Raiders

NFL free agency grades: Raiders' huge moves, big names just the start

mayockusatsi.jpg
USATSI

NFL free agency grades: Raiders' huge moves, big names just the start

The Raiders made some huge moves over the last week. Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock were aggressive in pursuit of players in their prime who can help the team now and through the Raiders’ transition to Las Vegas. They didn’t drop a few bucks. They spent big, handing out four contracts averaging eight figures per season.

They aren’t done yet, with a few needs left to fill with veteran talent and a few of their own to re-sign before shifting focus to a 2019 NFL draft in which they have four picks in the top 35 overall.

Let’s take a look at what the Raiders have done so far during the NFL free agency period, including one big trade:

WR Antonio Brown

Trades are all about what you got versus what you gave up. Gruden and Mayock didn’t fork over much for a four-time All-Pro receiver considered high among the game’s elite. Just a third-rounder and a fifth-round pick, in fast. The Raiders paid Brown some pretty pennies -- $50.125 million over three years, with $30 million guaranteed -- to go along with the trade, but standard production will make him worth the expense. Some say adding a nearly 31-year-old won’t help the Raiders’ long-term rebuilding project, that he might not be dominant when the Silver and Black are deep enough to compete for titles.

He makes the 2019 Raiders a lot better, a welcome turn after playing 2018 without Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper or trade return for them. He also gives the Raiders star power they can put on a billboard in Oakland and Las Vegas, something important as they relocate.

Brown aced his introductory press conference, promising to lead and set a new standard for his position group and the entire team. If that happens, the Raiders get an A-plus here. If he gets frustrated by losing more than he’s used to and becomes a distraction, the Raiders aren’t getting a good return on investment. There’s a strong belief Brown will continue producing for years, which is the most important factor in any deal.

Grade: B-plus

OT Trent Brown

Brown signed a four-year, $66 million contract with $36.75 million guaranteed, the largest ever for an NFL offensive tackle. The deal was complete less than 10 minutes after the free-agency negotiating window opened. It was, as Brown put it, and offer he couldn’t refuse. Can’t blame him for that.

Drafting and developing such premium positions is more cost effective, but it’s a crapshoot even with solid player vetting. The Raiders like 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller, but were concerned enough about third-rounder Brandon Parker to make a bold move for Trent Brown.

That’s a ton of money for someone who isn’t even locked in to play left tackle. He and 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller will bookend the offensive line for years, and Brown will look to continue last year’s excellent play, good enough to produce a record-breaking contract. Brown’s a good player, really good in fact. But, again, that’s a lot of money. Tough to live up to that contract.

Grade: C-plus

DB Lamarcus Joyner

The Raiders desperately needed help at free safety and a slot cornerback. Joyner fills both needs. He’s adept playing both and will switch between the two positions as a three-down player. The Raiders could still use another defensive back for depth, but he gives experience and leadership to an otherwise young secondary. He should compliment Karl Joseph on the back end, and provide speed a stability deep the Raiders haven’t had in years.

While $42 million over four years is a lot, the $16.7 million guaranteed goes quickly. It’s gone after a 2020 roster bonus, so the Raiders can cut bait after two years without dead money if the deal doesn’t work out. That allows the Raiders to maintain flexibility as they move forward and find the proper mix to play better defense.

Joyner’s the only new defender signed thus far – defense should be the focus of the NFL draft -- a real swing and miss for a unit that needs veteran leadership. Joyner was a good get, however, and should be a strong addition to the secondary.

Grade: A-minus

WR Tyrell Williams

The Raiders upgraded their receiver corps not once but twice in a week, adding Brown and this 6-foot-4 deep threat to the pattern. Gruden has a goal, to form the NFL’s best receiver corps. That group was devoid of talent last year, and pairing Brown and Williams provides a significant upgrade to the passing game. Williams is a gamer, someone who can play every receiver position if required. He has averaged nearly 16 yards per reception and having someone who can make big plays should further add a dynamic quality receiver to the offense.

He didn’t come cheap -- Williams signed a $44 million contract with $22 million guaranteed -- especially for someone who will be a clear-cut No. 2 receiver. He will benefit from the attention paid to Brown, offering plenty of single-coverage that could lead to solid and steady production.

Gruden likes big, consistent, smart receivers. Williams checks every box and should be a productive member of the Raiders' offense. He’s another free-agent signing who can help stabilize an offense that dropped off the map too often. Some may shudder at his contract when compared to his stats, but he capitalized on a weak free-agent receiver class and was able to charge top dollar. The Raiders had to pay the going rate for a good receiver.

Grade: A-minus

DT Johnathan Hankins

The Raiders came away impressed with Hankins, who signed on early during the 2018 regular season and made a real impact on the defensive interior. He’s a steady run stopper with pass-rush ability in his past. He fits in well with what the Raiders like to do at nose tackle, an important post that allows others to make plays.

Hankins came at a decent rate, for $8.5 million and $5.25 million guaranteed over two seasons, with most of the payout coming next year when the Raiders are in Las Vegas. He’s an important, albeit unheralded part of a defensive line rotation. Even though he’s retention wasn’t considered a big move, it’s an important one as the Raiders build depth on defense.

Grade: B

S Erik Harris

Harris is a solid special teams player who last year proved able to impact games on defense. Good teams need guys like that, who can play every down in the kicking game and fill in specific roles or larger ones as a reserve without missing a beat.

The Raiders secured Harris for two seasons instead of letting him test restricted free agency this year or unrestricted free agency in 2020. He also saw safety depth in this free agent class and jumped at the opportunity for more security than a one-year tender.

If the Raiders don’t add a safety in the draft, Harris could fill in at free safety when Joyner moves into the slot. Gruden loves Harris and has no problem rewarding special teams leaders. He’ll play important roles this year.

Grade: A-minus

Raiders schedule predictions: Wins, losses projected for 2019 season

Raiders schedule predictions: Wins, losses projected for 2019 season

Year 1 of Jon Gruden's second reign in Oakland brought a lot of excitement but it didn't translate to wins on the field.

The Raiders traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for a host of draft picks that should help them rebuild the roster into a contender under Gruden. After going 4-12 in 2018, the climb back toward the playoffs begins in 2019 when the Raiders' offense will be much more potent thanks to the addition of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams.

Every year, one or two teams surprises and make a leap from cellar-dweller to playoff contender, and the Raiders certainly have the makeup of a team that could do that.

With the 2019 schedule having been released, let's go game-by-game and see how the Silver and Black will fare this season.

VIEW RAIDERS GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS HERE

Raiders 2019 schedule analysis: Brutal road stretch could define season

rodgerscarrap.jpg
AP

Raiders 2019 schedule analysis: Brutal road stretch could define season

Early portions of the Raiders’ last season Oakland won’t actually be played in Oakland. The season’s first half is dominated by a brutal road stretch that runs from Weeks 3-8, with a home game against the Bears given to London followed by a bye.

The season’s first half features five road games (counting the London affair) in seven contest, four playoff teams, Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau and a tough Vikings team in Minneapolis.

That’s just brutal. There’s no way around it.

A midseason run of three straight home games leads to another stretch of four road games over their final six, making it tough to overcome a brutal start to the season. The Raiders are still in rebuild mode even after an expensive offseason full of signings and the Antonio Brown trade, but this schedule sure makes it tough to improve results this season.

Biggest must-watch game

This one takes place across the Atlantic, most likely because the Raiders didn’t want it in Oakland. The sight of Khalil Mack sacking Derek Carr at Oakland Coliseum might’ve been too much for the home team to take after a controversial 2018 trade that sent Mack to Chicago for a significant draft capital not yet used.

Mack made eyes on Twitter at news of that Bears-Raiders date, coming on Oct. 6 at London’s Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium. He’ll circle it on the calendar for sure, and be ready for Jon Gruden and a Raiders team looking to get a win over an old friend they didn’t want to pay.

You won’t have to wake up super early for this one, as is required for some London games. It kicks off at 10 a.m. PT, so fans can see an important clash the Raiders want to win but shipped abroad just in case they don’t.

It will also mark the team’s fifth international home game in six years, and surely the last for some time. The Raiders won’t be giving home games away when they’re scheduled to move to Las Vegas in 2020.

Where the schedule makers hosed them

The early five-game stretch on the road might be the toughest – undoubtedly the longest – in my 12 seasons covering the NFL. All of their trips are at least two time zones away, including one in the United Kingdom. The competition’s are fierce, putting a premium on as many games as they can steal in two games to start the year. One problem there: The Kansas City Chiefs come to town in Week 2, meaning there’s a real chance the Raiders start the 2019 season in a big hole.

Where the schedule makers helped them

This one’s tough to find. The Raiders have a three-game home series just after midseason, with two against beatable teams. The L.A. Chargers sandwich games against Cincinnati and Detroit, but the good times don’t last the team finishes with four of six on the road.

What the prime-time schedule tells us

That Raiders stunk last season. Teams that struggle the year before generally don’t get a lot of high-profile time slots, so it’s no shock the Raiders play two night games all season and one is a Thursday night affair everybody gets. Even the Monday Night Football game comes as the second half of a double header, meaning most of the East Coast will be in bed when that game kicks off.

Bye week significance

Teams always get a bye after playing in England. This year is no exception. The Raiders will hope to lick wounds after playing Kansas City, then road games at Minnesota and Indianapolis before playing Chicago in London. They must come out of the bye healthy and ready to feast on a rare weak portion of the schedule.

Revenge narratives

We could single out Vontaze Burfict playing Cincinnati or Brandon Marshall going up against Denver twice next year, but there’s a great chance Jon Gruden holds up the 2019 slate and encourages players to stick it to schedule makers who put them in a bad spot.

[RELATED: Game-by-game predictions]

Raiders vs. NFL schedule makers is certainly sexier.

The Raiders didn’t have a 2019 stadium lined up until well past the NFL’s preference. Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted an answer for where the Raiders would play in early February to give schedule makers time to set 2019 up, but an Oakland Coliseum agreement came far later and wasn’t formally approved until the owners meetings. Conspiracy theorists will have fun with that one to be sure, as the team’s last season in Oakland will be defined by how Gruden’s Raiders handle a brutal 2018 slate.