Jared Cook

Raiders sign Luke Willson, add to already competitive tight end group

Raiders sign Luke Willson, add to already competitive tight end group

The Raiders added depth to an already sturdy tight end group by signing Luke Willson on Friday afternoon, adding fire to what should be a competitive position group throughout the offseason and training camp.

Willson isn’t guaranteed one of the three (or four, maximum) available spots on September’s 53-man roster, but he’ll challenge for one if he finds previous form following a down year. He was an effective low-volume target with the Seattle Seahawks, but didn’t pan out with the Detroit Lions in 2018.

Standing 6-foot-5, 251 pounds, Willson can be an effective blocker and will surely be in the mix on special teams.

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Willson joins a position group that already includes Lee Smith, Derek Carrier, Darren Waller and Paul Butler. Jared Cook signed with the New Orleans Saints earlier this week, and Waller will be given a crack at his receiving role. Don’t rule out the Raiders selecting a tight end early, or at some point in this year’s NFL draft.

With up to four roster spots available, the established Willson could pay dividends, or push Carrier to be more impactful on offense.

As a side note, Willson is from Windsor, Canada. The Raiders are in talks to play an exhibition game north of the border against the Green Bay Packers.

Raiders' Darren Waller will get huge opportunity to replace Jared Cook

Raiders' Darren Waller will get huge opportunity to replace Jared Cook

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wasn’t happy about losing Jared Cook to the Saints. The veteran tight end was Derek Carr’s top target a season ago, someone Gruden moved freely across the formation to great effect.

Gruden may not have liked Cook signing elsewhere, but he knew full well it was coming. The Raiders weren’t going to pay competitive market value for a soon-to-be 32-year old, even coming off a career year.

Cook’s market was subdued somewhat, and he still signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with $8 million guaranteed in 2019. The Raiders weren’t going there, and didn’t try too hard to keep him around.

They have restocked offensively, acquiring Antonio Brown in trade and Tyrell Williams in free agency. Cook would’ve fit well with those two, but the Raiders still let him walk.

Gruden called it “sickening” to lose players like Cook, but are ready to move on without him.

“We lost a really good player, man,” Gruden said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. “It’s sickening to think that we lost that guy. That’s what I don’t like about free agency. You can’t keep all the guys you want. (Losing Cook), that’s a lot of production to replace.”

They have several tight ends under contract, including block-first starter Lee Smith, versatile backup Derek Carrier, first-year player Paul Butler and a potential Cook clone in Darren Waller.

Waller has speed and athleticism to spare, traits showcased after he was signed late last season off Baltimore’s practice squad. The 26-year old converted receiver has been suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy but seems committed to making the most of his chance with the Raiders.

“This Darren Waller is very interesting,” Gruden said. “We’re going to give him the chance of a lifetime. So, if you’re listening out there Darren, let’s go brother. I really think he’s intriguing. It will be an interesting training camp for him.”

It’s still possible Waller has some competition, even after Gruden’s nice words. The Raiders could look to the draft for help there. Iowa’s Noah Fant is an interesting prospect and a dynamic receiving talent and could be an option with one of the Raiders’ later first-round picks. San Jose State’s Josh Oliver is another athletic option. So is San Diego State’s Kahale Warring.

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The Raiders will keep their eyes peeled for value and fit at this position.

“We’ll keep looking,” Gruden said. “Stepping in for Cook, those are some big shoes to fill.”

Former Raiders tight end Jared Cook signs with New Orleans Saints

Former Raiders tight end Jared Cook signs with New Orleans Saints

The Raiders have been busy so far this offseason, making numerous changes up and down their roster heading into Jon Gruden's second season -- in his second Raiders' stint -- at the helm.

According to a new report, it appears they have more work left ahead of them.

The Saints officially signed Jared Cook as they announced on Wednesday:

As NBC Sports Bay Area's Scott Bair notes, this won't come as a surprise to the Raiders.

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Cook is coming off the best season of his career, in which he caught 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns as Derek Carr's primary security blanket. While Oakland has made significant additions to their passing attack in the form of receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, it appears they will need to find a new tight end as well.