Editor's note: The Raiders season isn't over, but we'll keep one eye on the future with our weekly series on the Raiders' biggest needs heading into 2019 and how voids can be filled best. This week's focus is on edge rushers
Jon Gruden insists he isn’t looking beyond the next four games toward the offseason, when significant salary cap space and three first-round draft picks will allow him to rebuild the roster after an in-season tear down.
The Raiders need a bunch on both sides of the football, same as most terrible teams. There’s one need, to borrow an expression from Iron Chef, which reigns supreme.
It took the top spot on Sept. 1, when Khalil Mack was traded to Chicago for a compensation package that included two first-round picks. The Raiders lost an All-Pro, a game wrecker and a closer who had to be accounted for at all times. Mack made everyone around him better, and grew into a leadership role on defense.
Arden Key was drafted in the third round to be Bruce Irvin’s heir apparent, with an eye on developing depth at that spot. Nobody could instantly replace Mack, which is why the Raiders are dead last in sacks and quarterback pressures this season.
The Raiders don’t need one new presence off the edge. They need two, a pair to bring intimidation and take pressure off Key’s development. The Raiders are in line for the second overall pick. The slot could go to an edge rusher, or another first-rounder could be used on a top guy. The Raiders have to get a premiere, plug-and-play talent, not a flier later in the draft. Though they could use one of those, too. And all that should preclude them from adding veteran to bring the heat as well.
The Raiders have some young talent in the secondary, but they can only hold up with pressure applied up front. The Silver and Black need an overhaul off the edge. There’s little argument about that.
Players likely to stay in 2019
Arden Key: The LSU product is playing way more than expected this early. He was supposed to apprentice behind Mack and Irvin, and now both guys are gone. Key has the tools to be a standout pass rusher. The Raiders will give him time.
Shilique Calhoun: The 2016 third-round improved during the year, and could come back cheap if he doesn’t get offers in restricted free agency. He could compete for a roster spot off the edge if no other offers come about.
Players likely to go
Frostee Rucker: Let’s call this a maybe. A respected leader and team captain could return to guide a unit if it’s especially young, and could offer some run support. He has never been one to consistently hound quarterbacks at this stage.
Damontre Moore: He’s only been here a day, and must prove better and more consistent to compete for a roster spot next season. He has all the tools, and coaches keep trying to unlock great potential.
Raiders potential offseason plan
Free agency: The Raiders weren’t excited about paying Khalil Mack top-of-the-market money, especially when Aaron Donald’s deal sent the bar skyward. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend big on top-flight defenders.
Excellent edge rushers typically don’t reach free agency, so it’s possible some of the names you’ll read here get franchise tagged or re-signed this winter. It’s so early at this point that we don’t know who will actually hit the market come mid-March
We aren’t bothering with Ziggy Ansah or Demarcus Lawrence, because it seems it's long shot they’d be available.
Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and Philadelphia’ Brandon Graham could be in that same boat, but the Texans are paying J.J. Watt big bucks and Philly’s cap space isn’t great. The Raiders could swoop in and land an all-round presence who could strengthen run and pass defense, working well in tandem with a drafted player.
Graham in particular could provide stability off one edge and locker room leadership up front. That would be a huge help in stabilizing a young front.
Dee Ford and Trey Flowers are also young and productive and in line for huge raises and possible franchise tag. Maybe the Patriots won’t ay big for Flowers and the Raiders can coax him over to the West Coast.
Frank Clark is also an animal off the edge – just ask Kolton Miller about his Week 6 experience – and is yet another player the team could pick off in free agency. Everyone mentioned above can’t get tagged or re-sign. If one comes free, the Raiders should pounce.
Draft: The Raiders need a premier pass rusher. The good ones go fast, meaning one of the team’s three first-round picks should be spent on this position. If they lose out and a 49ers victory opens the gate to the No. 1 overall pick Ohio State’s Nick Bosa has to be a consideration.
The Ohio State product can be a game wrecker, with some believing he’s better than his older brother Joey Bosa, starring for the Chargers. Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell is a physical freak. Boston College’s Zach Allen and Michigan’s Rashan Gary could be monsters off the edge with great size. Only Bosa’s worthy of the first or second slot, but the picks taken from Dallas and Chicago give the Raiders options to take another edge player of package them to get a higher pick and select the edge rusher the Raiders want.
Houston's Ed Oliver may not be an edge rusher, but many consider him to be an elite talent who can get after the quarterback from several spots.
Bottom line: Edge rushers are expensive. The Raiders shouldn’t be afraid to pay for a good one, and supplement youth around him. This position group hasn’t had depth in a long, long time. It’s time to give Paul Guenther some firepower off the edge.