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.”
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.”