Raiders

Why Raiders added Jason Witten to deep tight end group, didn't wait

Why Raiders added Jason Witten to deep tight end group, didn't wait

The Raiders employed a deep, talented and diverse tight-end group last season, with Darren Waller, Foster Moreau and Derek Carrier all under contract.

That trio became as tight as any position group, with each guy making significant contributions in 2019. Waller emerged as an elite receiving talent with a willingness to block. Moreau had an excellent rookie year as a run blocker and red-zone target. Carrier was a third option but was a trusted player and locker-room presence.

If there was any Raiders position group not needing new blood, tight end was it. That’s why it was so surprising when Jason Witten agreed to terms on a one-year deal, a source said, on Tuesday afternoon.

Witten’s entering his 17th season of what’s arguably a Hall of Fame career, having lost some of the agility he once had.

Adding Witten still wasn’t a hard choice for the Raiders to make. Coach Jon Gruden told ESPN it was a “no-brainer.” Witten and Gruden know each other well, with the accomplished tight end briefly succeeding Gruden as ESPN's "Monday Night Football" analyst in 2018. He returned to the field after one season away, and wanted to keep playing even if it wasn't with the Cowboys. 

One team source cited Witten’s leadership and work ethic as reasons why he was brought into a seemingly set position group.

“He can show the young guys what a true pro looks like,” the source said.

Witten can still contribute, even if not at previous levels. He had 63 catches for 529 yards -- that’s just an 8.4-yard average -- and four touchdowns after returning from a year away in the broadcast booth.

He’s a big, tough target who could be beneficial on third down and in the red zone.

Despite those facts, it still seems like there’s a tight end too many in the fray. The Raiders carried three tight ends last year, a standard number in the NFL. Might that mean Carrier’s on the way out. Or does it suggest Moreau won’t be ready to start the season after suffering a torn ACL in December?

Moreau, for one, was excited about Witten joining the Raiders.

[RELATED: Raiders add another starter, reach deal with Jeff Heath]

While it’s fair to question whether this fills a need if Moreau’s ready to go this summer -- that’s a huge if -- the Raiders didn’t hesitate a sing second before locking Witten up. Gruden will find ways to get him and Waller especially involved and made the Raiders tough to defend in the pattern.

. That will be especially true if receiver Tyrell Williams comes back healthy, and a dynamic threat is added high in the NFL draft next month.

NFL rumors: Raiders considering moving 2020 training camp to Nevada

allegiantgetty.jpg
Getty Images

NFL rumors: Raiders considering moving 2020 training camp to Nevada

The Raiders’ arrival in Las Vegas could come sooner than anticipated.

The team is seriously considering moving its training camp from Napa, California, to its new headquarters in Henderson. According to a person close to the team who was not authorized to speak on the record, training camp at the Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center is a viable option.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, team headquarters across the NFL have been entirely or partially closed since March. That has forced teams to conduct offseason programs virtually rather than at their practice facilities.

READ ABOUT RAIDERS TRAINING CAMP ON REVIEW-JOURNAL

 

Raiders' playoff hopes rest on these five players not named Derek Carr

Raiders' playoff hopes rest on these five players not named Derek Carr

The Raiders entered the 2020 offseason with a checklist of holes to fill and positions to upgrade. They damn near did it all.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock spent most of their free agency dollars improving a defense that ranked 31st in DVOA in 2020. They added talent to all three levels, giving defensive coordinator Paul Guenther his most-talented unit to date. In the draft, the Raiders stacked talent on talent, focusing mainly on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards and running back Lynn Bowden will all be welcome additions to an offense that lacked the ability to create explosive plays in 2019.

The Silver and Black injected talent into their roster at key positions and look to be a much better team than the one that went 7-9 last season. An improved defense coupled with a more explosive offense and an extra playoff spot should give the Raiders hope for a postseason berth in 2020.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

But in order to do so, they'll need some of their key members -- not named Derek Carr -- to stay healthy and have big seasons to make that dream a reality.

Honorable Mentions: Henry Ruggs and Cornerback No. 2

Big things are expected from Ruggs. You don't get drafted with the No. 12 overall pick just to fly in under the radar. But receivers often struggle in their first season in the NFL and Gruden's offense is one of the more complex units in the league to grasp.

There's no doubt the Raiders will find ways to get the ball into Ruggs' hands as much as possible, but it might take a few weeks for the speedy receiver to find his footing in the NFL.

As for the other honorable mention, it belongs to what is perhaps the Raiders' biggest question mark. Whoever wins the cornerback job opposite Trayvon Mullen will have to be able to hold down their side of the field. Last season, the Raiders got virtually nothing from Daryl Worley at that position and their past defense suffered because of the gaping hole on that side of the field.

Getting production from Prince Amukamara, Damon Arnette, Amik Robertson or Isaiah Johnson is paramount for the Raiders to contend for a playoff spot.

5. Johnathan Abram

We don't know exactly what to expect from Abram, who missed all but one game during his rookie season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. But the Raiders need him to be healthy and to play an important role in the back end in order to keep the defense together.

Abram's injury in the Raiders' Week 1 win over the Denver Broncos was a bigger blow than most realize. Without sufficient depth at the position, the Raiders secondary struggled with communication and was burned too many times to count. Erik Harris eventually filled the role adequately, but once Karl Joseph went down in Week 10, the Raiders' secondary was unable to recover.

Abram is a physical safety who we expect to play more in the box, letting Damarious Randall handle the deep safety duties. But Abram must harness that aggression, play under control, stay healthy and give the Raiders 16 solid games if they are to make the playoffs. The defense has been rebuilt, but losing Abram again would be a hard loss to overcome.

4. Trent Brown

In a 2019 class of splashy free-agent signings that didn't pan out, Trent Brown was the lone Raiders home run.

Brown's first season in silver and black was a roaring success. He was named to the Pro Bowl and, when he was healthy and active, the Raiders' offensive line was as strong a unit as there is in the NFL. Brown allowed only one sack and registered a 77.8 pass-blocking grade per Pro Football Focus.

But multiple injuries ailed Brown and he eventually had to go on season-ending injured reserve due to a torn pectoral muscle. All told, Brown played 582 snaps for the Raiders, about 57 percent of the team's total. He missed six games and was hobbled in at least two that he suited up for.

When healthy, Brown is as good a right tackle as there is in football. The Raiders need him to be 100 percent in 2020 for the line to function at optimal capacity.

3. Clelin Ferrell

We know all about Ferrell's rookie season. The No. 4 overall pick battled an illness around midseason that forced him to lose weight and he spent the rest of the season trying to get back to his ideal playing weight.

He played inside and outside. He was a good run defender but notched just 4.5 sacks, a low number for the No. 4 overall pick. Ferrell vowed to return a different player in 2020. He's a hard worker who is filled with talent. The Raiders got great production off the edge from Maxx Crosby in 2019 and signed Carl Nassib to join the rotation for 2020. But Ferrell is the most talented player in the rotation and the Raiders need him to play as such.

His value won't be judged on sack totals, as that's often misleading. But Ferrell must increase hit pressure numbers in 2020. During his rookie season, Ferrell notched just 18 pressures and three hits. Those numbers must increase in 2020 for Guenther's unit to go from awful to average during the first season in Las Vegas.

The addition of Maliek Collins up front should help Ferrell improve his production and put the Clemson product in a more stable role on the edge.

2. Tyrell Williams

Big things are expected of Ruggs, but the rookie can't be expected to be a top receiver from Day 1. It will take time.

That's where Williams comes in.

Before the plantar fasciitis flared up, Williams looked to be worth every penny the Raiders spent on him. In the first two weeks, Williams caught 11 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. But he didn't go over 100 yards after Week 1 and had just two games with more than three catches after Week 2.

His feet were an issue, there is no doubt.

The Raiders need Williams to be healthy and productive from the jump in 2020 to take the pressure off Ruggs as he settles in. Williams has shown he can be a solid No. 2 receiver with the ability to level up at times. He went over 1,000 yards with the then-San Diego Chargers in 2016 after injuries forced him to become the No. 1 option.

Carr and Williams have good chemistry and it will be imperative for the offense that the veteran receiver is the player he was in Week 1 of 2019 for all of 2020.

[RELATED: Carr primed for career year after Raiders restock arsenal]

1. Cory Littleton

After years of toiling in linebacker hell, the Raiders went out and welded the hole shut by signing Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.

Littleton was the big fish of the Raiders' offseason. He's an athletic, three-down linebacker who can cover tight ends and run sideline-to-sideline with running backs. That's something the Raiders haven't had and they've been scorched because of it.

Adding Littleton and, to a lesser extent, Kwiatkoski, gives the Raiders the ability to defend modern NFL offenses like the ones they'll face in the AFC West. The Silver and Black have been at a disadvantage playing without athletic linebackers and have been exploited time and time again.

Littleton is in the prime of his career and he has all the tools the Raiders need to field a defense that won't be gutted every time it takes the field.

He needs to be as advertised in 2020.