Raiders

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

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Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

The Raiders have the salary-cap flexibility and draft picks required to significantly upgrade a talent-deficient defense. That unit was 30th in rushing, 19th against the pass and dead freaking last in points allowed.

Coordinator Paul Guenther needs more frontline talent and depth on his side of the ball, though there are a few members of the 2018 defense that will be counted on again next season.

Let’s take a look at the defensive starting lineup up as it stands heading into the offseason, and whether the Raiders can write those players in pencil, ink or a series of question marks where a name should be:

Defensive line

DE: ???
NT: Justin Ellis (ink)
DT: Maurice Hurst (ink)
DE: Arden Key (pencil)
Sub-package help: DT P.J. Hall (pencil)

The Raiders will be looking for upgrades across the defensive line, making it hard to put many names down with certainty. Both edge-rushing spots are up for grabs, with one vacant and likely filled by a veteran or high draft pick.

Key’s at the other end spot right now, but another import could take that spot as well. The LSU product could be an impactful situational pass rusher while developing skills, but was forced to play beyond that role. Dialing things back might be in his best interest.

The Raiders like Hurst a great deal, and have Ellis ready for the base defense. Another interior lineman could join the rotation, or even compete for serious snaps. The Raiders must get better up front, especially off the edges, and should spend significant capital to do so.

Linebackers

SLB: Marquel Lee (pencil)
MLB: ???
WLB: Tahir Whitehead (ink)
Jason Cabinda and Nick Morrow are available – Cabinda’s an exclusive rights free agent but should be back -- to assume the middle linebacker spot they manned last season. Both guys had solid moments working in a platoon, but an upgrade seems to be the right call here.

The Raiders could use a higher draft pick to get a middle linebacker, or bring in a veteran in free agency. Competition seems a necessary addition at the very least, though outright presumptive starter is the way to go. Lee performed well after moving to the strong side from the middle, but that position doesn’t play a ton with defenses in sub packages so often. His name’s still in pencil in case the Raiders snag an athletic edge rushing type who would play strongside linebacker and move to the line in sub packages.

The Raiders defense has lots of issues, and Whitehead isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. The veteran should return to the three-down role he held in 2018.

Secondary

CB: Gareon Conley (ink)
FS: ???
SS: Karl Joseph (ink)
CB: ???
Slot: Nick Nelson (pencil)
Conley will own one cornerback spot. Daryl Worley is expected to man the other, but we can't put him down yet. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason, and while the Raiders want to bring him back, there’s no telling what the open market will bear and whether the Raiders will match any offer or offer a high-round contract tender. There is a strong, belief, however, that Worley will be back.

Joseph showed great improvement down the stretch, and should be given an opportunity to develop further and bring physicality to the defense while attempting to be more of a big-play maker.

Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson are unrestricted free agentd and Erik Harris is restricted. Harris will likely return, but the Raiders should still look for an upgrade here in the starting lineup, either through free agency or the draft. ... Coaches like Nelson, who struggled some after losing valuable development time recovering from an offseason knee injury.

The Raiders could bring in some competition there, even as cornerback depth with Rashaan Melvin not expected back. A versatile corner could challenge and/or push Nelson over the spring and summer.

Raiders, 49ers less affected by Jaylon Ferguson's NFL Scouting Combine ban

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Raiders, 49ers less affected by Jaylon Ferguson's NFL Scouting Combine ban

The Raiders and 49ers have already spent significant time with Jaylon Ferguson during the pre-NFL-draft process.

The Senior Bowl provided both teams an opportunity to evaluate him up close during an intense practice week and the college all-star game itself. The Louisiana Tech edge rusher worked with the 49ers-led South squad, which spent part of one day with North coaches from the Raiders.

“(The Senior Bowl) is a great opportunity because both teams coaching here are looking for pass rushers,” Ferguson said early in the Senior Bowl week. “I feel like I’m one of the top pass rushers in this class, and I get my chance to show that I’m coachable and that I can rush the passer.”

Ferguson’s right. The Raiders and 49ers need help off the edge, and the NCAA’s all-time sack leader can certainly rush the passer. Ferguson also had a chance to showcase that quality, his work ethic and character working with the Bay Area teams at the Senior Bowl, something that will prove harder to do with others after getting his NFL Scouting Combine invite revoked.

Ferguson was disinvited after a background check turned up a simple battery conviction that disqualified him from combine participation, per NFL rules. According to NFL Network, the league told clubs that players wouldn’t be invited if they had prior convictions involving violence.

Ferguson's incident was not news to those working with him at the Senior Bowl.

Missing the combine is a major blow to Ferguson, a smaller-school talent hoping to show he has the tools to compete with top competition. He also planned to use the combine to show he has grown from past mistakes.

The NFL’s decision was unpopular around the league and with Ferguson’s agency, STL Sports Group, which issued this statement Thursday morning:

“We disagree with the NFL’s position with regards to Jaylon Ferguson. Jaylon is a great person who made a mistake 4 years ago before he started playing college football. He was involved in a scuffle that resulted in him being charged with misdemeanor simple battery. He received a deferred judgment and $189.00 fine, A Proper punishment for a fight between two teenagers. Since that day Jaylon has been a fine and upstanding student-athlete that personifies the things we are trying to teach our young people today. The past four years at Louisiana Tech Jaylon has been a team leader who has led on and off the field clearly learning from the lessons of his past. As opposed to penalizing and vilifying the future players of the league, we would hope the league would allow Jaylon and other similarly situated players the opportunity to prove to potential employers that they are remorseful, and have learned from their mistakes, accepted responsibility, want to be good role models and are better people now for it. No person is perfect, and people are entitled to second chances and opportunities and one would hope the NFL as an open-minded Industry Leader, Diverse League and Business would want to see the best in their players, educate them and help them mature, learn and be better people.”

[RELATED: Flacco trade could impact Raiders, 49ers in NFL draft]

Ferguson will still have opportunities to speak with teams during private facility visits and show physical skill at Louisiana Tech’s pro day.

That will be important after missing combine drills, so he can prove similar to a role model the Raiders drafted and the 49ers tried to acquire via trade.

“I model my game after Khalil Mack,” Ferguson said at the Senior Bowl. “He’s an aggressive guy who can transfer speed to power and is a big, strong man. That’s my game right there.”

Raiders, Oakland Coliseum re-engaged in lease discussions for 2019

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Raiders, Oakland Coliseum re-engaged in lease discussions for 2019

OAKLAND – The Raiders have re-engaged in talks to play the 2019 season at the Oakland Coliseum. The Silver and Black abandoned them back in December, when the city of Oakland sued the Raiders and the NFL for antitrust violations and breach of contract.

The Raiders took a $7.5 million lease extension offer off the table after the lawsuit was filed, and began exploring other venues to play one final season before relocating to Las Vegas in 2020.

The Silver and Black returned to the table late last week, Coliseum Authority executive chairman Scott McKibben told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday afternoon. McKibben characterized talks as meaningful and productive, and he is set to address the Coliseum Authority's board of commissioners in a closed session on Friday at 8:30 a.m.

A Raiders official did not immediately return a text seeking comment.

The Raiders were previously engaged in discussions with the San Francisco Giants to play next season at Oracle Park. Those talks produced an agreement in principle that was never executed.

The 49ers would not waive their territorial rights to the city of San Francisco, given to them specifically in the NFL’s bylaws. The NFL had some say in the matter, though a source told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco that unanimous vote of NFL owners would have been required to allow the Raiders to play there.

The Raiders have long said they were exploring options in the Bay Area and other markets, but the team seemed to prefer a local choice while continuing to practice at their Alameda training facility.

Oakland Coliseum wasn’t preferable due to the legal action, and owner Mark Davis voiced dislike for Levi’s Stadium – an NFL venue built to house two teams – even before the Raiders’ relationship with the 49ers grew cold.

[RELATED: Should Raiders pursue Antonio Brown trade with Steelers?]

While the Raiders still don’t have a home venue, a decision could come soon. The team’s 2018 lease with Oakland Coliseum ends on Wednesday, so the Coliseum Authority hoped to have some clarity on the Raiders' intentions.

A return to the table is a significant move, especially considering the sides had previously discussed a lease extension. That said, it doesn’t necessarily lock down a pact. There’s work yet to be done in that regard.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week that he hopes a resolution on the Raiders home venue will come in February, so the league can schedule the 2019 season.