Raiders

Raiders should add dynamic, ballhawk safety in free agency or NFL draft

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USATSI

Raiders should add dynamic, ballhawk safety in free agency or NFL draft

Editor's note: The Raiders season isn't over, but we'll keep one eye on the future with our weekly series on the team's biggest needs heading into 2019 and how voids can be filled best. This week's focus is on the secondary.

The Raiders are still trying to add to their secondary, even heading into Week 17.

Oakland recently tried to pick up embattled safety D.J. Swearinger up on waivers. Washington cut the talented, yet opinionated feather-ruffler after he criticized coaching after a loss to Tennessee on Dec. 22, but the Raiders’ high waiver priority still wasn’t good enough to get him.

The Arizona Cardinals have the top waiver spot in the NFL with their 3-12 record, and snatched up a Pro Bowl alternate with an affordable 2019 salary.

It’s also a sign that, despite improved safety play of late, the Raiders are still looking to upgrade the position.

While other stories in this series focusing on Raiders offseason needs have focused on complete overhauls, the Silver and Black could use one dynamic upgrade to compliment what they already have. A ball hawk, in particular, would help this group.

They didn’t seem to have much early in the year, but Karl Joseph’s emergence has changed that opinion. The team’s 2016 first-round pick has added aggressiveness in the box and on the back end, and has played well as a roving chess piece. He has become a three-down player, and has impressed a coaching staff unsure about him as this regular season began.

Erik Harris and Marcus Gilchrist have been solid and versatile, but another ball-hawking talent could upgrade a strong, young and promising Raiders secondary.

Let’s take a look at this Raiders need, and how it can be filled in 2019:

Players likely to stay in 2019

Karl Joseph: The Raiders were shopping the West Viriginia alum around the trade deadline, and they’re probably happy they didn’t deal him. Joseph has played far better in recent weeks, with physical play that was his trademark in college. He has been an impactful pass rusher, with an ability to play the run well without being a liability in coverage. He isn’t the tallest defensive back, but he’s serviceable in coverage and should step in at strong safety, allowing the Raiders to focus on solving more pressing problems.

Erik Harris: The third-year pro is a restricted free agent this offseason after getting his first opportunity to play extended defensive snaps. That total has gone up, and he has had some good moments in reserve or part of a rotation. He could be impactful in a similar role next season as well. Assuming, of course, his market remains low and the Raiders can retain him.

Dallin Leavitt: The undrafted rookie spent most of this season on the practice squad, before getting promoted last week. He should get a chance to compete for a roster spot next offseason.

Players likely to go

Marcus Gilchrist: The veteran defensive back pulled in roughly $4.5 million on a one-year deal, but will re-enter the open market next spring. He’s a solid field general and has good moments, but he might be allowed to leave for an draft pick or higher-priority free agent to take his spot. Gilchrist’s versatility is as asset, as we saw last week when he primarily played slot cornerback after manning the safety spots all year.

Reggie Nelson: The 35-year old played a lot early in the year, but struggled as the season wore on and ended up on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent, and isn’t expect back for a third contract with the Raiders.

Raiders potential offseason plan

Free agency: There’s an intriguing free-agent class ready to hit the market. Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner and Seattle’s Early Thomas will headline the group, though Joyner could be too pricey and Thomas might cost a pretty penny in addition to having some injury concerns.

Tyrann Mathieu won’t be cheap, but could bring the versatility required to assist at several different spots. It seems likely he stays in Houston.

Ha Ha Clinton Dix is another quality option and only 26, though Washington gave Green Bay a fourth round pick to rent him. One would imagine Washington would want to keep him, but a pricey contract offer could pry him away if he reaches the market. He’s a guy the Raiders could go after if they’re willing to spend on a safety and provide a veteran’s presence in an otherwise young secondary and put a larger body back there with Joseph.

Draft: Alabama safety Deionte Thompson has ideal size and speed as a patroller on the back end, and is frequently considered the best safety available. He’s the ballhawk the Raiders are looking for, seemingly a perfect fit. He could be had in the 20s, with one of the team’s extra first-round picks. Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a versatile piece who can play deep or in the slot. The Raiders like guys like that, and could get him in the second round. Miami’s Jaquan Johnson is also a highly-touted safety who can play in the box.

Washington’s Taylor Rapp and Delaware’s Nasir Adderley are also options who could be found outside the first round.

Bottom line: The Raiders need volume at several spots, but have some safeties already in the mix who could stay there in 2019. Adding a solid free safety, a good communicator who can intercept passes, seems like a necessity this time around. The NFL draft might provide some better and cheaper options to add to a young safety. An established free agent could, however, add veteran leadership to the group.

Take a look at other positions the Raiders must upgrade this offseason, as examined in our weekly series: 

Edge rushers: https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/raiders/why-raiders-should-look-edge-rushers-free-agency-2019-nfl-draft

Recievers: https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/raiders/raiders-must-use-2019-nfl-draft-free-agency-overhaul-wide-receiver-corps

Middle linebackers: https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/raiders/raiders-must-find-long-term-middle-linebacker-2019-free-agency-nfl-draft

Raiders schedule predictions: Wins, losses projected for 2019 season

Raiders schedule predictions: Wins, losses projected for 2019 season

Year 1 of Jon Gruden's second reign in Oakland brought a lot of excitement but it didn't translate to wins on the field.

The Raiders traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for a host of draft picks that should help them rebuild the roster into a contender under Gruden. After going 4-12 in 2018, the climb back toward the playoffs begins in 2019 when the Raiders' offense will be much more potent thanks to the addition of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams.

Every year, one or two teams surprises and make a leap from cellar-dweller to playoff contender, and the Raiders certainly have the makeup of a team that could do that.

With the 2019 schedule having been released, let's go game-by-game and see how the Silver and Black will fare this season.

VIEW RAIDERS GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS HERE

Raiders 2019 schedule analysis: Brutal road stretch could define season

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Raiders 2019 schedule analysis: Brutal road stretch could define season

Early portions of the Raiders’ last season Oakland won’t actually be played in Oakland. The season’s first half is dominated by a brutal road stretch that runs from Weeks 3-8, with a home game against the Bears given to London followed by a bye.

The season’s first half features five road games (counting the London affair) in seven contest, four playoff teams, Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau and a tough Vikings team in Minneapolis.

That’s just brutal. There’s no way around it.

A midseason run of three straight home games leads to another stretch of four road games over their final six, making it tough to overcome a brutal start to the season. The Raiders are still in rebuild mode even after an expensive offseason full of signings and the Antonio Brown trade, but this schedule sure makes it tough to improve results this season.

Biggest must-watch game

This one takes place across the Atlantic, most likely because the Raiders didn’t want it in Oakland. The sight of Khalil Mack sacking Derek Carr at Oakland Coliseum might’ve been too much for the home team to take after a controversial 2018 trade that sent Mack to Chicago for a significant draft capital not yet used.

Mack made eyes on Twitter at news of that Bears-Raiders date, coming on Oct. 6 at London’s Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium. He’ll circle it on the calendar for sure, and be ready for Jon Gruden and a Raiders team looking to get a win over an old friend they didn’t want to pay.

You won’t have to wake up super early for this one, as is required for some London games. It kicks off at 10 a.m. PT, so fans can see an important clash the Raiders want to win but shipped abroad just in case they don’t.

It will also mark the team’s fifth international home game in six years, and surely the last for some time. The Raiders won’t be giving home games away when they’re scheduled to move to Las Vegas in 2020.

Where the schedule makers hosed them

The early five-game stretch on the road might be the toughest – undoubtedly the longest – in my 12 seasons covering the NFL. All of their trips are at least two time zones away, including one in the United Kingdom. The competition’s are fierce, putting a premium on as many games as they can steal in two games to start the year. One problem there: The Kansas City Chiefs come to town in Week 2, meaning there’s a real chance the Raiders start the 2019 season in a big hole.

Where the schedule makers helped them

This one’s tough to find. The Raiders have a three-game home series just after midseason, with two against beatable teams. The L.A. Chargers sandwich games against Cincinnati and Detroit, but the good times don’t last the team finishes with four of six on the road.

What the prime-time schedule tells us

That Raiders stunk last season. Teams that struggle the year before generally don’t get a lot of high-profile time slots, so it’s no shock the Raiders play two night games all season and one is a Thursday night affair everybody gets. Even the Monday Night Football game comes as the second half of a double header, meaning most of the East Coast will be in bed when that game kicks off.

Bye week significance

Teams always get a bye after playing in England. This year is no exception. The Raiders will hope to lick wounds after playing Kansas City, then road games at Minnesota and Indianapolis before playing Chicago in London. They must come out of the bye healthy and ready to feast on a rare weak portion of the schedule.

Revenge narratives

We could single out Vontaze Burfict playing Cincinnati or Brandon Marshall going up against Denver twice next year, but there’s a great chance Jon Gruden holds up the 2019 slate and encourages players to stick it to schedule makers who put them in a bad spot.

[RELATED: Game-by-game predictions]

Raiders vs. NFL schedule makers is certainly sexier.

The Raiders didn’t have a 2019 stadium lined up until well past the NFL’s preference. Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted an answer for where the Raiders would play in early February to give schedule makers time to set 2019 up, but an Oakland Coliseum agreement came far later and wasn’t formally approved until the owners meetings. Conspiracy theorists will have fun with that one to be sure, as the team’s last season in Oakland will be defined by how Gruden’s Raiders handle a brutal 2018 slate.