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.

What Mike Mayock's past NFL draft rankings can tell us about Raiders


What Mike Mayock's past NFL draft rankings can tell us about Raiders

Before joining the Raiders as their general manager back in December, Mike Mayock made his NFL draft priorities clear as an analyst.

He ranked prospects for a decade at NFL Media, becoming a go-to-voice as all eyes in football fixed on the draft every spring. That history could provide some insight into Mayock's plans with the Raiders' top selection, as NFL Media's Ali Bhanpuri observed Friday.

In Mayock's last six rankings of the top 100 draft prospects, defensive ends ranked No. 3 overall on average. Defensive tackles, by contrast ranked No. 7 overall, but defensive linemen were "consistently" at the top of Mayock's big board in each of the last six draft classes he evaluated for NFL Media, according to Bhanpuri.

If there's any draft where that figures to still be the case, it's this one. Top-rated edge rushers Nick Bosa and Josh Allen each met with the Raiders, and so did defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. If the Arizona Cardinals take quarterback Kyler Murray -- which no longer seems like an inevitability -- then the Silver and Black should be able to select one of those three. That's especially true if the New York Jets are able to trade out of the No. 3 spot, which sources told SNY's Ralph Vacchiano is New York's ideal plan, and a team wanting to select a QB moves into New York's place. 

[RELATED: Five players Raiders could target on Day 2 of NFL draft]

As for the Raiders and their reported interest in Kyler Murray, Mayock's history indicates he really would have to be enamored with the signal-caller in order to trade up. In the last six years, Mayock's top five prospects twice included a QB: Marcus Mariota at No. 5 overall in 2015, and Carson Wentz at No. 1 on his big board in 2016. With that in mind, it's difficult to envision the Raiders giving up the draft capital necessary to select Murray if they truly see Derek Carr as their franchise quarterback.

There's much more smoke than fire at this time of year, making predicting what will happen in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday almost as fruitless as predicting at the end of "Avengers: Endgame" when it's released Friday. But Mayock has plenty of recent history to serve as predictive precedent, and the Raiders' first pick Thursday ultimately will show insightful it was.

NFL rumors: Jets 'determined' to trade down from No. 3 pick in draft

NFL rumors: Jets 'determined' to trade down from No. 3 pick in draft

The 2019 NFL Draft is just days away. Between now and Thursday, plenty of things can change, but there reportedly could be a shaker in the draft sitting between the 49ers and the Raiders.

Sources told SNY's Ralph Vacchiano that the Jets are "determined" to trade down from the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. 

"They seem to really, really want to move down," one NFL executive said to Vacchiano. "Maybe they're just keeping their options open, but it sure seems like that No. 3 pick is for sale."

This could affect the 49ers and Raiders in opposite ways.

The 49ers can use this information to their advantage. If they decide to move down and add more draft assets, their price for the No. 2 pick has increased. In the case that quarterback-needy teams want to move up, 49ers general manager John Lynch can pick up the phone and start demanding a megadeal for his top pick.

For the Raiders, however, this could be bad news. 

Raiders GM Mike Mayock has been very protective of his big board and how he sees this draft playing out. But now a team possibly could jump Oakland for the exact prospect the Silver and Black want. 

One recent mock draft even has the Raiders trading with the 49ers to get the No. 2 pick and draft ... quarterback Drew Lock. Hey, crazier things have happened.

[RELATED: Five players the Raiders could target at No. 35 on Day 2]

Perhaps more than any other team, however, the Raiders have the greatest package to offer, with three first-round picks to move up and select exactly who they want.

Phones will ring on draft day, and the order is sure to change in one way or another.