The Raiders met with several top pass rushers during the NFL Scouting Combine, and it’s not just due diligence. Odds are great Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock draft one, possibly two in the draft.
There’s both quality and depth available, creating avenues to fill that need exclusively through the NFL draft.
That’s a good thing, because the free agent market has shrunk considerably. Seattle’s Frank Clark, Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney, Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence and Kansas City’s Dee Ford were given the franchise tag this week. So was Atlanta interior pass rusher Grady Jarrett.
Those guys are still technically available, but it would cost an outrageous sum and two first-round picks to land one of them. That essentially takes tagged players off the market, though paying top dollar for those talents even in free agency while refusing to pay Khalil Mack a year ago would’ve been backwards.
Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham, however, would’ve been a perfect addition. The veteran defensive end is a great leader, stout against the run with some juice rushing the passer, and a solid scheme fit. He also would have been a great mentor to any pass rusher drafted.
The Eagles recognized all those qualities, and didn’t let him walk out the front door. Graham agreed to an affordable three-year, $40 million extension on March 1, proof that quality players who are also standup citizens rarely reach free agency.
There’s some quality left on the market, namely New England’s Trey Flowers. He’ll only be 26 next season, has been steadily productive and is about to become very rich as the top pass rusher expected to hit the open market.
Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah is 30 but remains productive, and could be in for a windfall next week when free agency begins. Baltimore’s Za-Darius Smith could be a more affordable option with some versatility. Dante Fowler has hit some roadblocks professionally, but has great upside that could produce a hefty paycheck.
Free-agent pass rushers remain even with so many essentially off the market, and the Raiders could well add one to pair with a potentially dominant force selected high in the draft.
The Raiders might be better spending elsewhere – they have pressing needs everywhere, including safety, receiver and offensive tackle -- and drafting multiple edge rushers and defensive linemen might produce the best outlook to improve the NFL’s worst defensive front.
A mentor would still help an entirely young position group, which brings us to Cameron Wake. The longtime Miami Dolphin is set to hit the open market, but has remained impactful into his mid-30s though his six sacks last year marked a career low. He could help young players and be a productive situational pass rusher at least.
They might have to overpay to convince him to join a rebuilding process, but that shouldn’t be an issue on a shorter-term deal.
The Raiders have money to spend on a bigger-name guy, but might be better served upgrading the pass rush primarily through the draft and letting a young line grow together over the next few years.