I have tried to put together my thoughts on the moves the Raiders made this free agency and I keep finding myself back in the same place. I just can’t help but view every move through the lens of the ones they failed to make. The players they didn’t add, despite considerable need at several key positions.
There were a couple of head-scratchers among the players they did add. First and foremost, giving running back Kenyan Drake $11 million despite sharing a backfield with Pro Bowl first-round pick Josh Jacobs. And then there was the logic in going seven deep at three-tech defensive tackle.
Again, these moves seemed strange mostly because of the expectations they would be focusing on some other positions. And, yes, there is still the draft, but free agency, at the very least, should provide insurance to keep the team from reaching for need in the draft or in case the players you want aren’t on the board when they pick. But that’s where they are now.
With that in mind, these are my five worst ‘moves’ by the Raiders.
1. Not adding a cornerback
Cutting Lamarcus Joyner was expected. He was the highest-paid defense by a wide margin and was never what they hoped he’d be as their starting nickel corner. His release left a gaping hole at a crucial position. In addition, they needed competition and depth on the outside.
The Raiders’ only move at the position this offseason was to re-sign Nevin Lawson. The veteran cornerback without an interception over his entire NFL career was not exactly in demand. And currently, the slot corner job falls to him or 2020 fourth-round pick Amik Robertson who played a total of 35 snaps on defense last season as they attempt to transition him to the position.
Meanwhile, a deep group of free-agent cornerbacks found homes elsewhere including some very good options like Desmond King, Troy Hill, Mike Hilton, and Quinton Dunbar.
2. Not adding a safety
Safety was nearly as deep as cornerback in terms of very good players on the market. Including the likes of Anthony Harris, Marcus Williams, John Johnson, and Xavier Woods. There are still a couple of decent options out there in Malik Hooker and Tre Boston, but if the Raiders were really interested in signing one of them, they’d probably have done it by now.
As it stands, they have three safeties on the roster. Johnathan Abram will start at strong safety and with the current personnel Jeff Heath would be the starting free safety. After that there’s just special teamer Dallin Leavitt.
Could Heath step up and be the starter? Sure. He started in Dallas. Primarily at strong safety. Signing a starter or at the very least, competition to start at free safety would have been smart. So, now they must hope to find an NFL-ready talent in the draft.
3. Not adding a right tackle
Trent Brown’s considerable salary and lack of work ethic got him sent back to New England for swaps of 2022 draft picks. And the Raiders didn’t immediately add anyone to replace him. Again, yes, the draft could potentially be a place to get a tackle, but even if they do draft one high, a swing tackle is needed. Then the rookie could compete with the veteran with the winner starting and the other as valuable depth.
As of right now, the best option to start at right tackle is Denzelle Good, backed up by Brandon Parker. The problem is Good is also the best option to start at guard. That is the position he plays best. Adding an actual tackle gives them the best situation in terms of talent in the starting five and depth.
4. Not adding an X receiver
When Brown didn’t work out, and neither did any of the others they signed that season, they made Henry Ruggs III their top pick to be the Z. Then Williams was lost to injury and they inserted rookie third-round pick, Bryan Edwards, as the starter. That lasted three games and as he barely saw the field the rest of the season, catching just 11 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown.
Edwards might break out. He might not. But right now, the 6-3 receiver is their only real option at X. There’s the 6-4 Marcell Ateman, but he’s never shown he can be a viable option.
The Raiders added two receivers in free agency, signing John Brown and Willie Snead. Both stand at 5-11, like Ruggs. Brown is another Z and Snead is a slot receiver. Brown will help push Ruggs while Hunter Renfrow is a proven starting slot receiver.
5. Not adding a nose tackle
As we’ve covered, the Raiders went kinda nuts at defensive tackle. But all of their additions play three-tech. They re-signed Johnathan Hankins, making him their lone nose tackle with any proven abilities. reserve/future signing Niles Scott is the only other nose tackle on the team.
Hankins is a solid starter. But even as an every-game starter, nose tackles tend to work in rotations. And right now they have no one with whom to rotate Hankins.