Nick Kwiatkoski doesn’t have a massive social media following, but a tweet the veteran linebacker sent out on March 16 quickly went viral.
It didn’t include a single word. It contained a picture of Allegiant Stadium and nothing more, but it was a clear sign that the Las Vegas Raiders had landed their first unrestricted free agent while representing their new market.
Sources later confirmed Kwiatkoski agreed to join the Silver and Black on a three-year, $21 million contract, showing the Raiders were serious about upgrading a long deficient linebacker corps.
The deal came together quickly, on the first day of free agency’s open negotiating window, because Kwiatkoski loved what the Raiders had to say. He would join the Raiders as a full-time, three-down middle linebacker.
“I felt that I’ve earned that spot, and that’s something I looked for in free agency,” Kwiatkoski said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, available in its entirety on the Raiders Talk Podcast. “When they told me that, it was very appealing.”
That wasn’t the only reason the former Chicago Bear signed with the Raiders.
“They called very early and, when I spoke to them, it was very clear there’s an excitement around the whole organization with the move to Las Vegas,” Kwiatkoski said. “That was one of a number of reasons why I [made my decision]. When we played them in London last year and I just loved the mentality they brought to the game where they come right at you. With their defensive scheme, I thought I’d fit right in. I gave it some time and took some other calls, but I ended up thinking the Raiders were the best fit for me.”
There was some thought he’d fit in well as the Bears’ middle linebacker, but that prospect was eliminated when Danny Trevathan signed a contract extension on March 9. Kwiatkoski proved worthy of a starting gig after taking over following Trevathan’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 9.
There was no going back after an excellent eight-game stretch that included 58 tackles, two sacks and interception. Especially, not with teams ready to court him on the open market and make him a major player.
While those numbers look solid, the clip below shows exactly what the Raiders are getting in Kwiatkoski, and he doesn’t even record a stat.
Kwiatkoski put Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook on his back during a Week 4 win over the Vikings, blowing up a play with raw power and aggression.
“That’s an example of how I enjoy playing. I like being physical, going downhill,” Kwiatkoski said. “That’s how I have always played, and I plan on continuing to do that.”
He’ll do that with the Silver and Black, while paired with fellow free-agent addition Cory Littleton.
“He’s a great linebacker,” Kwiatkoski said. “To be able to line up with him and call him my teammate is going to be fun.”
The former LA Ram is a true sideline-to-sideline presence and an excellent coverage linebacker, a perfect complement to Kwiatkoski’s strength going downhill as a run defender and blitzer. The former high school safety, who converted to linebacker at West Virginia, also is confident in coverage and running a defense from the middle linebacker spot.
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Chicago’s fourth-round draft pick back in 2016 always has worked hard and capitalized on opportunities when presented, helping him earn a lucrative deal with a Raiders team counting on him to be a consistent playmaker. Earning this opportunity certainly is a point of pride as he moves on to the next chapter of his career.
“There were definitely times where I got down on myself after certain things happened, but to see how it has all played out … for me, no matter what my role was or what the situation was, I just put my head down and kept working,” Kwiatkoski said. “For that to all payoff is really gratifying. You can only control what you can control, and that’s what I focused on. I never lost sight of my goals. No matter what my role was, I was determined to work like a starter and play each day like it’s my last. For it to work out the way it has, with this new opportunity, it’s really gratifying.”