Carl Nassib

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.

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

The Raiders signed several free agents we can immediately insert into the starting lineup. Put Nick Kwiatkoski at middle linebacker and Cory Littleton at weakside linebacker right now. Go ahead. Use permanent ink.

Those guys shouldn’t leave the field. Unless something goes really wrong, they won’t have to compete for spots. Last year’s starting linebackers no longer on the roster.

There are others, however, who will battle incumbents for playing time, starting spots or for prominent a role in a rotation. The Raiders upgraded their roster several times in free agency, and definitely increased the level of competition on the roster. That will happen again after the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Raiders have two first-round picks and five selections in the first 91.

Before that happens, let’s take a look at how some of the new free-agent additions will impact longer-term Raiders heading into the 2020 seasons.

DT Maliek Collins

The former Dallas Cowboy isn’t here to take Maurice Hurst’s job. It’s entirely possible, even likely, they play together in obvious passing situations as the team’s most athletic interior rushers.

Who pairs with Johnathan Hankins on rushing downs and in the base package is a bit up in the air, and Collins could take that job if he earns it. He played 763 defensive snaps last year, including 271 against the run. The Raiders typically have four defensive tackles on the roster and P.J. Hall makes that group right now, but Jon Gruden threw a shot across his bow in a meeting with reporters at the NFL combine. He’ll have to step up to fend off challenges from Daniel Ross, whom Rod Marinelli worked with in Dallas, and anyone else who comes via the draft.

Collins is a solid player, especially rushing the passer and fending off double teams, as this ESPN graphic shows:

Collins is going to play a lot, meaning others may play less with a new guy in the group.

Carl Nassib

The Raiders reportedly are paying the edge rusher handsomely, securing his services with a three-year, $25 million contract with $17 million guaranteed. That sum suggests a starting spot, but that shouldn’t be assumed.

Maxx Crosby will anchor one end on all three downs, and the Raiders expect to get better production from 2019 No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell on the other side. The Clemson product was solid against the run and knows he must be better rushing the passer. He vowed to come back a brand-new play in Year 2, and his work ethic and drive could bring about a production jump.

Nassib could fit in as a situational pass rusher on third down, possibly taking snaps from Ferrell in those situations. He can be a standup rusher as well, possibly playing some strongside linebacker if required considering he has some coverage experience. Time will tell on that.

Nassib’s a significant upgrade over Benson Mayowa in run defense, so he could play more often if he earns additional responsibility. Nassib is capable of playing all three downs, giving the Raiders an option should Ferrell’s second season not go as planned.

Jeff Heath

The Raiders have an experienced, solid option to start at free safety. That’s a role Erik Harris played in 2019, and he certainly won’t hand over that job without a fight. It could turn into a full-scale position battle if another safety isn’t added in the draft, as those two could fight for the right to pair with Johnathan Abram in the middle of the secondary.

It looks like a fair fight and could be a close one this summer.

The Raiders could use an extra body at safety, considering Abram, Harris, Heath and Dallin Leavitt are the primary options there. At this point, the position group doesn’t seem set.

Nelson Agholor

The Raiders will upgrade their receiver corps in the NFL draft. They just have to. If a top option is added, that won’t impact Tyrell Williams’ gig. He should start in 2020 and play a ton if he’s healthy.

Agholor could step in if the rookie(s) underwhelm in the preseason, but Zay Jones is the incumbent most impacted. Jones never gained Derek Carr’s trust in 2019, and Agholor’s addition could push him to the No. 5 receiver spot or off the roster completely if he doesn’t perform well in the preseason.

[RELATED: Raiders bet big, 49ers surprise among NFL draft bold predictions]

Marcus Mariota

The veteran quarterback isn’t on this list because he’s in a real competition to take Derek Carr’s gig. Derek Carr is the starting quarterback. Marcus Mariota is the backup. The position group is deeper, but Carr is the guy familiar with this offense. The Raiders are surrounding him with talent that will allow Carr to thrive in the team’s first season playing in Las Vegas.

Mariota should push Carr and help him in the meeting room and on the practice field and could get more quality out of him.

NOTE: Eli Apple isn’t mentioned because he’s currently set to take a starting spot from Daryl Worley, now an unrestricted free agent not expected to return. It’s also believed the Raiders will address the cornerback spot in the draft and create competition there. We’ll address Apple’s role closer after the draft.

Why Raiders' defensive coordinator should be happy with free-agent haul

Why Raiders' defensive coordinator should be happy with free-agent haul

The Raiders spent tons of money in free agency last year, but their investments were certainly skewed. They promised massive sums to Trent Brown and Tyrell Williams and Antonio Brown after he was acquired in a trade.

The defense, by contrast, was largely left alone.

Lamarcus Joyner and Vontaze Burfict were the only presumed impact players given to the defensive side, and coordinator Paul Guenther didn’t get much return on either investment.

He got six of the first seven NFL draft picks, a clear sign the Raiders were going young on defense and committed to a longer-term rebuild on that side of the ball.

This spring’s efforts have expedited that a bit.

The Raiders have agreed on terms with eight unrestricted free agents through Thursday morning. Six of them play defense.

Somewhere in the East Bay, Guenther might be celebrating a free-agent haul that’s talented, young and able to instantly upgrade a unit that just wasn’t good enough in recent seasons.

General manager Mike Mayock was candid about his team’s defensive deficiencies while speaking at the NFL scouting combine, hoisting blame on that unit for the team’s struggles in 2019. He didn’t just complain. Mayock did something about it.

Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden threw good money at the problem, shoring up glaring weaknesses at every level.

They brought in quality, complimentary three-down linebackers in Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski as part of a positional overhaul.

They added Maliek Collins to generate pressure inside. Carl Nassib will bring heat off the edge.

Jeff Heath adds depth and competition at safety. Eli Apple brings talent and untapped potential at cornerback.

Some of those additions were ideal. Most, however, were not.

The Raiders went after Jimmie Ward at safety. He stayed with the 49ers. They went hard after top cornerback Bryon Jones, a near-perfect scheme fit who took Miami’s money instead of a huge Raiders offer. Chris Harris Jr. cashed a Chargers paycheck despite the Raiders putting forth a longer-term deal.

The Silver and Black kicked the tires a Darius Slay trade, but the Lions shipped him to Philadelphia after a long-term deal was reached.

The Raiders are still pondering cornerback upgrades even with Apple in the fold, though the NFL draft might ultimately be the best venue for that now.

The Raiders have some offensive needs, especially at receiver. There’s a generational draft class to mine in late April, and it’s expected the Raiders take at least one of those pass-catchers.

That doesn’t mean they won’t think defense early in the draft. This analysis also doesn’t mean the Raiders are done adding to the defense in free agency. They’ll continue looking for options to strengthen the depth chart and give Guenther the weapons required to execute his scheme well.

Gruden and Mayock have done a commendable job adding talent to that side of the ball, by spending big and adjusting when original plans went awry. They’ll have to keep grinding through the offseason to find a proper mix that makes the defense a respectable unit capable of winning games when required.