Raiders

How Raiders should navigate NFL free agency after Antonio Brown trade

How Raiders should navigate NFL free agency after Antonio Brown trade

The Raiders traded for receiver Antonio Brown and then gave him a fat raise, to the tune of $50 million over three seasons with $30 million guaranteed.

The four-time first-team All-Pro was technically acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he doubles as a major splash signing.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be the only one despite a decision to sign fewer, more impactful free agents after buying in bulk this time last year.

Uncertainty surrounding Brown’s contract structure prevents us from knowing how much cap space the Raiders have to start Monday morning’s open negotiating window and Wednesday’s formal start of free agency – the Brown deal won’t become official until Wednesday – but they have plenty to spend should they so choose.

But … the Raiders aren’t going to throw money at every problem looking for a quick fix.

They could splurge on running back Le’Veon Bell, another elite talent and Pittsburgh malcontent who sat out the entire 2018 season over a contract impasse. Sources say the interest is real, but it’s uncertain how far they’ll go into what should be a strong market for the do-everything back.

The Raiders agreed to a four-year deal with New England Patriots left tackle Trent Brown worth $36.75 million guaranteed, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported citing a source. 

The plan is to move 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller, according the Schefter. The Raiders still need to address guard at some point this offseason, after agreeing to trade Kelechi Osemele to the New York Jets.

Their list of needs is long, with only one receiver spot checked and another on the offensive line reportedly set to be. The Raiders will look for more receiver help despite adding Antonio Brown, and seem ready for the realistic possibility tight end Jared Cook finds a new employer.

The Raiders hung on to all four of their NFL draft picks in the top 35 during the Antonio Brown deal, a coup in its own right that showed great discipline and allowed the Raiders to retain assets required for a full scale rebuild.

While we could generally say the draft will focus on defense early, with offensive issues addressed in free agency, let’s use general manager Mike Mayock’s advice to Raiders staff as a guide.

“We have so many needs right now that we can’t just approach one,” Mayock said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “I keep talking to our salary cap people and coaches and personnel people and, it sounds weird, but I keep saying that we have to be nimble. We have to be nimble throughout the whole process. We have so many needs. We have offensive line needs and cornerback needs and needs everywhere. It all depends on who is available, when they’re available and whether we’re talking free agency or NFL draft.”

[RELATED: Latest NFL free agency rumors, live updates and news]

The Raiders have direction entering the free-agent signing period of the most important offseason in recent memory – that’s dramatic, yet true -- and want to skew younger. 

“We have some holes we need to fill. I’d much rather have some young guys who can come in, compete, go to (Las Vegas with us in 2020) and be part of what we’re doing moving forward as opposed to the 35-year old stopgaps," Mayock said. "I’m not saying there’s not a fit for some one-year guys because there are, but I would think we’d much rather do it with some younger guys to be part of who we are down the road.”

Raiders need instant impact from Clelin Ferrell right away as rookie

Raiders need instant impact from Clelin Ferrell right away as rookie

The Raiders are trying to rebound from a disatrous 4-12 season, and need strong showings from many members of their NFL draft class. That's especially true on defense, where general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden loaded up on young talent.

Clelin Ferrell was the marquee selection, a defensive end taken fourth overall out of Clemson to fill a position of great need.

We'll take a look at the best-case scenario for Ferrell's rookie season, the worst possible outcome and what's realistic for a do-it-all scheme fit expected to play right away. We'll put different Raiders draft picks through the same paces each day, so check back Thursday morning for our Josh Jacobs breakdown.

Right now, let's dive into what the Raiders need from Ferrell:

Clelin Ferrell

Draft slot:No. 4 overall (First round)
Position: Defensive end
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 264 pounds
School: Clemson

Skill set

Let’s say it simply. Ferrell is a complete defensive end. He can set an edge and rush the passer. He’s technically sound, tough and tenacious, with strong leadership skill. He may not be as flashy as other top-5 edge rushers of this draft class or any other, but he was a highly productive college player who could well be a highly productive pro despite missing elite measurable athleticism.

Ferrell’s exactly what the Raiders need up front, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther puts it, a stable three-down defender who will show up and work hard every day.

Training camp proving ground

Coaches were impressed with his tenacity and a real grinder’s work ethic. It’s hard to evaluate a new player just learning the system seeing him once a week during open OTA practices, especially when they weren’t in pads, so training camp will provide a clearer picture of where Ferrell is as a rookie.

It’s always difficult to expect an immediate impact from rookies, even those drafted so high, but Ferrell needs to be steady and flash in practice, especially when the L.A. Rams come to Napa on Aug. 7-8. Battles with Kolton Miller and Trent Brown will also be key in his development, when he cracks the first unit.

Going up against massive size (Brown) and solid athleticism from a big frame (Miller) in pads should help prepare him for the difficulties of facing NFL tackles each week.

Best-case scenario

It was hard to find analysts with bad things to say about Ferrell’s game. The element of surprise came from his draft position, something he wasn’t in charge of. The Raiders are so thin off the edge that they need Ferrell to step in and play three downs right away. They’re certainly hoping he’s not just occupying space, and can produce at his Clemson level.

He had 27 sacks in three seasons as a starter, and getting to nine as a first-year pro would be huge for the Raiders and his long-term future. Comparing Ferrell to Khalil Mack is ultimately unfair, but they’ll come his way nonetheless. Let’s not forget that Mack had just four sacks as a rookie, often generating pressure but rarely getting home.

Working nine sacks out of the season would be huge for the Raiders, and double digits with solid run play would send Ferrell jerseys flying off the shelves.

Worst-case scenario

The Raiders need a three-down end. They likely won’t have one on the other side, splitting run/pass duties between Josh Mauro and Arden Key, respectively. They need someone capable against the run and pass, a stable and productive force to pick this defensive line up off the mat after a disastrous 2018 season where the Raiders were outmanned regularly during a year with just 13 sacks (as a team!!) and gave up 140 rushing yards per game.

Let’s be honest: This defensive line is in huge trouble if Ferrell can’t make an immediate impact. That would spell disaster for the Raiders' defense if he doesn’t show well, and lower-round pick Maxx Crosby doesn’t make up for that by playing out of his mind.

Realistic expectations

Ferrell’s a rookie. Let’s not forget that when evaluating his season this winter. Again, he didn’t control his draft slot. He plays for the team that took him, and seven sacks and realtively steady run play is a respectable season.

[RELATED: Key dates for Raiders' 'Hard Knocks'-centric preseason]

Ferrell’s going to work hard every day. He doesn’t have a large injury history. He should be reliable. He should get into the backfield; whether he can get home is another matter. Mack didn’t do it much his first year.

Expect an adjustment period as he moves to the NFL, but his presence should be felt in all facets of this Raiders defense. He seems qualified to shut out noise and outside expectation from being the No. 4 overall pick. That should help him produce a solid, rookie year with hope for better down the line.

Key Raiders preseason dates, including HBO's 'Hard Knocks' episodes

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Key Raiders preseason dates, including HBO's 'Hard Knocks' episodes

The Raiders have an interesting preseason ahead. They have three exhibition games on the road, including one in Canada. They’re headed to Napa for camp, which is possibly, though ultimately uncertain, the last time they will train in Wine Country, with their Las Vegas relocation scheduled for next year.

They have personalities to spare on this unit, which must bond to improve on last year’s 4-12 disappointment. They’ll do so under NFL Films’ watchful eye, with cameras everywhere filming this season’s HBO documentary series “Hard Knocks.”

[RELATED: Raiders mailbag: Defense still clearly behind offense]

Their training camp schedule hasn’t been made official, but Monday’s announcement of report dates gives the preseason some shape.

Here are key dates for the Raiders' summer plans:

As a note, Raiders training camp practices are only open to season-ticket holders and guests by invite only.

Tuesday, July 23: Rookies, first-year players, recently rehabilitating veterans and quarterbacks report for training camp in Napa.
Friday, July 26: Veterans report for training camp in Napa
Saturday, July 27: First full-squad training camp practice.
Monday, July 29: First padded practice in training camp
Tuesday, Aug. 6: “Hard Knocks” with the Raiders premieres at 10 p.m. on HBO
Wednesday, Aug. 7-8: Raiders host joint training camp practices with Los Angeles Rams in Napa
Saturday, Aug. 10: Exhibition opener vs. LA Rams at Oakland Coliseum
Tuesday, Aug. 13: Second episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO
Thursday, Aug. 15: Exhibition No. 2 at Arizona Cardinals, 5 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday, Aug. 20: Third episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO
Thursday, Aug. 22: Exhibition No. 3 vs. Green Bay Packers at IG Field in Winnipeg, 5 p.m. (Bay: KTVU; Vegas KVVU)
Thursday, Aug. 27: Fourth episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO
Thursday, Aug. 29: Exhibition No. 4: Aug. 29: Exhibition No. 4 at Seattle Seahawks, 7 p.m. (Bay: KTVU; Vegas KVVU)
Saturday, Aug. 31: Rosters must be decreased from 90 players to the 53-man limit by 1 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 1: Claiming period ends for waived roster cuts at 9 a.m.
Sunday, Sept. 1: Teams may formally sign a 10-man practice squad
Tuesday Sept. 3: Final episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO