade down the stretch. Look for Oakland to bring in a cheap veteran or draft a bigger back late.