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' chance to end playoff drought would improve with NFL proposal

Raiders' chance to end playoff drought would improve with NFL proposal

More isn't always better, but in the case of the Raiders, it nearly would have been.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the NFL reportedly is considering a proposal that would expand the postseason structure to add a seventh playoff team to each conference.

If the proposal passes, only one team per conference would receive a first-round bye in the playoffs, as opposed to the top-two seeds under the current format. With the No. 1 seed getting a bye, the No. 2 seed would face the No. 7 seed, No. 3 would face No. 6 and No. 4 would face No. 5 in the wild-card round, with the higher seed playing at home.

Had the proposal been in effect this past season, the Raiders still would have missed out on the postseason, but just barely. At 7-9, they finished a full game behind the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers, who ultimately would have been the seventh team in the AFC playoffs.

Adding to the excruciating factor, one-third of the Raiders' losses came by four or fewer points, including two in the final three weeks of the regular season. If they end up winning those nailbiters as opposed to losing them, that might have been enough to sneak into the postseason under the new proposed format. On the other hand, Pittsburgh lost its final three games of the season, including two by one score, so the Steelers could make the same argument.

[RELATED: Report: Growing sense teams could trade for Raiders QB Carr]

What's done is done, however, and the Raiders have now missed out on the playoffs three years running. Adding another playoff spot would automatically increase their chances of ending that drought in their first season in Las Vegas, but then again, it would do the same for the other 14 teams in the AFC.

NFL rumors: Teams sense opportunity to trade for Raiders QB Derek Carr

NFL rumors: Teams sense opportunity to trade for Raiders QB Derek Carr

The Raiders have a new home and soon will occupy a brand-new stadium. Might they also have a new quarterback under center for the first snap of the 2020 season?

There has been rampant speculation that Las Vegas might be interested in trading for legendary Patriots quarterback Tom Brady or possibly trading up to acquire one of the top QB prospects in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. Should either situation play out, but especially the former, it almost would certainly mean Derek Carr would be moved elsewhere.

Carr carries a $21.5 million cap hit for the 2020 season, and it would be almost impossible to field a competitive team with that much salary allocated to a backup.

Coach Jon Gruden gave a lukewarm endorsement of the quarterback following the Raiders' final season in Oakland, but both he and general manager Mike Mayock have maintained they'll look at every possible way to upgrade the roster for the team's first season in Sin City. Whether or not that means replacing Carr is anyone's guess, but if that's the route they choose to go, it sounds as if they might not have trouble finding a trade partner.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Vincent Bonsignore reported Tuesday night that momentum is building towards teams inquiring with the Raiders about potentially trading for Carr.

Carr has three more seasons left on his current contract, so any team that would acquire him would either need to have ample cap space or send some significant salary back to the Raiders. He'll turn 29 years old next month, and one could argue he's just entering his prime after posting career-bests in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating last season.

[RELATED: Carr unfazed by questions on Raiders future, brother says]

If Carr isn't the Raiders' QB for the first season in Vegas, they better be confident they've found a better fit for the organization moving forward.