Raiders

Why Raiders should make Emmanuel Sanders priority in NFL free agency

Why Raiders should make Emmanuel Sanders priority in NFL free agency

So, you want to compete with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs? Well, you're going to need a lot more firepower.

Jon Gruden knows that.

In what was Year 1 of a true rebuild for the Raiders following the teardown in 2018, the Silver and Black showed a lot of promise, with a historic draft class leading them to a 7-9 record. The building blocks are being put in place for the Raiders to march up the AFC West pecking order. While another draft-day haul is needed, Gruden knows he doesn't yet have the offensive weapons to contend with Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. 

Yes, the Raiders have a big question mark at quarterback, but this is about a different area of need -- the team's biggest area of need -- other than the black hole at linebacker. The Raiders need wide receivers. Many of them. They need dynamic playmakers who can stretch the field, make people miss and rack up explosive plays. Players who can answer a lightning strike from Mahomes that left the Raiders stunned and wobbling last season.

They'll likely select one early in the 2020 NFL Draft and maybe another in the third round. But that won't be enough. With $54 million in projected cap space, expect the Raiders to look to the free-agent market to add a veteran receiver to help Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller shoulder the load. 

The Raiders don't seem like a home for A.J. Green and we can cross former Raider Amari Cooper off the list. Robby Anderson might be a fit, and the Raiders reportedly had interest in him at the deadline, but his price tag might be a tad high for a guy that isn't a true No. 1.

Gruden needs only look to the Raiders' now-former Bay Area neighbor for a free agent worth their while. 

Emmanuel Sanders came over to the 49ers in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos and immediately paid dividends. He was able to lead a young receiver group while being successful running every type of route for coach Kyle Shanahan.

Sanders is most effective in a West Coast type of offense such as the one Gruden runs. The 32-year-old completely transformed his game after tearing his Achilles, reinventing himself as a savvy, veteran playmaker. He's a highly efficient route-runner and has some of the surest hands in the game, only dropping one pass last season.

His arrival in San Francisco took the 49ers' passing game from an attack with puppy teeth to one that could shred defenses in an instant. He played a key role in the development of Deebo Samuel, who became a lethal weapon as the season wore on. Sanders also is a good blocker on the outside, as he showcased during the 49ers' run to the Super Bowl.

Don't let Jimmy Garoppolo's overthrow in Super Bowl LIV taint your opinion of Sanders. With the title on the line, Sanders smoked his man, blew past the safety and was in line to be a Super Bowl hero had the pass been on target.

He's played in three Super Bowls and knows what it takes to get to, and win, the biggest game in sports. His leadership and experience would be as valuable as his on-field production.

Some will argue Sanders' age is a red flag or that the 49ers are destined to re-sign him. Due to the 49ers' cap situation, it seems more likely than not that they will let Sanders walk. At age 32, Sanders is exiting his prime, but he's the perfect veteran receiver to complement Tyrell Williams, mentor Renfrow and the incoming top prospect (s) (CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy) and provide a reliable target for Derek Carr, Tom Brady or whoever is under center for the Raiders in 2020.

[RELATED: Why Raiders would make sense in Darius Slay trade]

The Raiders need to take their offense to the next level. Their offensive line is stout, running back Josh Jacobs is a star and Renfrow and Waller will be long-term staples of the offensive attack. Gruden will expect more from Williams in Year 2 of his contract after the veteran receiver was hampered by injuries in 2019. 

But they need to get more explosive at receiver. No matter who the quarterback is, Renfrow and Waller can't be the only weapons. If that's the case again in 2020, the results will be the same.

A deep draft class at receiver will help the Raiders stock the arsenal, but they'll need another proven veteran as well.

Sanders, who PFF projects to make around $10 million per season, would give Gruden a do-it-all veteran who has ranked as one of the 25 most valuable receivers in each of the past two seasons. And it also would leave the Raiders with money to spend to improve a defense that needs a lot of work.

An offense with Sanders, Williams, Renfrow, Waller, Jacobs and at least one young star from the draft would give the Raiders' offense the pop Gruden has been missing.

NFL rumors: Donald Trump says season should start on time despite coronavirus

NFL rumors: Donald Trump says season should start on time despite coronavirus

President Donald Trump held a call with the commissioners of major American sports leagues Saturday, and offered a prediction for the upcoming NFL season.

Trump told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the other members on the call that the NFL season should start on time despite the coronavirus outbreak, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter reported. Trump reportedly told the commissioners that he expects arenas and stadiums to be filled come August and September, according to Wojnarowski and Schefter.

However, it's currently unclear if public health officials agree with Trump's prediction. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as well as a lead member of the White House's coronavirus taskforce, told Warriors star Steph Curry that sports only can return once the country as a whole has turned the corner with the outbreak and the medical system no longer is under strain. Then it will be easier to identify cases, and the cities won't be overwhelmed.

It is unknown when sports will return and how it will look when they do.

Listen and subscribe to the Raiders Talk podcast

While Trump's optimism might lift some spirits, it will be up to public health officials to determine when it is safe for sports to begin and be held with fans in attendance. With many epidemiologists expecting the virus to surge in the fall, the NFL's season could be in jeopardy.

While all major sports currently are on pause, the NFL is planning to start the season on schedule and hold games as normal with fans in attendance.

The NBA suspended its season indefinitely after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11. The NHL, MLB, PGA Tour and MLS all followed suit, with the NCAA choosing to cancel the men's and women's tournaments altogether.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly said on the call that his league would love to "lead the way" in jumpstarting the economy but they only can do so once they are told by public health officials that it is safe.

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly eyeing DT at No. 19 in draft]

Trump reportedly also brought up the idea of the leagues lobbying for a tax credit that used to exist for fans. This credit would allow fans to deduct concessions and ticket prices from their taxes, according to Schefter and Wojnarowski.

The call included commissioners and top executives from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, WNBA, WWE, PGA Tour, LPGA, UFC, IndyCar and Breeders' Cup, according to a White House pool report.

As of Saturday, there were more than 270,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 7,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and NBC News reporting.

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

The Raiders stocked up in free agency, spending big to fix a defense that was leaky at best in 2019.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock now must turn their attention to hitting another home run in the NFL draft. With the No. 12 and No. 19 overall picks, most expect the Raiders, who have glaring needs at wide receiver and cornerback, to address those holes in some manner with their first two picks. That might not be where Gruden and Mayock are planning to go, though.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported Friday, citing league sources, that most around the league expect the Silver and Black to draft a top wide receiver with the No. 12 pick, but use their second pick on a "middle-of-the-field" defender since the Raiders would like to make an upgrade at defensive tackle.

The middle of the field was a massive problem for the Raiders' defense in 2019. But they went out and added defensive tackle Maliek Collins and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to lead the unit. They also lucked into signing safety Damarious Randall, upgrading the middle of the field at all three levels.

However, the Raiders do still need some help in the middle of their defensive line. Collins is young and thrives beating double teams, but he only signed a one-year deal. Maurice Hurst had a nice 2019 but he still needs to improve and Johnathan Hankins, while great against the run, doesn't move the needle rushing the passer.

Listen and subscribe to the Raiders Talk podcast

If the Raiders do want to draft a defensive tackle -- it might not be the best use of a first-round pick -- there are a few elite talents they could look at.

Derrick Brown leads this year's defensive tackle class. The 6-foot-5, 318-pound Auburn product might be the most complete defensive tackle to enter the draft since Aaron Donald. He has powerful hands, an unreal motor and can play in odd and even fronts. He's a Day 1 plug-and-play starter with All-Pro potential. Brown is expected to be a top-10 pick so the likelihood of him donning and Silver and Black is low.

Second on the list is South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Gamecock is an elite pass-rusher with all the tools and the strength of a bull. He has a great first step and unreal explosiveness. Kinlaw might be a shade below Brown but he appears to have Pro Bowler written all over him. He could be available for the Raiders at No. 12, but it's doubtful he slips to No. 19.

The next two players are end of Day 1-beginning of Day 2 guys, which means the Raiders must be sure they can contribute right away to take them at No. 19 or must trade down to make the pick lineup with the talent.

Next up is TCU's Ross Blacklock, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound load who has all the goods to be a star at the NFL level. Blacklock has the size, length, power and athleticism to be a dynamic playmaker at the NFL level. While some evaluators believe it might take him some time to adjust to the NFL game, he has all the tools you want in a three-down interior defensive lineman.

The last high-end interior defensive lineman is Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore. The rare defensive tackle that is defined by his speed, the 6-foot-2, 302-pound Gallimore has all the looks of a Day 1 NFL starter who can collapse the pocket and put the quarterback on his heels. His quickness, motor and power are traits that leap off the tape.

[RELATED: McKinney headlines top DB prospects for Raiders to target]

Now a middle-of-the-field defender could mean a safety like Alabama's Xavier McKinney, which would mean the Raiders would shift Randall to corner where they have a huge hole after Eli Apple's contract couldn't get finalized.

If Kinlaw or Brown falls to the Raiders, Gruden and Mayock should snap them up. Both would be a powerful inside presence who could open up rushing lanes for Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.

But if both are off the board and corner like Florida's C.J. Henderson or even LSU's Kristian Fulton still are available, it might be wise to address to cornerback need first and see if a defensive tackle like Davon Hamilton,  Raekwon Davis or Justin Madubuike falls to them in the third round.