The Raiders sat out free agency’s inital, hyper-expensive phase and then kicked into high gear. They signed players at a frenetic pace, adding 14 guys with a shot to make the regular-season roster and four of their own unrestricted free agents in 11 days.
It’s still possible the Raiders sign a receiver or a rotational defensive tackle in free agency, but signing volume will slow to a trickle as we head toward the NFL Draft.
We’ll know more about these signings this week. The NFL owners meetings start Sunday in Orlando, Fla., and access to head coach Jon Gruden should offer insight into Raiders offseason plans. This day’s downtime makes it a perfect time for a Raiders mailbag, to catch up on what has happened and look ahead to what’s next this offseason.
I asked for questions on my Facebook page (please “like” this link for Raiders insight, updates and behind-the-scenes photos) and got a bunch of good ones. Let’s get to them:
Q: Have any of the free agent signings shifted what you thought was Raiders' NFL Draft priority? And if so what changed? – Michael Varnam
A: Great question, Michael. Good way to start this mailbag. Actions always speak louder than words, and free-agent signings are often an indicator of what the Raiders like in the NFL draft. I don’t think it has shifted my thinking too much, because the Raiders still need help at every level of their defense.
The focus remains defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. I could see the Raiders taking any of those positions at No. 10 overall, and we should add offensive tackle to the list if they trade down.
Attractive options at DT (Vita Vea, Michael Hurst), LB (Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds) and CB (Denzel Ward) that should be available at No. 10, in addition to some higher-ranked prospects at positions (Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpartick, for example) the Raiders couldn’t pass up.
I would say cornerback isn’t as pressing a need with Gareon Conley healthy and Rashaan Melvin now in the mix, but another long-term answer is required.
Tahir Whitehead doesn’t solve every linebacker issue but he’ll help lead that position group. NaVorro Bowman’s return would lessen that need. Defensive tackle, however, clearly needs an impact player.
A top-10 defensive tackle that can rush the passer could make the greatest immediate impact, especially after the Raiders stayed pat at the position in free agency.
Q: With the signing of Doug Martin, is it possible either Washington or Richard get traded? They are essentially the same player… -- Bubba Slim
A: They may not get traded, but it seems likely one of the two you mentioned won’t make the 53-man roster. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have similar styles, and both guys can return punts or kicks. Martin comes in as Lynch’s primary backup – he’ll have to earn that title -- and someone capable of shouldering a full load should Lynch be unavailable. Remember what happened in Buffalo when Lynch got suspended? Richard and Washington struggled as feature backs. The Raiders don’t want that situation to happen again.
Martin must prove better than the 2.9 yards per carry of his last two seasons. If he does that, Washington or (less likely) Richard could get cut or traded late in the preseason. It’s something to keep an eye on this summer.
Question: What’s the status on Bowman? – Jose Torres
A: I got several Bowman questions. Let’s address the situation by saying there isn’t much of an update. The Raiders hoped to have him signed before free agency began March 14, but numbers obviously didn’t match. Bowman’s camp has a certain value in mind that hasn’t been reached on the open market, and (this is just me talking here) he could slow play things and gain value to a team should an inside linebacker get hurt this offseason.
Last I heard, Bowman was training in Maryland – he’s from District Heights, Md. – and always stays in great shape. The Raiders still need help at linebacker, even after Whitehead signed up. They hope to have Bowman back. Room for a reunion still exists.
Question: Who is your sleeper free agent signing, Scott? One to watch IMHO could be Marcus Gilchrist.
Answer: Gilchrist is a good option, considering his versatility. He can play both safety spots, slot cornerback and is comfortable playing in the box.
That said, I’m going with fullback Keith Smith. He doesn’t have many stats, but Smith said Gruden has “big plans” for him. The Raiders head coach loves using the fullback in interesting ways, especially as a receiver. The athletic fullback and former San Jose State linebacker can handle those responsibilities, even with blocking as his primary mission. He could thrive in Gruden’s system.
Q: Are the Raiders going with the best player available approach in the draft? Could the first-round pick be an offensive player? – Thomas Davis
A: It’s possible the Raiders could go offense in the first round, with offensive tackle as a real prospect if they trade down. I still think defense is the play here, if they stick at No. 10. They have several quality options, especially if there’s a quarterback run in the top eight as expected. If four QBs go quick, the Raiders could be sitting at No. 10 getting the sixth-best non-quarterback on the board. There are lots of defenders that would work in that spot. That would satisfy need without needing to reach.
Q: What is your lock pick for us at No. 10, or are we trading down? – Manny Zaragoza
A: There isn’t a lock pick for anyone at No. 10 at this stage. Even the Raiders don’t know that. There should be a solid cluster available there the Raiders can choose from. I mention several options in the first answer. Reggie always likes trading down to get more picks. That could happen here, especially if a valued QB remains on the board a passer-starved team wants to come get him.
Q: As much as I’d love to bring it back to ’98 (as Gruden said at the combine), can that style of football still win? – Alec Rael
A: I think that’s a fun line said by a coach who’s a great quote. While some free-agent moves should help the Raiders protect well and run with power, Gruden is an innovator. He has studied and learned modern styles while broadcast Monday Night Football games. I believe the Raiders will be dynamic offensively, with an ability to run with power or operate with pace. Gruden has some tricks up his sleeve. It will be interesting to see them come out.
Q: Hey Scott, how high could WR be taken in the draft? – Richard Ramsawh
A: That’s a real wild card, and might depend what else, if anything, happens in free agency. It’s clear that Gruden wanted to remake the receiver corps, and did so in part by adding Jordy Nelson and subtracting Michael Crabtree. They’ve been involved in the free-agency receiver market – Ryan Grant and Eric Decker visited Alameda – and still have an eye on it.
They could sign another veteran this offseason. If they don’t, the Raiders could look for help relatively high in the draft or at some point before their picks are done.