Jason Witten

NFL free agency: Mike Mayock explains why Raiders signed Jason Witten


NFL free agency: Mike Mayock explains why Raiders signed Jason Witten

Most of the Raiders’ free-agent signings made perfect sense. They were surgical strikes to fortify weak position groups, generally with younger players entering their prime.

Adding Jason Witten on a one-year deal, however, was a head-scratcher. He’s in his late 30s, clearly lacking the athleticism he once had and plays what might be the Raiders’ most complete position.

They had Darren Waller and Foster Moreau and Derek Carrier already, so adding Witten was putting a hat on a hat.

The Raiders didn’t see it that way. They considered the addition a no-brainer, something that will strengthen the Raiders' locker room and leadership core.

“If there’s a Mount Rushmore of NFL tight ends, he’s on it,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said. “I know he’s 37 years old and I know we have a pretty good tight end room, but when you talk about bringing in a guy like him, not only can he still play, he had over 60 catches, can block the backside c-gap, still a competitive football player, but on top of that, he brings this wealth of knowledge about how to be a professional.

“He’s the quintessential culture guy. We plug him in our locker room and we have one more veteran that can look around the room and tell people what to do and what not to do.”

Witten wasn’t terrible in 2019, with 63 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns after spending the previous year in the broadcast booth. He caught 75 percent of his targets, though his 8.4 yards per reception was a career-low.

He should be able to help the Raiders as a leader and on the field, where head coach Jon Gruden likes to use multiple tight end sets. Teams normally keep three tight ends on the roster, but a fourth would make sense in this instance considering Carrier’s special teams prowess.

Having Witten on the roster also creates a contingency plan if Moreau isn’t ready to compete in training camp and the early regular season. The LSU product suffered an ACL tear down the stretch last season.

“Hopefully [Foster] is going to be 100 percent day one, but if he’s not, we have a conventional Y that can play, plus we have a guy in that tight end room that I think is going to help the young guys, and I’m talking about all of them, Darren, Foster, Derek,” Mayock said. “Jon and I looked at this, we were jointed at the hip on this decision. We just thought it was too good of an opportunity both for our locker room and for our tight ends room, and by the way, the guy can still play a little bit.”

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Mayock provided an update on Moreau’s progress as he continues to rehab on his own in Louisiana while the country continues to shelter in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Foster is doing really well,” Mayock said. “He’s been in Baton Rouge, obviously he’s an LSU guy. He’s been rehabbing there at LSU. He’s ahead of schedule. If you know the kind of kid that Foster Moreau is, you know he’s working his tail off. If anybody can come back and be ready for training camp coming off that ACL, it’s going to be Foster. He’s done great.”

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Raiders re-sign Kyle Wilber, who will remain fixture on special teams

Raiders re-sign Kyle Wilber, who will remain fixture on special teams

The Raiders re-signed linebacker and core special teams player Kyle Wilber on Wednesday, per the NFL transaction wire.

Wilber doesn’t play much defense but is an anchor in every phase of the kicking game and was a team captain during the 2018 season.

He’s a favorite of special teams coach Rich Bisaccia, who was instrumental in bringing him over from the Dallas Cowboys two offseasons ago.

Wilber will lead the special teams along with recent signing Jeff Heath, another quality special teams player imported from Dallas. The Raiders value veteran experience in the kicking game, where younger and less-heralded players generally work.

Wilber is the sixth Raiders player to re-sign with the team since the offseason began.

Pacts with linebacker Cory Littleton, receiver Nelson Agholor, tight end Jason Witten and quarterback Marcus Mariota were also on Wednesday’s NFL transaction wire. The re-signing of Rod Smith was on there, too. All of those agreements had been previously reported.

[RELATED: Raiders still have some work to do to shore up secondary]

At the time of publication, the Raiders had not formally announced any of their free-agent additions or retentions. There’s a lag in official signings and announcements due to travel restrictions and NFL team facility closures implemented during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Raiders sign Nick O'Leary in NFL free agency, add to tight end group

Raiders sign Nick O'Leary in NFL free agency, add to tight end group

The Raiders are well-stocked at tight end. Like, doomsday-prepper style.

They added another talent to a crowded group on Saturday afternoon, agreeing on terms of a contract with Nick O’Leary. His agency reported the news.

O’Leary spent last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins after a trade. He has been a reserve in his career, and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll have a roster spot with the Raiders.

The Silver and Black definitely will have Darren Waller, Foster Moreau and Jason Witten on the roster next year. Derek Carrier’s under contract and is a glue guy and core special teams player worthy of employment.

NFL teams typically carry three tight ends, maybe four if one’s a quality special teamer, on the roster. Moreau suffered a knee injury late in the 2019 season and O’Leary could be an option if the LSU product isn’t quite ready to start the season.

[RELATED: Why Raiders signed Agholor late in free agency]

It might be tough to make the squad if Moreau is ready to go. Last year’s fourth-round pick is a versatile talent. Waller’s an elite receiving target and Witten’s a future Hall of Famer who isn’t what he once was but still has some juice left. Carrier’s a quality reserve and rounds out a position group that’s as strong as any on the roster.