Raiders

NFL draft: How Raiders' need for edge rusher impacts their strategy

NFL draft: How Raiders' need for edge rusher impacts their strategy

The Raiders signed some expensive big-name free agents shortly after the market opened, and traded for another just before that. The depth chart thickened after that, leaving few positions demanding attention from the NFL draft.

Make no mistake: upgrades or potential would be welcome most anywhere, but there are few spots where the Raiders can’t survive without more bodies.

The whole NFL world knows there’s an exception. The Raiders need quality and quantity edge rushers after failing to find free-agent fits in a market with so many elite pass rushers franchise tagged.

The Raiders have Arden Key, recently added veteran Benson Mayowa, run stopper Josh Mauro and AAF graduate Alex Barrett and ... that’s it.

Edge rusher/defensive end is a need so glaring it might work against the Raiders in this NFL draft. Teams know how bad they need one or, more likely, two in this draft. There’s depth in this defensive line class, but true impact players generally go high.

We could see teams jump ahead to snag one before the Raiders, but general manager Mike Mayock said that’s not unique to his particular situation.

“People are looking at what we need, just like we’re looking at what they need,” Mayock said Thursday in his pre-draft press conference. “We’re doing the same thing. Who might need this position? Who might jump ahead of us? Where do we need to go to get that guy because team ‘X’ needs a ‘whatever’ position. That’s all part, I think, of the intrigue, the game of poker that this is.”

Poker is made tougher when competitors know what you need most. Opposition research is prevalent, and the Raiders will have a strong sense of where teams will lean on draft day, but coming out of the first four picks without a dynamic edge rusher, even if Alabama interior lineman Quinnen Williams goes at No. 4, puts the Raiders in a pickle.

Going for the best available may be wise in the long run, but will the Raiders be able to work their way into a quality edge rusher (or two) with trades or luck or pre-draft deception? They seemed set on offensive tackle last year once the elite prospects were gone, with Mike McGlinchey and Kolton Miller as top options. They traded down an got the tackle they wanted and needed.

They would jump the moon if Ohio State’s Nick Bosa shockingly fell to No. 4 this year. Josh Allen is considered a top 5 pick. Montez Sweat and Rashan Gary should be gone in the top 10. Clelin Ferrell and Brian Burns are likely gone before the Raiders pick again at No. 24.

The Raiders must address other needs as well, and don’t want to extended beyond the draft board too far with so many top draft slots available. Mayock says the Raiders need four foundational players in this draft, regardless of position. One of them better be an edge rusher, sparking the age-old debate of best player versus need.

[RELATED: Why trading down could help Raiders find foundation pieces]

“I’m the son of a coach and I know how coaches think, and coaches think need,” Mayock said. “And we are a coach-driven building, our coaches are highly involved and that’s good. I embrace that. The flip side is you can’t reach, you got to use some common sense and that’s what I preach upstairs.

Is that if we are in a situation where if two similarly rated players and one is a higher position of need, great, let’s go get him, but if there is a discount, a disparity between two let’s not reach for need because the more you do that, the more you dilute your roster, and that’s a conversation we’ve had a lot.”

Mark Davis, John Madden, others remember Raiders legend Willie Brown

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AP

Mark Davis, John Madden, others remember Raiders legend Willie Brown

Willie Brown was beloved inside the Raiders organization, and out. The Hall of Fame cornerback and Silver and Black mainstay made a positive impression on most everyone, no matter how long they were with the franchise.

That has been clear on social media, with condolences and memories told from so many who met him after news broke Tuesday that Brown had died at 78 years old.

Raiders owner Mark Davis knew Brown as well as anyone. He was close with the entire Davis family, including late owner Al Davis and Mark’s mother Carol. That’s a main reason why Brown’s death hit Mark Davis hard.

“It’s a very sad day for the Raider Nation as a whole, and for my family in particular,” Davis said in a statement. "Willie Brown was one of the greatest to ever play the game. But it was off the field, and how he treated my mom for which I will forever be indebted to him.

"Every road trip, it was Willie who helped my mom up and down the stairs of the plane. It was Willie who joined her for all dinners on the road. It was Willie who came to her every birthday and Mother’s Day dinner. It was Willie who was her best friend. We loved and will miss you, Willie.”

Former Raiders head coach John Madden also expressed his sorrow for Brown’s loss.

“Willie Brown was a true Raider and one of the best cornerbacks that ever played the game,” Madden said in a statement. “It was a comfort to a coach to be able to have Willie Brown in the defensive backfield. Willie was a good guy, a team captain, and a true Raider from the day he joined our team in 1967, until he passed away today.

"He will be missed by me and the entire Raiders organization.”

Those not old enough to remember Brown’s playing days or his work as a coach certainly know about his tradition of wishing an early “Happy Mother’s Day,” before announcing the team’s second-round pick. He read Derek Carr’s name back in 2014, a moment the quarterback never will forget.

Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement about Brown’s passing, remembering the dominant player and the Raiders ambassador.

"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Raiders' great Willie Brown,” Goodell’s statement read. “As a player, coach, and executive, Willie served as a tremendous ambassador for the Raiders and football for more than 50 years. He will forever be immortalized by NFL Films with his iconic 75-yard interception return in Super Bowl XI as he ran straight into the camera and our imaginations.

"After a remarkable 16-year Pro Football Hall of Fame career that he began as an undrafted free agent, Willie went on to become a Raiders coach and later a member of the team's front office. Willie lived the Raiders' motto "Commitment to Excellence" with integrity and touched the lives of hundreds of NFL players with his wisdom and wit. Willie was always a welcome guest at the NFL Draft and I enjoyed visiting with him each year. He was always enthusiastic and optimistic about the Raiders' picks and upcoming season.

"We extend our condolences to Willie's family, the Raiders organization, and fans around the world."

NFL trade deadline: Pros, cons on players Raiders could try to acquire

NFL trade deadline: Pros, cons on players Raiders could try to acquire

The Raiders have made several huge trades during the Jon Gruden era. The latest came Monday, shipping former first-round draft pick Gareon Conley to Houston for a third-round pick.

A full week remains before the Oct. 29 NFL trade deadline, leaving plenty of time to make more moves to either acquire talent or draft capital vital to this roster rebuild.

The Raiders are in an interesting spot at 3-3, currently the AFC’s No. 7 seed, sitting just outside the playoff picture. They’re a half-game behind Houston for a coveted postseason spot and play the Texans on Sunday in a pivotal conference matchup nearing the season’s halfway point.

The Raiders will be active discussing trade possibilities over the next week and are expected to be buyers, armed with two first-round picks and three third-rounders. They can go after most anyone they want, though the capital is vital to the long-term plan of building a young foundation through the NFL draft.

It’s hard to see the Raiders shipping a first-round pick, but those third-round selections could come in handy this week. That could mean they essentially trade Conley from a position of strength -- they’re deep and young at cornerback -- and use one of the third-rounders to fortify a position of weakness without hindering them much on draft day.

It’s hard to predict what Gruden will do, except this: He’s not afraid to be bold. Whether the deal works out is another matter, but he could try to accelerate the team’s progress with a big move in trade.

Here are a few targets the Raiders should consider, that could help rush the passer, add linebacker depth or even contribute to a receiver corps being revamped as this season goes along, with pros and cons of adding a particular player.

DL Michael Bennett, New England Patriots

Pros: Bennett doesn’t seem thrilled with his role in New England and was suspended against the Jets after an argument with his position coach. He’s well into his 30s but has always gotten to the quarterback and would have a huge presence along the Raiders defensive front. He would naturally fit a four-man front and help against the run and pass.

Given his perceived dissatisfaction in New England and willingness to speak his mind, the price might not be excessive to land someone so talented. He’s older, but can still play at a high level.

Cons: He’s set to make $7 million in his age 34 season, but his 2020 employment is based on a team option, per overthecap.com. While an increased role in Oakland is a lock, continued winning is not. Might he be upset getting shipped from a Super Bowl favorite to a team that could fall out of the playoff picture?

DE Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals

Pros: Dunlap worked with Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther for years and should be able to step right in and contribute due to his scheme knowledge. He’s a massive player at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds. He only had one sack this season but has been getting pressure and is a guy who has at least eight sacks for six straight seasons. He’s going to produce.

He’s 30 now, and should still have some good years left. Dunlap could also mentor a fleet of young Raiders pass rushers while anchoring one end. He’s also under contract and could be an expensive, yet controllable asset they could move on from if thing don’t work out long term.

Cons: This is a big one. Dunlap hasn’t played since Week 5 due to a knee injury but has been shockingly durable throughout his career. He also doesn’t come cheap, with hefty base salaries of $7.8 million in 2020 and $10.1 million in 2021. They can afford those sums or get out from under them if he doesn’t work out long term.

Edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan, Washington

Pros: The Raiders need production up front, and Kerrigan could certainly provide that. He has never had less than nine sacks in his career and has 97 over eight-plus seasons. He isn’t cheap but is coming up on the end of his deal, with Washington unlikely to be competitive before it expires.

The Raiders could add a leader and regular producer up front to anchor the line and take pressure off younger players to make an instant impact. He’s owed $11.5 million in base salary next season but the number isn’t guaranteed. The Raiders could rent, or lock in his 2020 salary and keep him around to start their Las Vegas run.

Cons: Kerrigan has logged a lot of miles already, hovering around 850 snaps a season since his rookie year. He also isn’t a perfect scheme fit, generally known as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He is 249 pounds and could rush off the edge in a more tradition 4-3 Raiders front. He also only has three sacks thus far, but production could increase by getting off a bad team.

Another hitch: Washington might make a Kerrigan trade cost prohibitive considering how well liked this long-tenured edge rusher is. It takes two to tango. Will Washington dance?

LB Preston Brown, Cincinnati Bengals

Pros: Brown seems to have fallen out of favor in Cincinnati and could be available for cheap. That’s because he has struggled this season, so he should be available for cheap. The Raiders don’t necessarily need a starting linebacker, with Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow playing most every snap.

They are woefully thin at that spot, however, and Brown could learn the scheme while providing depth and injury protection at an important spot. It might cost a draft pick way down the board, which might make this depth acquisition a possibility.

Cons: Will this move change the Raiders fortunes? Probably not, unless Morrow or Whitehead get hurt. One could argue for saving the draft pick over making the trade, but the Raiders are so thin there. It depends on how much confidence they have in Justin Phillips to play significant snaps if a player goes down.

WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Pros: When healthy, he’s a true No. 1 receiver who must be respected and feared. That’s something the Raiders don’t have and is the missing link for a truly dominant offense. Green would also set the receiver corps right, with Tyrell Williams as a No. 2 and solid options in Zay Jones and Trevor Davis after that.

If he can get healthy soon after a bad ankle injury, he could help the Raiders down the stretch and become a free agent at season’s end.

Cons: There are a few problems with this move. Green won’t be cheap despite possibly being a rental. He also isn’t expected to return until after the trade deadline, so there’s no sure thing he gets back to 100 percent this season.

[RELATED: Why Conley trade might not be Raiders' last before deadline]

Also, how many receivers should the Raiders trade for? They’ve acquired three since March. And don’t forget that this NFL draft class is loaded with quality receivers.

They’re better off standing pat at the position and grabbing an excellent, controllable prospect this spring.