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.

Raiders-Cardinals Recap

Final Score: Raiders 27, Cardinals 31

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Offense:

The first team unit was inconsistent at best. Darren McFadden looked strong for a second straight game, though the Raiders failed on a few 3rd-and-short conversions. The offensive line was down second-year Center Stefen Wisniewski, and it showed. The line struggled to give Carson Palmer adequate protection for much of his outing. Palmer was intercepted again, a habit which marred his 2011-12 campaign. Two drops did cost this first unit a touchdown, however.

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Bright Spot: Rookie WR Rod Streater had 7 catches for 43 yards. While the yardage total is not impressive, this team needs a consistent possession target to complement all their speed; Streater could be that guy, especially if an injury occurs.

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Area of Concern: Mike Goodson had a bad night. Not only did he struggle to find running room, he fumbled twice. This was a problem for him in Carolina, so it is worrisome if the Raiders believe they can count on him to see significant playing time behind Darren McFadden.

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Defense:

The defense seemed dazed and confused on the Cardinals’ first drive. Players were out of place, tackles were missed, and the unit was gashed for an opening-drive touchdown. They decided to play, and looked much better the rest of the game. The score doesn’t show how well they played; 7 points were scored off a blocked punt, while 10 other points resulted from Mike Goodson fumbles. Dennis Allen brought plenty of pressure, causing Kevin Kolb to look “scared” according to DT Tommy Kelly. Speaking of Kelly…

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Bright Spot: DT Tommy Kelly was disruptive for his second straight outing. He was credited with the safety on Kevin Kolb, but also managed to get consistent pressure coming up the middle. Teams might not double-team Richard Seymour much more if Kelly continues to cause quarterbacks trouble.

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Area of Concern: CB DeMarcus Van Dyke struggled in this one. While the secondary as a whole needs to make strides, Van Dyke did not display the improvements he seemed to have made during the offseason program. On back-to-back plays, Van Dyke was out-jumped for a ball he should have broken up and missed a tackle that resulted directly in a touchdown. He’s young and has tons of talent, but will need to step up if this secondary is to look much better than last year’s abysmal unit.

 

Injuries of Note: WR and return man Jacoby Ford left the game with a foot injury. He had an MRI Saturday, and his return in time for the season-opener is questionable. WR Darrius Heyward Bey (shoulder), QB Matt Leinart (hand), and RB Mike Goodson (chest) all left the game with minor injuries.

 

What to Look for Next: The Raiders play the Detroit Lions in Week 3 of the preseason. I want to see a complete effort from both starting units. Detroit is the most talented opponent yet, so this game will act as a good measuring stick for where exactly this team is. Week 3 is when the starters see the bulk of the action, and I’m excited to see just what we can do.

Projected 53-man Roster

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With mandatory Mini-Camps wrapping up and Training Camp 6 weeks away, I thought I’d take a look inside my crystal ball to project who will make the final 53-man roster come week 4 of the preseason. Feel free to agree or disagree, as this is merely an educated speculation.

QB: Palmer, Leinart, Pryor
My take: Carson Palmer is the clear starter, but the battle for back-up QB could get intriguing if Terrelle Pryor continues to impress and improve.

RB: McFadden, Goodson, Jones
My take: This is a speedy, talented group. Darren McFadden is an All-Pro and rushing title-contender when healthy. Taiwan Jones may be the fastest player on the team. Mike Goodson is talented but needs to prove he can hang onto the rock.

FB: Reece, Schmitt
My take: Marcel Reece is a dangerous, versatile weapon who creates mismatches. Owen Schmitt is the classic blocking fullback the Raiders have been missing in recent years.

TE: Ausberry, Myers, Gordon
My take: This is a young, inexperienced group. Brett Myers is the front-runner due to experience and consistency, but David Ausberry is a unique athlete.

WR: Heyward-Bey, Moore, Ford, Criner, Streater
My take: This group needs to take a step forward. DHB, Denarius Moore, and Jacoby Ford all provide speed, but Juron Criner could be the big, possession target this offense needs to take the next step. Rod Streater impressed in mini-camps and could edge out the oft-injured Louis Murphy for the final receiver spot.

OT: Veldheer, Barksdale, Barnes, Hurd
My take: Jared Veldheer is a Pro Bowler in the making at LT. Hopefully Joe Barksdale will push the unimpressive Khaliff Barnes at RT, but his progression is slower than hoped. Sam Hurd makes the cut for depth, as he is versatile and familiar with the team (member of the practice squad last year).

C: Wisniewski, Parsons
My take: Wiz II played well in his limited time at center a year ago. His transition could make or break the cohesiveness of the Raiders offensive line. Alex Parsons provides depth, and has been taking first-team reps in mini-camp while Wisniewski heals up.

OG: Brisiel, Carlisle, Bergstrom, Nix
My take: Mike Brisiel will solidify the RG spot instantly. The aging Cooper Carlisle will be pushed by 3rd round pick Tony Bergstrom for the LG spot. Lucas Nix is a promising rookie who played tackle and guard during his time at Pitt.

DE: Houston, Shaughnessy, Crawford, Tollefson
My take: Lamarr Houston is primed for a big year. Matt Shaughnessy is back from a nasty shoulder injury and was sorely missed last year, especially in run defense. Free agent signing David Tollefson can get after the quarterback, while draftee Jack Crawford has the physical tools to contribute right away.

DT: Seymour, Kelly, Bryant, Bilukidi
My take: Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly both have Pro Bowl ability, but must make the leap from very good to dominant in order for this defense to progress. Desmond Bryant is a versatile, athletic big man who rushes the passer well. Christo Bilukidi is very raw but has two great teachers to help refine his talent.

OLB: Wheeler, Curry, Burris, Ihenacho
My take: Phillip Wheeler is a sure tackler who is solid against both the run and the pass. Aaron Curry needs to show his mental makeup can match his physical abilities. Burris is a promising, versatile linebacker who could contribute as a pass rush specialist. Ihenacho stays on as depth.

MLB: McClain, Goethel, Stupar
My take: Rolando McClain needs to perform well on the field this year, or he will be cut by new GM Reggie McKenzie. Off the field antics can be swallowed (to some extent) if the performance is there; so far in McClain’s short career, it has not been. Travis Goethel could be the starter if McClain misses time, and has shown some ability when healthy. 7th round pick Nathan Stupar offers depth at both linebacker positions, but should see most of his time in special teams.

CB: Bartell, Spencer, Van Dyke, Chekwa, Underwood
My take: Free agent acquisitions Ron Bartell and Shantae Spencer have plenty of NFL starting experience, but fell out of favor with their former teams mostly due to injury. Second year corners Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa both have the speed necessary for the position, but need more game experience to make improvements. Brandon Underwood is familiar with GM Reggie McKenzie from their time in Green Bay, and is a wild card of sorts after being buried on the depth chart there.

FS: Huff, Giordano
My take: Michael Huff simply needs to make more plays. Matt Giordano lead the Raiders in INTs with five last year, but has shown inconsistency in coverage.

SS: Branch, Mitchell
My take: Tyvon Branch is one of the most gifted safeties in the league, and will finally be in a defense which utilizes his abilities. Mike Mitchell, pegged as a huge reach when he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL draft, needs to show he’s worthy of playing in the NFL.

K/P: Janikowski, Lechler LS: Condo
My take: The best special teams unit in the NFL. If they play to the level they’re capable of, all three should make the Pro Bowl.

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?

Raiders 2012 Draft Review

3rd round, 95th pick overall: Tony Bergstrom, OG/T, Utah

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New GM Reggie McKenzie’s first pick is a brute. Tony Bergstrom is a 6’6”, 315 lbs. three-year starter at right tackle for the Utes. A First-team all-Pac-12 selection, Bergstrom is already well-versed in the zone blocking system. He’s a tough, lengthy player who could start effectively in a year or two.  He’ll likely push Cooper Carlisle for the left guard spot this year, but is probably best served as a depth option for the 2012-13 season. As a Ute, Bergstrom completed his blocks at an 85% success rate, which was the highest on the team.

4th round, 129th pick overall: Miles Burris, OLB, San Diego State

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Burris is a lengthy, versatile linebacker coming out of the Mountain West Conference. He’s good-sized (6’2”, 246 lbs.), athletic (4.67 40-time), and strong (31 bench press reps). He’s a back-to-back first-team all-MWC selection (fellow Aztec alum Kirk Morrison was the last SDSU linebacker to do this) who’s described as being relentless and always around the ball. He played outside linebacker in the Aztec’s unique 3-3-5, but was moved around the field. I expect him to push Philip Wheeler at the SAM while providing vital depth both outside and inside.

5th round, 158th pick overall: Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State

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At 6’5”, 273 lbs. Jack Crawford looks the part of an NFL defensive end. He is, however, a raw prospect at this point – he’s only been playing football for just over five years but did start for Penn State the last three. Crawford gives the Raiders a much-needed pass rusher. He’s athletic and big, and has the frame to add bulk. Crawford is another project pick who probably won’t contribute for a year or two, but for now, he gives Oakland some much needed depth on the defensive front.

5th round, 168th pick overall: Juron Criner, WR, Arizona

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Juron Criner was a luxury pick. What’s more, he is a true sign of the changing of the guard occurring in Oakland. With a 4.68 40-yard time, Al Davis never would’ve drafted Juron Criner. Reggie McKenzie, however, did not let combine numbers alone dictate his evaluation of at least this prospect. Criner is the big receiver (6’2”, 224 lbs.) the Raiders need. He’s got soft hands and is a big red-zone target (22 TDs in the last two years). The other receivers on the roster can stretch the field; Criner gives Carson Palmer a receiver who can go up and fight for jump balls. He was a bargain, too, as most draft sites had him going in the second or third round.

6th round, 189th pick overall: Christo Bilukidi, DT, Georgia State

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Bilukidi is another intriguing yet raw prospect. He’s big (6’4”, 311 lbs.) and fast (5.05 40-yard dash time). Bilukidi started 10 of 11 games for the new-to-Division I Panthers, where he had 38 tackles, 9 for a loss, and 5 sacks.

7th round, 230th pick overall: Nate Stupar, OLB, Penn State

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Nate Stupar was going to be high on teams’ undrafted free agents lists, so the Raiders made a good move snagging him in the last round. Stupar is an instinctive, intense backer with limited top-end speed. He will be a special teams contributor and offers more depth at linebacker.

Raiders Get in the Draft Mix, Take OT/G Bergstrom

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After almost three rounds of waiting, the Reggie McKenzie era has kicked off. The Raiders selected OT/G Tony Bergstrom from Utah with the 95th overall pick (Compensatory, 3rd round). Bergstrom is a tough, versatile player who has shown good strength and mobility. This 2011 All-Pac-12 Conference First Team selection played OT in college but will likely push Cooper Carlisle for the starting left guard spot. This fits a need and is about the range Bergstrom was expected to go, so I like the pick.

GM Reggie McKenzie had this to say [of Bergstrom] “There’s no way you can know who you’re going to take at No. 95 until you see names come off the board. He was still there and was the one we liked.”

The main reason Bergstrom fell to Oakland is that he will turn 26 years old this year because of a LDS mission trip before college. The Raiders have made their first pick, and it looks to be a good one.