The Raiders needed a veteran presence to anchor their defense and got one in linebacker Tahir Whitehead.
He signed with the Raiders on Thursday evening, the team announced.
Whitehead's pact is a three-year deal worth more than $6 million per season, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.
That sum suggests he'll be the feature linebacker no matter where he plays, and that NaVorro Bowman might have to find employment elsewhere unless an agreeable market fails to develop. The Raiders hoped to get Bowman signed before free agency opened Wednesday, but the veteran's camp slow-played contract talks hoping the market could increase his value. It's still possible they could pair Whitehead with Bowman in a veteran linebacker corps the Raiders haven’t had in the Reggie McKenzie era. Time will tell on that front.
Whitehead's a tackling machine with triple-digit totals in each of the last two seasons for Detroit. He had 110 last year as a weakside linebacker, and 132 in 2016 playing in the middle. He has also spent time on the strong side.
"I’ve played all positions equally," Whitehead said in a conference call. "I don’t try to label myself as one particular linebacker, Mike, Will or Sam. I feel as though I play linebacker. I’m an NFL linebacker. I don’t try to pigeonhole myself and limit me to one particular position.”
Whitehead has been a strong run defender but has struggled at times in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus analytics. If that bears true, the Raiders could still use a solid coverage linebacker among the starting three. That could be upstart talent Nicholas Morrow, or a drafted linebacker.
He stands 6-foot-2, 248 pounds and has played all six professional seasons with the Lions. He fits the mold of aggressive, versatile players the Raiders hope to add on defense. He also holds leadership qualiites the Raiders hold dear and require in their defense.
“I bring that ballhawk mentality. That energy. That Leadership," Whitehead said. "Going into year seven, I have played a bunch of football. I’ve missed one game over the course of six years. I believe that’s what I bring. I bring leadership. A guy that’s active. A guy who is going to go out there and give it his all. You know exactly what you’re going to get from me day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out.”