Editor's note: Here is the first installment of a five-part series on the organization’s top offseason priorities.
The Raiders drafted a first round cornerback three years ago. They might have to do it again this spring. That’s because DJ Hayden hasn’t worked out well and, due to ineffectiveness and Charles Woodson’s retirement, the entire secondary needs a makeover.
That stands as the team’s biggest need heading toward free agency and the NFL draft.
As it stands, cornerback David Amerson is the only defensive back easily penciled into the starting lineup. Last season’s Week 3 waiver claim turned into a productive asset, finishing the season with 60 tackles, a forced fumbles and four interceptions. He set a franchise record with 26 passes defensed and allowed a paltry 66.3 passer rating in 2015.
[BAIR: Cornerback or safety? Carrie open to either spot with Raiders]
TJ Carrie is a versatile asset who could end up as a slot corner or a strong safety depending on depth. Nate Allen was signed to be last year’s starter, but injury killed those hopes. He was cut and subsequently re-signed to a short-term deal that could equal his original 2016 salary through incentives. After a pair of knee injuries last year, Allen must prove he can stay healthy.
Woodson’s absence will be felt on the field – he played 1,132 snaps despite a lingering Week 1 shoulder injury – and in the locker room where he was the unquestioned alpha.
Hayden hasn’t panned out since being selected No. 12 overall in 2013. Injuries hampered him for two years, but he fell out of the starting lineup last year during his first healthy season.
Most reserves played on expiring contracts, leaving several vacancies in a secondary in desperate need of upgrades.
Let’s be honest. The Raiders need one cornerback, maybe more. They need a starting safety high in the draft or from veteran free agency. Depth and talent is required to make this defense strong, especially with head coach Jack Del Rio’s preference.
The Raiders have resources to spend on this vital position group to fortify it for the present and future. They’re also at a point where glaring needs are narrowing, and the Raiders can really focus on upgrades.
A high draft pick might end up as a defensive back – even at No. 14 overall – even if the team signs some quality free agents. Los Angeles’ Janoris Jenkins, Kansas City’s Sean Smith and Green Bay’s Casey Hayward are veteran options at cornerback, while Cincinnati’s George Iloka and Reggie Nelson or San Diego’s Eric Weddle could be safety options to shore up the secondary before the draft hits.