Cory Littleton addition shows Raiders spending big, smart on linebackers

Cory Littleton addition shows Raiders spending big, smart on linebackers

The Raiders haven’t had stability at linebacker in years. They tried and failed to get by with short-term stopgaps, rotating one past-his-prime veteran after another.

Curtis Lofton. Miles Burris. Nick Roach. Vontaze Burfict. Novorro Bowan. Perry Riley. They all made pit stops in silver and black, many for the last time in NFL football.

Those half measures availed them nothing.

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock committed the resources required to shore up a glaring weakness that wasn’t given more than veteran chump change and a fourth-round pick since 2012. And, boy, did they use them well. 

The Raiders got a commitment from Nick Kwaitkoski on Monday and paired him with free agency's best modern linebacker less than 24 hours later.

The Raiders agreed to terms with Cory Littleton Tuesday morning, a source told NBC Sports Bay Area. According to NFL Network, which first reported the news, Littleton intends to sign a three-year deal worth up to $36 million.

Littleton’s market was strong, but the Raiders emerged with the guy they really wanted and desperately needed. That addition alone should dramatically improve the Raiders defense.

They shouldn’t have a problem covering tight ends and running backs in the middle of the field anymore, now armed with a quick and agile former L.A. Ram who can blanket targets as anyone.

Gruden will detail his linebacker alignment at a later date, but it’s fair to anticipate Kwiatkowski in the middle as the defensive signal-caller, with Littleton working the weak side as a three-down player and a perfect fit for Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme.

Litttleton ranked fourth in passer rating allowed among linebackers with at least 500 coverages snaps. He also had two interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2019 and six picks in the last two seasons. 

Kwiatkoski compliments Littleton well as more of a sure tackler and run defender who proved capable taking over for Danny Trevathan in Chicago last season. 

These guys aren’t just good. They’re also entering their primes at 26 years old and won't be 30 when their contracts expire.

The Littleton signing could be the crown jewel of a thus-far solid free-agent class, one that will allow the Raiders to eliminate a significant need in the NFL draft and focus on others with two first-round picks in the top 19.

Gruden and Mayock were on the hunt for defensive impact players and prepared to pay the freight required to secure them on the open market. They weren’t scared of cornerback Byron Jones’ big price tag but weren’t deterred when he chose Miami.

They declared interest in Littleton early and stuck with their pursuit, eventually locking him down on a big-money deal that was actually a bit less than national pundits projected. 

[RELATED: Raiders pursuing free agents, within reason]

Going after younger free agents to join a foundational draft class was the right way to go. The Raiders defense is young in most spots, with last year’s additions coming primarily through the draft. These young linebackers will be able to grow with guys like Maxx Crosby, Trayvon Mullen and Clelin Ferrell, with more additions on the way.

The Raiders are still looking for some secondary help and will continue searching for assets that improve the defense as free agency continues. The Raiders have more veterans to sign, maybe just one more expensive one, though Tom Brady is still lingering out there unattached. Most additions will help flesh out the roster and position it well for the NFL draft. 

These early signings, Littleton in particular, have made the Raiders a better football team and improved an area of glaring weakness. 

NFL odds: Raiders' Josh Jacobs a favorite to score first Las Vegas TD


NFL odds: Raiders' Josh Jacobs a favorite to score first Las Vegas TD

The Raiders’ home opener in Las Vegas is scheduled for Sept. 21 on “Monday Night Football” against the New Orleans Saints.

Which player will score the first regular-season touchdown at Allegiant Stadium?

You can bet on that proposition at the Westgate sportsbook, which posted odds on 18 players.

“They always talk about things that are established years later. Trivia-type things, like who was the player that scored the first touchdown at the stadium in Las Vegas,” Westgate vice president of risk Jeff Sherman said. ” We just wanted a wagering option similar to that.”

The Saints are 4½-point favorites over the Raiders, and the total is 50½ points.

[RELATED: Raiders' three key camp battles]

New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara is the 5-1 favorite to score the first TD, Saints wideout Michael Thomas is the 6-1 second choice, and Las Vegas running back Josh Jacobs is the 8-1 third pick.



2021 NFL Mock Draft: Raiders pick North Dakota State QB Trey Lance


2021 NFL Mock Draft: Raiders pick North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

Is there room in Las Vegas for yet another quarterback? Maybe.

In a 2021 NFL Mock Draft by CBS Sports, writer R.J. White has the Raiders selecting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the No 12 overall pick in the first round. 

The keyword White uses here is “upside,” and that word is synonymous with Jon Gruden’s offensive strategy. He wants it all.

But what would that mean with who they have right now? 

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Derek Carr holds that top spot, and despite the rumors of him and Gruden not seeing eye-to-eye, the two apparently get along swimmingly. Naturally, sometimes they’ll bump heads, but that’s standard.

Behind him is Marcus Mariota who has the experience and is a great leader. He also stands to push Carr to be a better quarterback. He’s signed through 2021 with Nathan Peterman, a Gruden favorite, rounding up the current squad.

For Carr, well, it could initially appear to be bad news for the QB who was booed off the field for the team’s final game in Oakland, but that might not be the case.

He sent a strong message to the haters after that happened, but the Mariota pressures could be a positive. He’s not going anywhere, but this could be a glimpse into the future. 

[RELATED: Carr sends message to the haters]

But … for the heck of it. Here’s a clip of Lance:

Carr gets a lot of hate. That was one of Pat McAfee’s questions when he spoke to former Raiders receiver Jordy Nelson recently. But he knows that’s all part of the package. Despite some rumors of trade talks during the combine, those appeared to have died down.