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


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

NFL rumors: Raiders could be free-agent option for QB Philip Rivers

NFL rumors: Raiders could be free-agent option for QB Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers and the Raiders have locked horns for the last 16 years.

But now that the veteran signal-callers time with the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers is over, could Rivers really turn in his powder blues for silver and black?

When discussing the 38-year-old's free-agent options Wednesday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport noted the Raiders could be an option for Rivers if the Indianapolis Colts don't bring him in.

Alright, the Tom Brady rumors I understand. He's the GOAT, and if he wants to come, you agree to accelerate the rebuild and make it happen

But Rivers? No shot. Zero. Zilch. Not gonna happen.

First of all, Rivers looked completely and utterly washed last season for the Bolts. Yes, he racked up the yards (4,615) but he also threw 20 interceptions and looked pretty awful in both of his showings against the Raiders, who weren't exactly trotting out the '85 Chicago Bears on defense.

We also seem to forget that Derek Carr is the starting quarterback and is coming off an efficient season that saw the Raiders sitting at 6-4 through 10 games. A lack of weapons and Antonio Brown's preseason meltdown hampered Carr's overall production, but general manager Mike Mayock said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine that he was "pleased" with his quarterback. 

Mayock did, however, say the Raiders would look to upgrade any and all positions.

The keyword there is "upgrade." Rivers, at 38 and way over the hill and rolling into the valley, doesn't fit the description.

The Raiders are a young, rebuilding team hoping to take another step. Not a fully finished product in need of a competent quarterback to take them up a notch. And at this stage, Rivers certainly wouldn't be an upgrade over Carr.

[RELATED: Raiders should do whatever it takes to draft Isaiah Simmons]

If the Raiders do elect to move on from Carr, it will be for Brady. That's the list. They aren't going to trade up for Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert. Teddy Bridgewater isn't coming to town.

It's Carr or Brady. Rivers isn't in the equation.

NFL Draft 2020: Isaiah Simmons is answer to Raiders' linebacker problem

NFL Draft 2020: Isaiah Simmons is answer to Raiders' linebacker problem

In the age of wide-open, versatile offenses, the Raiders' defense is being left in the dust.

The lack of premiere talent at linebacker is a key reason why. The Raiders put all their eggs in the Vontaze Burfict basket last season. He played solid for four games before being jettisoned for the rest of the season by the NFL after a questionable hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle. 

Even with Burfict on the field, the Raiders had no one to match up with opposing tight ends. They tried moving cornerback Daryl Worley inside against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13, but he was bodied by Travis Kelce. The linebackers struggled in coverage no matter who it was against. Tahir Whitehead allowed a 150.5 passer rating when targeted, the worst number for an off-ball linebacker in the NFL.

In other words: The Raiders must address the linebacker position this offseason. They can't put it off any longer.

With two picks in the top 19, the Raiders will have a decision to make. Do they trade up to draft Clemson star Isaiah Simmons or do they lay back and choose between LSU's Patrick Queen and Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray at No. 19? Or do they elect to go to free agency to pick up a linebacker and fill other needs in the draft?

Let's take a look at their draft options.

Isaiah Simmons: The Athletic Mutant

Simply put, Simmons is the perfect linebacker for the modern NFL. 

He's 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and can play all over the field. During his junior season at Clemson, Simmons recorded 299 snaps at inside linebacker, 262 at slot cornerback, 132 at free safety, 116 at outside linebacker and 100 at strong safety. Simmons is of the Derwin James mold but in a bigger package. He's Brian Urlacher with an extra gear.

Now, it's one thing to play all over the field and it's another to be effective at it. Simmons was incredible no matter where he was, especially when in coverage. Per Pro Football Focus, Simmons earned an above-average coverage grade at every position he lined up at. During his career at Clemson, Simmons had a career coverage grade of 92.5 and only allowed 6 yards per target.

Perfect for the modern NFL, Simmons can cover tight ends, run sideline-to-sideline with running backs, blanket slot guys and make plays in the middle of the field as a safety.

He also was extremely effective at getting after the quarterback. Simmons pressured the passer on 32.9 percent of his rushes, the highest of any power-five defender.

In order for the Raiders to make him the lynchpin of their defense, they likely will have to trade up. 

If there's any doubt they are thinking about it, Mayock gushed about Simmons and his versatility Tuesday.

"You start looking at guys on offense who can play in the slot, running back, be H-backs, there's really not a label for them," Mayock said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "They are just either dynamic players or they are not. And then you start looking about trying to match up with those guys on defense and when you start looking in any division, particularly ours, and the tight ends that we have to play in our divisions. You kind of go, 'Who matches up? If we want to play man coverage who can match up with those type of guys? The big guys that run fast, who do we have?' 

"I think more and more defenses around the league are saying who are the guys you don't have to put a label on, but they are dynamic football players? Isaiah Simmons, he's played in the back end, he's played at linebacker, he's come off the edge and really the only limitations on him are whatever the defensive coordinator puts on him."

Patrick Queen: The Fast Riser

Queen was a star in his first season as a starter in Baton Rouge, La. Built more like a safety at 6-1, 227 pounds, Queen has the sideline-to-sideline range to be a three-down linebacker in the NFL.

Some teams might want to see more film from Queen, but he was a key cog in LSU's title run, making countless plays during the Tigers' historic run. He's physical, athletic, fluid and intelligent and has drawn comparisons to 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander.

He has the skill set to be an immediate starter as a rookie either as a MIKE or WILL and looks to be a dynamic playmaker who won't have to come off the field in nickel packages.

Kenneth Murray: Plug And Play

The third and final first-round option at linebacker for the Raiders is Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray.

Murray is most successful as an off-ball linebacker who is allowed to pursue and wreak havoc. He's an athletic freak, who was prone to missed tackles before cleaning his technique up this past season.

While Murray has incredible range and can wreck an offense with his gap-shooting ability, the Oklahoma product's turn-and-run coverage skills are a work in progress. The range, athleticism and explosiveness have teams hoping he can polish up the rest of his game and be an every-down MIKE linebacker. Even if that doesn't work out, he should be able to be a solid three-down WILL at the NFL level.

[RELATED: Why Raiders shouldn't trade up for Herbert or Tua?]


Simmons is projected to be drafted somewhere between No. 3 and No. 9 overall. The Raiders currently holding the No. 12 and No. 19 picks will watch the first few picks of the draft closely. If teams move up to draft quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, Simmons could slip a touch, giving the Raiders an opening to make a move up and get the guy who has all the skills to be one of their defensive leaders for the foreseeable future.

If the Raiders can swap the No. 12 pick, one their third-round picks (No. 80) and a future pick for the right to move up and snag the Clemson linebacker, it should be a no-brainer for Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden. Simmons will give them the dynamic player the defense has been missing and he would fit in seamlessly with the Clemson-esque culture the Raiders are trying to create.

Due to the deep class of wide receivers, the Raiders still would be able to get an electric weapon like Henry Ruggs at No. 19 overall.

If a deal can be made to bring Simmons to Las Vegas, the move is a no-brainer. A player of his caliber and skill set rarely comes along. Drafting him will be well worth the price.