Eleven members of the 2017 Oakland Raiders defense are free agents and there is one player in that group who gets a consensus “hell no” in regards to a return.
The 2018 Raiders may have a much different look under perceived new head coach Jon Gruden. He will combine with general manager Reggie McKenzie to not only stock, but also improve upon a defense that was better in the tail end of this past season.
The free agents: Safety Reggie Nelson; linebacker NaVorro Bowman; defensive end Denico Autry; long snapper Jon Condo; defensive tackle Justin Ellis; safety Keith McGill; cornerback TJ Carrie; linebacker Shilique Calhoun; linebacker James Cowser; safety Erik Harris; linebacker Aldon Smith.
Bowman: The former San Francisco 49er was a stabilizing force at middle linebacker for the Raiders. His coverage skills deteriorated, but his sheer-force ability against proved the 30-year-old is still a capable ever-down Mike. A two-year deal similar to what tight end Jared Cook got last offseason should suffice.
Autry: The 27-year-old provided some pass-rush punch from the interior with five sacks. He put a lot of good work on film this past season and he will undoubtedly attract offers from other squads. This is the first time Autry will hit the unrestricted market and he would be wise to listen to all offers.
Condo: He may be 36, but you do not know how fortunate you are to have a quality long snapper until something goes awry. Sure, Oakland could find a cheaper option, but Condo is a heady veteran who is solid.
Carrie: The former seventh rounder is 27 and capable of playing outside, in the slot and safety. His tape form this past season is a rollercoaster performance, yet he will get attention on the market. However, his versatility cannot be denied. He is also the trusted deep fair-catch man on punt returns.
Calhoun: The 25-year-old former third-round pick is an exclusive restricted free agent thanks to being released, signed to the practice squad and then elevated to the active roster. His draft pedigree merits another deal (short and cheap). Perhaps Gruden and his staff can get the promising defender back on track.
Cowser: The undrafted 27-year-old is slated for exclusive restricted free agency, meaning Oakland can tender him at a cap-friendly rate. While his defensive snaps were limited, his special teams work merits another look-see.
Nelson: The no-brainer. The 34-year-old’s body has caught up to him proving again Father Time is undefeated. The Raiders have younger options at safety waiting to ascend to the starting role. Retirement is on the horizon for the once-ballhawk safety.
Ellis: The 27-year-old had his best season as a Raider, but when compared to the league as a whole, he was still a middling interior defender. Like Stacy McGee last season, the Raiders should let Ellis walk and find a replacement in the draft.
McGill: The 28-year-old safety would be cheap to bring back, but Oakland needs to move on. The Raiders should not place unnecessary obstacles in front of younger safeties poised for starting roles.
Harris: As an exclusive unrestricted free agent, the 27-year-old special teamer would be inexpensive. Nevertheless, the Raiders can find another free-agent flier in the same vein as a replacement this offseason.
Smith: Reinstatement for the 28-year-old pass rusher is nowhere in sight. That alone makes him a no-go for resigning.