The Raiders agreed on contract terms with 11 new players. They have re-signed five more of their own free agents since the offseason began.
Tons of salary cap space has dwindled considerably after promising big checks, with OverTheCap.com stating the Raiders have just $6.472 million remaining. The number doesn’t include deals for edge rusher Carl Nassib, offensive tackle Eric Kush and tight end Nick O’Leary and doesn’t account for the $9.4 million required for the Raiders draft class.
Some moves or restructures may have to occur to get under the cap, and it could create new needs the Raiders don’t currently have. Time will tell on all that.
But, as new pacts slow to a trickle, remaining Raiders needs have become clear. The top five needs were discussed on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast, available on YouTube with a video component or anywhere standard audio podcasts are found.
Let’s take a look at the biggest needs left for the Silver and Black after adding both frontline talent and depth in free agency.
This one obviously belongs on top. Nelson Agholor didn’t solve the team’s receiver troubles. The position group disintegrated after Antonio Brown went nuclear, Tyrell Williams got hurt and in-season fixes fell flat.
The Raiders have solid complimentary pieces with Williams back and Hunter Renfrow in the slot, but they need a positional centerpiece. Many have the Raiders taking CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy at No. 12 overall. Speedster Henry Ruggs is another top option in a deep receiver class available in the NFL draft. The Raiders need talent and depth here, so it’s conceivable they take a receiver with one of two first-round picks and again later in the draft. A top-flight receiver like those mentioned above could complete a dynamic Raiders offense if he transitions well to the NFL.
The Raiders tried to get Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. and kicked the tires on a Darius Slay trade while searching for a true No. 1 cornerback to start opposite Trayvon Mullen.
They ended up with Eli Apple on a one-year, $6 million deal that didn’t conclude the team’s cornerback search. The Ohio State alum will have a chance to compete for a starting gig, but he many battle a top draft pick for the right to play every down.
There are some intriguing physical cornerbacks in the draft that would suit the Raiders’ scheme. The Raiders like Isaiah Johnson and Keisean Nixon and Nevin Lawson. They see Apple’s talent and hope to pull better out of him, but they’ll still keep an eye out for another cornerback moving forward.
The Raiders signed Jeff Heath to help on special teams and join their safety group. It shouldn’t be assumed he’s the starter just because he started the last three seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. He’s certainly capable of playing deep alongside Johnathan Abram, but the Raiders should keep an eye on long-term solutions should one be available during one of their draft slots or if a quality veteran gets cut as we head towards the summer.
Abram’s versatile enough to play either safety spot, but his strength lies in being a tone-setter free to roam around the defensive backfield. A quick, smart deep cover guy could compliment Abram well.
4. Defensive line
The Raiders made two quality adds in free agency, bringing interior pass rusher Maliek Collins and Nassib into the fray. They join ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby and tackles Maurice Hurst, Johnathan Hankins and P.J. Hall.
The Raiders' pass rush improved last year but needs to make another jump in 2020. That doesn’t come from a starting four. The Raiders need depth and diverse skill sets in the group to make a true impact rushing with four and defending the run. They need more up front to keep the pressure on. If there’s a dynamic defensive lineman available in the first round who sits atop the Raiders board, put him in Silver and Black.
5. Offensive tackle/Running back
It’s a sign that the Raiders are restocking the roster well if the fifth need was tougher to find. We’ll call it a tie between offensive tackle and running back.
There’s not much behind starters Kolton Miller and Trent Brown, as we learned last year when Brown was lost. Brandon Parker and David Sharpe currently are reserve tackles. An upgrade at tackle could be valuable injury protection.
The Raiders could lessen feature back Josh Jacobs’ load at times and have better injury protection. Jalen Richard has a specific role on third down, and last year’s backup DeAndre Washington remains on the open market. Bruising back Rod Smith, a late-season addition, re-signed with the club but is no mortal lock to make the squad.
Adding a young rusher, maybe a bigger back, could compliment the position group well. Most successful offenses have more than one back worthy of significant carries, and the Raiders could and should give Jon Gruden another toy out of the backfield.