Raiders

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

The Raiders signed several free agents we can immediately insert into the starting lineup. Put Nick Kwiatkoski at middle linebacker and Cory Littleton at weakside linebacker right now. Go ahead. Use permanent ink.

Those guys shouldn’t leave the field. Unless something goes really wrong, they won’t have to compete for spots. Last year’s starting linebackers no longer on the roster.

There are others, however, who will battle incumbents for playing time, starting spots or for prominent a role in a rotation. The Raiders upgraded their roster several times in free agency, and definitely increased the level of competition on the roster. That will happen again after the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Raiders have two first-round picks and five selections in the first 91.

Before that happens, let’s take a look at how some of the new free-agent additions will impact longer-term Raiders heading into the 2020 seasons.

DT Maliek Collins

The former Dallas Cowboy isn’t here to take Maurice Hurst’s job. It’s entirely possible, even likely, they play together in obvious passing situations as the team’s most athletic interior rushers.

Who pairs with Johnathan Hankins on rushing downs and in the base package is a bit up in the air, and Collins could take that job if he earns it. He played 763 defensive snaps last year, including 271 against the run. The Raiders typically have four defensive tackles on the roster and P.J. Hall makes that group right now, but Jon Gruden threw a shot across his bow in a meeting with reporters at the NFL combine. He’ll have to step up to fend off challenges from Daniel Ross, whom Rod Marinelli worked with in Dallas, and anyone else who comes via the draft.

Collins is a solid player, especially rushing the passer and fending off double teams, as this ESPN graphic shows:

Collins is going to play a lot, meaning others may play less with a new guy in the group.

Carl Nassib

The Raiders reportedly are paying the edge rusher handsomely, securing his services with a three-year, $25 million contract with $17 million guaranteed. That sum suggests a starting spot, but that shouldn’t be assumed.

Maxx Crosby will anchor one end on all three downs, and the Raiders expect to get better production from 2019 No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell on the other side. The Clemson product was solid against the run and knows he must be better rushing the passer. He vowed to come back a brand-new play in Year 2, and his work ethic and drive could bring about a production jump.

Nassib could fit in as a situational pass rusher on third down, possibly taking snaps from Ferrell in those situations. He can be a standup rusher as well, possibly playing some strongside linebacker if required considering he has some coverage experience. Time will tell on that.

Nassib’s a significant upgrade over Benson Mayowa in run defense, so he could play more often if he earns additional responsibility. Nassib is capable of playing all three downs, giving the Raiders an option should Ferrell’s second season not go as planned.

Jeff Heath

The Raiders have an experienced, solid option to start at free safety. That’s a role Erik Harris played in 2019, and he certainly won’t hand over that job without a fight. It could turn into a full-scale position battle if another safety isn’t added in the draft, as those two could fight for the right to pair with Johnathan Abram in the middle of the secondary.

It looks like a fair fight and could be a close one this summer.

The Raiders could use an extra body at safety, considering Abram, Harris, Heath and Dallin Leavitt are the primary options there. At this point, the position group doesn’t seem set.

Nelson Agholor

The Raiders will upgrade their receiver corps in the NFL draft. They just have to. If a top option is added, that won’t impact Tyrell Williams’ gig. He should start in 2020 and play a ton if he’s healthy.

Agholor could step in if the rookie(s) underwhelm in the preseason, but Zay Jones is the incumbent most impacted. Jones never gained Derek Carr’s trust in 2019, and Agholor’s addition could push him to the No. 5 receiver spot or off the roster completely if he doesn’t perform well in the preseason.

[RELATED: Raiders bet big, 49ers surprise among NFL draft bold predictions]

Marcus Mariota

The veteran quarterback isn’t on this list because he’s in a real competition to take Derek Carr’s gig. Derek Carr is the starting quarterback. Marcus Mariota is the backup. The position group is deeper, but Carr is the guy familiar with this offense. The Raiders are surrounding him with talent that will allow Carr to thrive in the team’s first season playing in Las Vegas.

Mariota should push Carr and help him in the meeting room and on the practice field and could get more quality out of him.

NOTE: Eli Apple isn’t mentioned because he’s currently set to take a starting spot from Daryl Worley, now an unrestricted free agent not expected to return. It’s also believed the Raiders will address the cornerback spot in the draft and create competition there. We’ll address Apple’s role closer after the draft.

How Raiders' Nick Kwiatkoski showed his value with Bears last season

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USATSI

How Raiders' Nick Kwiatkoski showed his value with Bears last season

When opportunity knocked last year for Nick Kwiatkoski, the Chicago Bears’ four-year reserve linebacker, he answered.

With free agency looming, he was put in position to show the rest of the NFL what the Bears privately knew about the high-motor, highly athletic 26-year-old: It wasn’t a lack of ability that prevented Kwiatkoski from being a full-time starter, it was that the Bears had some of the best players in football at his position.

In Kwiatkoski, the Bears’ depth chart was hiding a starting caliber linebacker. And not just a situational one, but the highly coveted three-down kind who can play the run and the pass.

All of which he showed in an eight-game stint at the end of the 2019 season. He had 50 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss and four pass breakups to firmly establish himself as a valuable free agent target.

READ ABOUT KWIATKOSKI AT REVIEW-JOURNAL

 

Raiders' Zay Jones shares heartwarming story amid racial tensions

Raiders' Zay Jones shares heartwarming story amid racial tensions

The death of George Floyd while in police custody Monday in Minnesota has re-ignited racial tensions in the United States.

Protests are occurring in cities all over the country, and professional athletes are speaking up about their experiences.

On Saturday, Raiders wide receiver Zay Jones shared a heartwarming story on Twitter about an encounter he had with an woman at a home goods store.

That's powerful.

Jones, a Dallas, Texas native, was acquired by the Raiders in a trade with the Buffalo Bills last October.

In 10 games for the Raiders, Jones caught 20 passes for 147 yards.

[RELATED: Jones, Carr building chemistry]

But receiving this unnamed woman into his arms is the biggest catch of Jones' career.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]