The Oakland Raiders are just a few moves away from solidifying themselves as Super Bowl contenders for years to come.
The Oakland Raiders enjoyed a return to prominence last season, making it to the postseason for the first time since 2002 when they reached the Super Bowl. For the last decade and a half, free agents in the NFL avoided the Raiders at all costs, seeing it as a destination where careers go to die. This off-season, however, the Raiders appear to be a premiere destination for free agents, seeing the Raiders as a team on the rise. On top of that, the Raiders don’t have as many glaring needs as they’ve had in past off-seasons. That being said, if the Raiders want to legitimize themselves as Super Bowl contenders for years to come, these are the 5 moves the Raiders must make this free agency period.
5. Sign a ILB
One position the Raiders have played musical chairs with the past few seasons has been the Inside Line Backer position. They drafted Ben Heeney in the 2015 NFL Draft, but he has had injury issues and has been a liability in coverage situations. Curtis Lofton was a bust free agent signing for them in 2015, and was promptly released. Perry Riley Jr. played well for the Raiders this past season, but it seems the Raiders are comfortable letting him walk. Same goes for Super Bowl 48 MVP Malcolm Smith, who had a career year in 2015 for the Raiders, but regressed mightily in 2016 and has become a major coverage liability for the Raiders.
The Raiders should take a look at Patriots ILB Dont’a Hghtower, but not overpay him. Hightower is a tremendous talent, but has an extensive injury history. Pittsburgh Steelers ILB Lawrence Timmons, while 31-years-old, could also be an option. The Raiders need to add a play-maker as it pertains to the ILB position, as it will bolster their defense that needs to improve.
4. Sign DT Calais Campbell or NT Dontari Poe
While the Raiders have already tendered DT Denico Autry, they still need help along their front seven. Adding a veteran presence like Arizona Cardinals DT Calais Campbell (8.0 Sacks in 2016) would not only improve their pass rush which ranked last in the NFL with 25 Sacks, but also add a locker room leader as well. If he’s not available or too expensive, the Raiders should poach NT Dontari Poe from the Kansas City Chiefs. He had a down year last season due to a back injury, but he’s younger and would still improve the Raiders’ defensive line. Plus, he’d be one less player to fret over when playing the Chiefs.
3. Add to the Secondary
The Raiders thought they struck gold by signing CB Sean Smith last season. While Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 18th best CB in the NFL last season, he recorded only 2 interceptions and got beat BADLY at times in 2016 (*see Week 1 98-yard TD allowed against Saints WR Brandin Cooks, Week 2 against Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones, Week 15 47-yard TD allowed against Los Angeles Chargers WR Travis Benjamin*). CB David Amerson is a solid 2nd string CB, but at times he was asked to play like a 1st string CB, a position he is at best average. CB D.J. “Toast” Hayden is not getting re-signed due to injury issues and being burnt like toast one too many times since being drafted 12th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. The Raiders need to add another CB to assist their secondary. There are options out there for the Raiders, namely Houston Texans CB A.J. Bouye, New England Patriots CB Logan Ryan, and Jacksonville Jaguars CB Prince Amukamara.
2. Sign RB Adrian Peterson, For the Right Price
Rumor has it the Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has narrowed his interest down to two teams: the Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a viable option for Peterson, but have an offensive line that needs a lot of work, not exactly a dream scenario for a veteran RB. The Raiders on the other hand, have one of the best offensive lines in football, and ranked 6th in the league in rushing offense with 120.1 yards per game in 2016. Yes, Peterson was limited to only 3 games and rushed 37 times for 72 yards last season due to a knee injury. Yes, Peterson is 31-years-old. This is why I caution the Raiders not to overpay Peterson should he choose to sign with them. He’s looking for $4-$6 million per year, a significant reduction in salary considering he was due to make $18 million this season had he remained with the Vikings. If he can stay healthy, the Raiders would add another weapon to their already explosive offense should he choose to join the Silver and Black.
1. Extend DL Khalil Mack and QB Derek Carr
Some moves don’t need that much explaining.The 2 pillars of the franchise, DL Kahlil Mack and QB Derek Carr, need to be locked down for the long term.
Defensive Player of the Year winner Khalil Mack ( 73 tackles, 11 sacks, 5 FFs , 1 INT, 1 TD) has a 5th year option, which the Raiders should have picked up… yesterday. After doing so, they need to sign him to an extension. It’ll more than likely make him one of the highest paid defensive players in the NFL, and he’s worth every penny.
QB Derek Carr (3,937 YDS, 28 TDS, 6 INTS, 63.8 CMP%) was an MVP candidate before breaking his Fibula in Week 16 against the Indianapolis Colts. He’s the franchise QB the Raiders have searched desperately for since their Super Bowl season in 2002, when QB Rich Gannon was under center and won NFL MVP honors. There may now be questions as to whether or not he can stay healthy, but he makes the offense go. He should be rewarded a contract extension this off-season as well.