How Raiders can go after group of pass rushers in NFL free agency


How Raiders can go after group of pass rushers in NFL free agency

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.

[RELATED: Projected first-round picks after Scouting Combine]

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.

NFL rumors: Teams sense opportunity to trade for Raiders QB Derek Carr

NFL rumors: Teams sense opportunity to trade for Raiders QB Derek Carr

The Raiders have a new home and soon will occupy a brand-new stadium. Might they also have a new quarterback under center for the first snap of the 2020 season?

There has been rampant speculation that Las Vegas might be interested in trading for legendary Patriots quarterback Tom Brady or possibly trading up to acquire one of the top QB prospects in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. Should either situation play out, but especially the former, it almost would certainly mean Derek Carr would be moved elsewhere.

Carr carries a $21.5 million cap hit for the 2020 season, and it would be almost impossible to field a competitive team with that much salary allocated to a backup.

Coach Jon Gruden gave a lukewarm endorsement of the quarterback following the Raiders' final season in Oakland, but both he and general manager Mike Mayock have maintained they'll look at every possible way to upgrade the roster for the team's first season in Sin City. Whether or not that means replacing Carr is anyone's guess, but if that's the route they choose to go, it sounds as if they might not have trouble finding a trade partner.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Vincent Bonsignore reported Tuesday night that momentum is building towards teams inquiring with the Raiders about potentially trading for Carr.

Carr has three more seasons left on his current contract, so any team that would acquire him would either need to have ample cap space or send some significant salary back to the Raiders. He'll turn 29 years old next month, and one could argue he's just entering his prime after posting career-bests in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating last season.

[RELATED: Carr unfazed by questions on Raiders future, brother says]

If Carr isn't the Raiders' QB for the first season in Vegas, they better be confident they've found a better fit for the organization moving forward.

2020 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. explains his two Raiders selections

2020 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. explains his two Raiders selections

In an offseason full of Tom Brady-to-Las-Vegas rumors, one thing is for certain: The Raiders must find upgrades at receiver and linebacker. 

With two first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Raiders can do exactly that in slightly over two months. They're sure to look at the free-agent market as well, but finding instant contributors on rookie contracts is a must for a team looking to make the leap next season. 

This is especially true with the Raiders reportedly willing to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million contract.

Still, Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock can shore up their two biggest positions of need right away in the draft. That's exactly what ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. did in his latest mock draft. Kiper gave the Raiders receiver Jerry Jeudy at No. 12 and linebacker Kenneth Murray at No. 19. 

The longtime draft expert explained his selections in a conference call on Wednesday. 

"I have Kenneth Murray going there at 19, linebacker from Oklahoma, and have them taking Jerry Jeudy from Alabama at 12," Kiper said. "So you get the linebacker -- whether it's Murray or Patrick Queen from LSU at 19, then you get the receiver. I think it's CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma or it's Jeudy from Alabama at No. 12." 

In an ideal world for the Raiders, Clemson's do-it-all hybrid linebacker Isaiah Simmons would fall right in their lap. But Kiper said he can't see that happening without a major trade from Mayock. He has the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Simmons with the No. 9 pick. 

Josh Schrock and I, however, have Simmons going even higher at No. 4 to the New York Giants in our latest mock draft. We do agree with the positions Kiper has the Raiders targeting, but gave the Silver and Black his second options. 

While Kiper has Lamb going to the New York Jets at No. 11 and Jeudy to the Raiders one pick later, we sent Lamb to Las Vegas and Jeudy being taken by the Indianapolis Colts with the next pick. The two are that close and either one would instantly boost the Raiders' receiver corps. 

[RELATED: How Raiders' 2019 rookies are laying bedrock for success]

Murray originally wound up as a Raider in our first two editions of our mock draft, but Queen seems like he has more upside and is a better fit for the modern NFL. Murray is a fine athlete in his own regard, but Queen is much more explosive and better in coverage.

Queen's side-to-side range is what truly sets him apart. 

Either way, the consensus is out that the Raiders likely will target receivers and linebackers in this year's draft. Any combination of Jeudy, Lamb, Murray or Queen will be huge for the Raiders' rise after a seven-win season.