The Raiders went quiet during free agency’s first wave. They avoided paying heavy freight for some top talent with name recognition, but came on strong as last week grew late.
Most moves came from Thursday on, with a flurry of activity that radically changed the Raiders roster. There was something for everybody, with a receiver, and critical nuts and bolts of Jon Gruden’s run game. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s starting lineup got upgraded at linebacker and the secondary. A versatile defensive lineman joined the crew. Special teams got a new long snapper and some core coverage guys.
Michael Crabtree got cut. Cordarrelle Patterson was traded. Gruden found an upgrade over one guy, didn’t need the other.
The Raiders signed 10 players through Sunday night virtually guaranteed to make the 53-man roster, and Griff Whalen's got a shot. That’s a roughly 20 percent roster turnover right there – a draft class is also on the way – and the Raiders aren’t done in free agency.
Receiver Ryan Grant’s reportedly due in Alameda on Monday, and he might not leave. The Raiders have Patterson’s money to spare, assuming, of course, Grant passes a physical.
A bargain defensive tackle might be coming down the pike. Maybe. Time will tell on that front.
The Raiders had $20-plus million in salary-cap space entering free agency, but managed to spend smart in an attempt to get quality and quantity.
They’re believed to be close the salary cap after all this activity, but can create space by releasing veterans without guaranteed money. That happened with Sean Smith and the Patterson trade. Others can be cleared easily to import players who fit Gruden’s style and come available late.
Significant roster turnover is common with new coaches, who need fits for new offensive and defensive systems. Gruden was able to move fast in those aims, armed with significant clout in roster construction.
The head coach got hired in January, hired a staff to build schemes and evaluated the roster. The Raiders have some excellent pieces, Derek Carr and Khalil Mack chief among them.
It was also clear Gruden considered the roster lacking on several fronts. He said the Raiders weren’t getting enough from their last three draft classes, an accurate statement to be sure. He purged some productive members of last year’s squad he didn’t consider fits, and those already gone won’t be the last.
Recently signed free agents will take jobs. So will draft picks selected next month, as Gruden works to overhaul a roster and get more out of talent already on the roster.
It’s clear he’s heavily involved in picking these players, and will be responsible for getting the most out of the group, understanding full well it will probably take a few offseasons to get it just right.
Let’s take a look at key free-agents the Raiders have added so far, and what to expect from each guy:
-- WR Jordy Nelson: He’s the offseason’s big fish. The Raiders expect Nelson to be a locker room leader and a steadying on-field presence. They had no problem choosing him over Crabtree as part of a complete makeover at receiver.
-- CB Rashaan Melvin: Pencil him in to start opposite Gareon Conley. Better yet, use pen.
-- LB Tahir Whitehead: He’s a versatile talent with experience at every linebacker position, with success on the weak side. Whitehead can play in the middle, a role he might assume if NaVorro Bowman isn’t re-signed. Bringing Bowman back remains a possibility, however, especially if his market isn’t stout. Whitehead should also help Cory James and Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow grow.
-- S Marcus Gilchrist: He isn’t a dynamic playmaker, but is a solid versatile talent who can play either safety spot or in the slot. He should start right away.
-- RB Doug Martin: He’ll be a secondary option to Marshawn Lynch, but should see significant carries. His presence might spell trouble for DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard.
-- FB Keith Smith: Gruden said told the former Cowboy he has big plans for him. The blocking fullback will be integral to this scheme, and he’ll certainly help on special teams.
-- TE Derek Carrier: A blocking tight end can help in the run game, and has versatility required to catch passes. He’ll join Lee Smith in jumbo sets.
-- DE Tank Carradine: A solid run stopper who will compete for time at base defensive end, but believes he can be a better pass rusher than his stats suggest.
-- LB Kyle Wilbur: The Raiders need core special teams players. Wilbur can be one, and could help on defense in a pinch.
-- LS Andrew DePaola: Jon Condo’s replacement.
-- WR Griff Whalen: The Stanford product will compete for a return gig, and a spot as a backup receiver.