Raiders

Raiders LT Penn doesn't sugarcoat it: Return to Tampa Bay 'very huge'

Raiders LT Penn doesn't sugarcoat it: Return to Tampa Bay 'very huge'

TAMPA, Fla. – NFL players are a transient bunch, often switching teams a few times in free agency. That’s why there’s a Raiders homecoming story available almost every week.

Kelechi Olsemele was emotional about playing at Baltimore. Sean Smith faced an old team when the Chiefs came to Oakland. Reggie Nelson played the team that drafted him and later traded him in Jacksonville last game.

Donald Penn’s up this week, though the circumstances are a bit different.

He wanted to remain in Tampa Bay and play out a big contract. The Buccaneers cut him during the 2014 offseason, after eight years of service. He started his last 108 games in Tampa, and went to a Pro Bowl in that span.

Tampa Bay imported free agent Anthony Collins, which made Penn expendable. Tampa Bay made a business move. It was the wrong one.

Collins played one disappointing season and was cut the next year. Donovan Smith has started each game this year and last, but hasn’t been productive.

Penn has meanwhile experienced a career renaissance in Oakland, and is playing quality football at 33 years old. He’s happy being closer to his L.A. home and with a surging Raiders squad. Doing better is the best revenge, but Penn still wants to show well in his return to Tampa Bay. That comes Sunday, when the Raiders complete their Florida road with a contest at Raymond James Stadium.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s very huge,” Penn said Thursday. “You know me, I’m a straight forward guy. That’s definitely in my mind. I mean that’s something I’m never going to forget, when they released me.”

Penn’s playing as well as ever this season. He hasn’t allowed a sack, according to Pro Football Focus statistics, and has given up just one quarterback hit and 12 pressures through seven games. He even slid over to right tackle in a season-opening emergency and fared well in that spot.

“He wants to protect me more than anything,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He gets mad even if his guy, his finger touches my jersey and the balls out. So, when you got guys that it means that much to them to do their job and it means that much to them that it makes them sick, not only to have a sack but for those guys to even touch you, you know you have the right person protecting you.”

Penn has been protecting Carr since he turned pro in 2014, and has kept the young quarterback largely clean over the pass three years. It’s a luxury some quarterbacks don’t have – just ask Derek’s brother David about the importance of pass protection – and Carr would like to keep it that way.

Carr wants five more years out of Penn, who has said he’d seriously consider retirement when his contract expires after next season.

His level of play may change things. Maybe, maybe not.

“Derek stays in my ear about (playing five more),” said Penn, halfway through his 11th season. “After next year, we’ll sit and see how things go. Thirteen has always has been a number in my head since I was younger. When I was younger, I was thinking 13 NBA years. It switched over to NFL years quick. We’ll have to readdress that, but I have a lot more football in me. I could probably play five or six more years if I want to, but the thing is do I want to?

“When am I going to call it quits? My body has been great. Hopefully it stays great, but I have three kids. I want to make sure I’m still able to do things with them and be able to do stuff and enjoy that. Right now with the way it's going, especially with us winning, it feels good. It feels fine, but you never know. I might still be out here a little longer.”

Penn has learned to be efficient in training, to avoid unnecessary taxation on a body that doesn’t rebound like it used to.

Experience, technical mastery and football smarts have mitigated any agility loss, and Penn’s still going strong despite the fact Tampa Bay let him go.

And, for the first time in 11 tries, Penn has started 5-2. He has only had three winning seasons and one playoff appearance, which makes 2016 more meaningful.

“Especially at this point in my career, I really do appreciate it a lot,” Penn said. “It really means a lot because, like I said, I’m more seasoned. I am going to play, and I want to win now. I’m not trying to win later. The good thing is these young group of kids we have. Some kids come in here and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get it eventually.’ These young kids on this team, they want it now, and I love that because they’re on the same page as me because I want it now. The effort that we’re putting out on the field, on the practice field, it’s showing. We just have to keep that up.”
 

Antonio Brown to the Raiders? Jon Gruden a 'big fan,' says John Clayton

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AP

Antonio Brown to the Raiders? Jon Gruden a 'big fan,' says John Clayton

The hot rumor right now is Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown getting traded to the 49ers.

Michael Irvin wants it. Jerry Rice wants it. George Kittle wants it. The oddsmakers have the 49ers as the favorite to land Brown. Even Brown himself wants it, according to Rice.

But what about Brown to the Raiders?

According to former ESPN analyst John Clayton, it shouldn't be ruled out.

“I think, actually, Oakland would have a better chance to do something because they have three [first-round] draft choices," Clayton said on 95.7 The Game on Tuesday. "And, of course, I think you could pretty well anticipate that the Steelers would like a No. 1.”

The Raiders hold the No. 4, No. 24 and No. 27 overall picks in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft in April.

Clayton also eluded to Brown having a fan in the Raiders' building.

“I could see — the Raiders have three first-round picks — and I think Jon Gruden would be interested in getting a guy like Antonio Brown," Clayton said. "Because I know he was a big fan of Antonio’s work ethic and talent.”

Brown has been the subject of trade rumors since the end of the regular season. He reportedly got into a heated argument with a teammate, skipped practices leading up to the finale and then didn't play in that game.

Last Thursday, Steelers owner Art Rooney II said the team has no plans to release Brown, but a trade would be an option.

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

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USATSI

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.