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Trayvon Mullen can develop without pressing need to help Raiders right away

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Trayvon Mullen can develop without pressing need to help Raiders right away

The Raiders have worked hard to remake their secondary. They paid a premium to get Lamarcus Joyner in town to play safety and lots of slot cornerback. They re-signed restricted free agent Daryl Worley with a second-round tender, added unrestricted veteran Nevin Lawson and still drafted two cornerbacks in the first four rounds.

Trayvon Mullen was the first corner added in the draft, coming in the second round despite having depth at the position already. That should take some pressure off him to play right away, but he’ll still have a chance to compete for a role early on. Let’s take a look at what’s fair to expect from Mullen in 2019.

Also, stay tuned for Tuesday’s installment in this series, focused on fourth-round edge rusher Maxx Crosby.

Trayvon Mullen

Draft slot: No. 40 overall (Second round)
Position: Cornerback
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 199 pounds
School: Clemson

Skill set

Mullen a long, physical and aggressive cornerback who fits the Raiders' scheme well. They’re remaking the defensive depth chart largely through the draft, and had eyes on Mullen even earlier than when they picked him. Trading back a bit still landed a player comfortable playing press-man coverage on the outside. Mullen can do that well, and he has the size and frame well suited to thrive under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. He also can play off-man coverage and is comfortable in a zone when that’s required. He has solid quickness and good reaction time to close gaps when they open.

Training camp proving ground

Mullen doesn’t have much ball production, with just four interceptions and seven passes defensed in three Clemson seasons. There’s a reason why. He wasn’t targeted much. He’ll have to prove he belongs with more than just sticky coverage. He’ll get targeted in the pros, even in training camp and preseason games. That’s a good thing for Mullen, who must show consistent quality ball skills when given greater opportunities. While he isn’t expected to start right away, the Raiders will allow him to compete for a starting spot. An excellent preseason could force the Raiders to rethink early plans at cornerback.

Best-case scenario

The Raiders have presumptive starting cornerbacks in Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley. They have Navin Lawson as a third option, with extensive experience starting.

The Raiders have been true to their word that the best players play, pedigree or paycheck be damned. If Mullen earns a starting spot, their plans for the future start now.

He has the skill set to play well in the system, with confidence overflowing even at this early stage. The Raiders are looking for playmakers in the secondary who don’t get beat deep. Mullen could well be that guy, but he’d have to be awfully impressive to steal a significant role from those above him right now.

Worst-case scenario

The Raiders would be comfortable if Mullen took some time to develop behind other, more experienced options. They’d be disappointed if he didn’t progress towards the long-term starter they projected him to be when targeting Mullen in the second round.

Guenther will want to see scheme knowledge, good instincts and an ability to step right in if called upon in a reserve role. The pressure’s far lower than on three first-round picks expected to contribute right away, but he’ll still be held to a higher standard considering their expectations and grand plans for a talented scheme fit.

[RELATED: Raiders' best-, worst-case scenario for safety Abram]

Realistic expectations

The Raiders have been on a terrible run of second-round picks since 2015. Mario Edwards Jr., Jihad Ward and Obi Melifonwu were taken there, respectively, and none remain on the roster. Even last year’s pick P.J. Hall was slow out the gate, so Mullen must break the streak and challenge for a role as a rookie and develop into a productive Raiders player.

Mullen should vie for a role right away, but even pushing Lawson for the third spot would be satisfactory in this secondary climate. Conley’s a virtual lock in the starting lineup, but Worley’s gig could be had with an excellent showing, though Mullen might take a year’s seasoning before sliding into the starting lineup opposite Conley. That’s how it should work for most draft picks taken outside the first round, but the talent-strapped Raiders haven’t had that luxury recently. They do in this particular instance, and Mullen should be better for it in the long run.

Why Nick Kwiatkoski thought Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Why Nick Kwiatkoski thought Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Nick Kwiatkoski doesn’t have a massive social media following, but a tweet the veteran linebacker sent out on March 16 quickly went viral.

It didn’t include a single word. It contained a picture of Allegiant Stadium and nothing more, but it was a clear sign that the Las Vegas Raiders had landed their first unrestricted free agent while representing their new market.

Sources later confirmed Kwiatkoski agreed to join the Silver and Black on a three-year, $21 million contract, showing the Raiders were serious about upgrading a long deficient linebacker corps.

The deal came together quickly, on the first day of free agency’s open negotiating window, because Kwiatkoski loved what the Raiders had to say. He would join the Raiders as a full-time, three-down middle linebacker.

“I felt that I’ve earned that spot, and that’s something I looked for in free agency,” Kwiatkoski said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, available in its entirety on the Raiders Talk Podcast. “When they told me that, it was very appealing.”

That wasn’t the only reason the former Chicago Bear signed with the Raiders.

“They called very early and, when I spoke to them, it was very clear there’s an excitement around the whole organization with the move to Las Vegas,” Kwiatkoski said. “That was one of a number of reasons why I [made my decision]. When we played them in London last year and I just loved the mentality they brought to the game where they come right at you. With their defensive scheme, I thought I’d fit right in. I gave it some time and took some other calls, but I ended up thinking the Raiders were the best fit for me.”

There was some thought he’d fit in well as the Bears’ middle linebacker, but that prospect was eliminated when Danny Trevathan signed a contract extension on March 9. Kwiatkoski proved worthy of a starting gig after taking over following Trevathan’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 9.

There was no going back after an excellent eight-game stretch that included 58 tackles, two sacks and interception. Especially, not with teams ready to court him on the open market and make him a major player.

While those numbers look solid, the clip below shows exactly what the Raiders are getting in Kwiatkoski, and he doesn’t even record a stat.

Kwiatkoski put Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook on his back during a Week 4 win over the Vikings, blowing up a play with raw power and aggression.

“That’s an example of how I enjoy playing. I like being physical, going downhill,” Kwiatkoski said. “That’s how I have always played, and I plan on continuing to do that.”

He’ll do that with the Silver and Black, while paired with fellow free-agent addition Cory Littleton.

“He’s a great linebacker,” Kwiatkoski said. “To be able to line up with him and call him my teammate is going to be fun.”

The former LA Ram is a true sideline-to-sideline presence and an excellent coverage linebacker, a perfect complement to Kwiatkoski’s strength going downhill as a run defender and blitzer. The former high school safety, who converted to linebacker at West Virginia, also is confident in coverage and running a defense from the middle linebacker spot.

[RELATED: Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Chicago’s fourth-round draft pick back in 2016 always has worked hard and capitalized on opportunities when presented, helping him earn a lucrative deal with a Raiders team counting on him to be a consistent playmaker. Earning this opportunity certainly is a point of pride as he moves on to the next chapter of his career.

“There were definitely times where I got down on myself after certain things happened, but to see how it has all played out … for me, no matter what my role was or what the situation was, I just put my head down and kept working,” Kwiatkoski said. “For that to all payoff is really gratifying. You can only control what you can control, and that’s what I focused on. I never lost sight of my goals. No matter what my role was, I was determined to work like a starter and play each day like it’s my last. For it to work out the way it has, with this new opportunity, it’s really gratifying.”

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

The Raiders took on a bit more salary in free agency than they were legally allowed, but restructured center Rodney Hudson’s massive contract to get back under the NFL salary cap.

The team’s cap and contracts people got creative with the deal, obtained by ESPN on Wednesday morning, to provide relief in 2020 and push increased cap hits down the road where they have more flexibility.

The Raiders converted $11.6 million of Hudson’s base salary into a signing bonus, freeing up $9.28 in cap space for 2020. His cap hits will go up $2.32 million in subsequent seasons, which includes two voidable years at the end of the deal to spread out his cap hits.

The Silver and Black had to do that now to get Carl Nassib’s deal in while staying under the cap. He’s set to make $25 million over three years, with a $7.75 million cap hit in 2020, per OverTheCap.com.

After factoring in the Nassib deal, the Hudson restructure and some other small additions, OTC reports the Raiders have $5.214 million in cap space. They might have to make another cap adjustment down the road, with $9.408 million required to pay their draft picks as currently slotted. They won’t have to make that move until later in the spring and summer, when they start signing draft picks.

[RELATED: Ranking Raiders' offensive players ahead of 2020 NFL draft]

The Raiders own the Nos. 12 and 19 overall selections, with three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Hudson signed a long-term contract extension last season worth $33.7 million over three years, with $24.4 million guaranteed. Moving money around helps the Raiders stay right with the cap without hurting future standing and keeping all the talent the Raiders currently employ.