Raiders have to help Paul Guenther after spending heavily on offense

Raiders have to help Paul Guenther after spending heavily on offense

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.

[RELATED: Mike Mayock explains how Raiders' Antonio Brown trade went from dead to done]

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.

Mike Zimmer has second-guessed Daniel Carlson cut, which led kicker to Raiders


Mike Zimmer has second-guessed Daniel Carlson cut, which led kicker to Raiders

ALAMEDA – The Minnesota Vikings took the first kicker in last year’s NFL draft. They had pick of the litter and chose Daniel Carlson.

The Auburn product was awesome in college, with all the power and accuracy and mental fortitude to be an excellent NFL kicker.

Top talent, however, doesn’t guarantee perfection. Carlson was not that with the Vikings, especially in a Week 2 tie with Green Bay where he missed three field goals.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t pleased, and he cut the fifth-round pick right away.

He had this to say when asked about the swift ax.

“Did you see the game?” Zimmer said last year. He called the decision “pretty easy.”

In hindsight, it may have been made in haste.

Carlson took some time off after that cut to work on his technique in private, and emerged a better kicker for the experience. The Raiders benefitted from that, acquiring a specialist who looks like a long-term solution.

Carlson set a Raiders franchise record for single-season field goal accuracy in 2018, converting 94 percent of his attempts.

It’s possible that Carlson turned things around only after a tough exit from Minnesota, but letting Carlson go has weighed some on Zimmer’s mind.

He said so in a Wednesday conference call leading up to Sunday’s game between the Raiders and Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I mean, do I have regrets?” Zimmer said. “I like our kicker who we have now, but did I second guess it? Sure. He’s done great there, and I think he’s a very, very talented kid. I wish him well, just not this week. But no, I’m happy for him and in retrospect, I guess, yeah, I’ve thought about it many times.”

[RELATED: Why Raiders' Joyner is encouraged by team's mindset]

That thought may have crossed Zimmer’s mind more last season, even with veteran Dan Bailey in purple. He hit just 75 percent of his field goals last season, while Carlson was near perfect.

NFL rumors: Chiefs will be 'primary suitor' for Jalen Ramsey trade

NFL rumors: Chiefs will be 'primary suitor' for Jalen Ramsey trade

The Chiefs probably aren't done giving the Raiders headaches this season, and they might do it on defense when they meet again Dec. 1 in Kansas City. 

Many NFL general managers believe the Chiefs "will emerge as a primary suitor" for disgruntled Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted Tuesday. 

Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill didn't wait long to start recruiting Ramsey on Twitter that morning.

The Raiders saw firsthand what the Chiefs' offense could do in Sunday's 28-10 loss at the Coliseum, but Kansas City's defense hasn't been as strong in the nascent Patrick Mahomes era. The Chiefs allowed the second-most passing yards (4,374) last season, and have given up the 13th-most through two games in 2019. Kansas City revamped its defensive line and added Tyrann Mathieu to its secondary in order to address those defensive deficiencies, but Ramsey's arrival could send the Chiefs defense into another stratosphere.

The 25-year-old is -- at least -- one of the five best cornerbacks in the NFL, with more than enough game to back up his constant trash talk. Pro Football Focus found that, since 2016, just four corners have allowed a lower completion percentage (53.8 percent) than Ramsey.

[RELATED: Why Raiders DB Joyner is encouraged by team's mindset]

Sunday proved that the Raiders won't be competing with the Chiefs for AFC West supremacy this season, but Ramsey's arrival would widen the gap between the two franchises even further -- at least in the immediate future. Given Ramsey's stated desire to play in Las Vegas, such a move would hurt the Silver and Black beyond the franchise's final game at Oakland Coliseum. Ramsey can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season, and the Chiefs can afford him since Mahomes, the reigning NFL MVP, still is playing on his rookie deal.

Acquiring star receiver Antonio Brown blew up in the Raiders' collective faces, but seeing another superstar in Ramsey suit up for a division rival -- that already is a juggernaut -- could sting the Raiders even more.