The Raiders surfed NFL free agency’s initial waves using a draft-like approach. They searched for the best available player at the best value, and locked down four write-their-names-in-pen starters in a highly competitive marketplace.
It would’ve been silly, and a bit stubborn, to target specific needs given the state of the Raiders' roster. Laser focus isn’t smart with so many upgrades required. They can’t fill them all at once, which is why general manager Mike Mayock has his head on a swivel.
He and head coach Jon Gruden have instructed the Raiders to be nimble, and following those orders has Antonio Brown, Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams now playing in silver and black.
Those guys provide instant, albeit unbalanced upgrades because most of them play offense.
That has to leave Paul Guenther tapping the table, wondering when it’s going to be his turn. Joyner will undoubtedly help, but he doesn’t play defensive end. The Raiders need a veteran edge rusher something fierce, even if he’s a rotational player with sage advice. Veteran cornerback depth couldn’t hurt, either, with so many young returners set for prominent roles.
That’s not what the Raiders got and, unless a big-name like Justin Houston signs up late, they aren’t expected to significantly impact the defense until the NFL draft.
Spending has been so obviously lopsided that Mark Connor (@The509Raider) made Guenther a meme.
The Raiders have dropped serious cash on offense and are looking to draft and develop their defensive unit. That might be better in the long run, but could hurt the Raiders competitiveness right away.
There are only three defenders among the team’s top-10 salaries, and just five defenders are currently making more than $2 million next season and aren’t still on their rookie contract. Those guys get paid a small percentage of next year’s salary cap, as the Raiders try to improve through.
The Raiders have four opportunities to strike draft gold in the top 35, and are expected to use the majority of them on defense. That includes No. 4 overall, where an elite defensive lineman should be available.
If the defense is to rebound from a franchise worst points allowed last year, Mayock and Gruden must hit on talent Guenther can work with. Getting two full-time starters from that bunch would be a coup. Get three and bust out the ticker tape.
Expecting immediate returns from the draft can be tricky. Even good pros can take time to develop. Free agency’s a crapshoot with raised limits, but expensive players in their prime can often fit right in.
Bottom line: the Raiders defense needed some free agent help beyond Joyner and didn’t get it. Critiquing the Gruden/Mayock strategy is still tough to knock because trading for Antonio Brown wasn’t part of the plan, and he ate cash that could’ve helped the defense.
Also, the edge-rusher market was obscene. Second-tier talents were getting top dollar because the free-agent class’ elite were franchise tagged. And this isn’t meant as to recall the Khalil Mack trade when I say Gruden was inherently right to say good pass rushers are hard to find.
They're often fool's gold in free agency. Getting one at No. 4 in the draft, or in a slight trade seems essential at this stage.
The Raiders probably need two edge rushers, and maybe a middle linebacker and some defensive back depth. They could address each spot with the early picks. But...can Gruden refrain from taking more offensive talent in the first 35?
He might warrant one early pick, max, or risk setting Guenther further behind in a defensive rebuild that didn’t get much veteran help.