When word leaked that the Raiders sign NT Justin Ellis to a three-year deal, disbelief rattled through the fanbase. While Justin Ellis played his best football in 2017, that length of a contract felt rather befuddling. However, as the case with any deal with Reggie McKenzie, reasons exist. On the other hand, for every rationalization comes another question.
Is that money a bit much?
Granted, a three-year deal does not appear excessive. Meanwhile, the fifteen million dollars does. In addition, the six million guaranteed means the Raiders decided to commit at least two years to Ellis. In all honesty, paying that money to a decent player seems a bridge too far for more of RaiderNation. With the Raiders needing to save cap room for a large rookie class and other needs, Ellis’ contract sticks out like a sore thumb.
Should anyone expect a raise in his level of play?
To his credit, Justin Ellis does not try to do too much. He does not own a varied pass rush repertoire. In that case, what you see is what you get. Ellis’ sole goal is to stop the run at clog the middle. While some nose tackles can provide a meaningful bust upfield, Ellis is not of that ilk. For example, his .5 sacks bears testament to that.
With that said, the Raiders brought him back for a reason. If Jon Gruden, Reggie McKenzie, and Paul Guenther see Ellis as a bull in the middle, they have plans for the other defensive line spots. With Khalil Mack lining up on one end, Oakland still needs two spots to fill. The team still needs a three-technique. For various reasons, Mario Edwards, Eddie Vanderdoes, and the cast of middling producers could not generate any interior rush.
Were there other options?
Granted, Reggie McKenzie usually sides with the players he brought to Oakland. On the other hand, suitable replacements for Ellis existed.
Danny Shelton: The Browns sent the former first rounder to New England for a mid-round pick. If the Patriots trade for a player, chances are they see value and he will emerge while playing there.
DaQuan Jones: Although few know the Titans’ former plugger, Jones provides a better rush than Ellis does. Additionally, they are close in age. Jones could have enhanced the Oakland pass rush.
Overall, Justin Ellis remains a Raider. Now, playing on that wretched defense for most of last season would make anyone not named Mack look horrendous. If the Raiders can find a talented 3-tech to pair inside, this signing could work. Conversely, if McKenzie stays put with his stable of quick tackles now, the middle of the pocket will stay clean.