Raiders Pass Rush Options

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Potential Oakland Raiders Target DE Ziggy Ansah
Dec 24, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) is sacked by Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency opened last week. Yet, the Raiders still haven’t addressed one of their biggest and most glaring needs at pass rusher. They’ve got an estimated $33 million in cap space left even after some of their marquee free agent signings. How can they use that in the open market to fill their void on the edge?

The top guys like Frank Clark, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney and Dee Ford received the franchise tag. Next, Dante Fowler and Brandon Graham stayed home for great money. Trey Flowers left for a new home and Terrell Suggs led the old guys by taking his talents to Arizona.

 

A proven pass rusher like Suggs or even Cameron Wake would’ve been great in Oakland, even if they’re past the prime. Dwight Freeney once served a similar mentorship role in Seattle to Clark. Oakland could use some of that veteran influence for their young guys.

Otherwise, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith were both seen as ideal bargain signings for the Raiders by many including myself. They both went to Green Bay, which makes sense since their experience is more geared towards a 3-4 defense. Markus Golden or even Shaq Barrett could’ve been even cheaper, under-30 pass rushers in Oakland that made sense. However, they’re off the market too.

What’s left? Let’s cross off the guys like Benson Mayowa, Kony Ealy or Frostee Rucker because the Raiders know what they can do. Here is a breakdown of what is left at edge rusher for the Raiders in free agency.

 

Tier One

These are the household names. The best guys available looking for bigger contracts closer to the double-digit millions. Any of these players instantly upgrade the Raiders pass rush and Madden overall rating (Joking). For the Raiders, this group really depends on price as they’ve already spent a lot and probably won’t be too eager to spend much more.

Ezekiel Ansah

Oakland should start their pursuit for a pass rush with Ziggy Ansah. Ansah is a scheme fit and coming off an injury so he should be cheap. The former Lions end would be a great strong side end that can slide inside. He had only four sacks in seven seasons so there’s a reason why his market has been slow to develop.

Either way, Ansah is an upgrade for what the Raiders have. The Silver and Black might not get him to play under a short-term contract given that he played under a franchise tag last year and injuries hurt his value. Ziggy makes sense if the price isn’t too high for the free agency pool’s best remaining rusher.

Justin Houston

Here’s a name we know and love due to him harassing us as a Chief over his career. Houston got his walking papers from Kansas City as the 30-year-old had a $14 million cap hit. Still, he finished last year with nine sacks including two in a divisional Playoff game. Durability is a concern given his age and the fact that he missed four games in 2018. He missed most of the 2016 season and a part of the 2015 season after reaching 22 sacks in 2014.

Ultimately, Houston is undersized for the prototype end in the Raiders’ 4-3 defense since he played most his career as standup 3-4 end. Regardless, he’s familiar with the division and would be Oakland’s best rusher as soon as he puts his pen to paper. Perhaps, the Raiders can get him to sign a short-term, prove-it deal. Oakland can also offer him a chance to play his former team twice, which is priceless.

Tier Two  

The best of the rest. These guys have proven themselves in the league. Their career trajectory isn’t necessarily trending up though, which is why they’re available. Oakland will consider them and probably many other teams too. These guys might even be available after the draft.

Adrian Clayborn

For what it is worth, Clayborn graded as PFF’s No. 50 edge rusher and finished above most of the guys on the rest of this list. The 30-year-old also gained experience as a 3-4 and 4-3 over his career, despite his size and length being less than ideal for the traditional end spot. Moreover, he finished his only season in New England with 2.5 sacks after having 30 between seven seasons in Atlanta and Tampa Bay combined. Clayborn battled injuries early in his career but he’s been more reliable since.

In Oakland, Clayborn would be a nice depth option behind whomever they draft or Key. Not to mention, he won a Super Bowl ring last year with the Pats. Still, there might be better scheme fits out there.

 

Vinny Curry

Then, there’s Curry who helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl in 2017. Curry has never had more than nine sacks since 2014. However, he’s been consistent getting at least 2.5 sacks in every season since. He’s made himself more as a pass run stopper with versatility to slide inside.

This makes him a more natural fit in Oakland. The Silver and Black could look to him as a solid veteran who can help their rotation out, like Frostee Rucker. Super Bowl experience is priceless.

 

Michael Johnson

Speaking of Rucker, Johnson is the most likely to get signed due to his connections to current Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther when they were together in Cincinnati. Johnson is the big, lengthy, and athletic prospect that is ideal for Paul’s scheme. He also doesn’t have nearly the amount of injury concerns as others on this list.

Still, Johnson is 32 and finished last year with .5 sacks and an interception. He battled through a knee injury though and he can slide inside. Johnson could probably get a deal with the Raiders it just remains to be seen how much he can bring to the team. Is he willing to settle for a rotational role and a small contract?

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Andre Branch

Branch is another player who can play inside or outside in the Raiders defense. He missed two games in each of the last two seasons but he is barely crossing thirty. Last year, he finished with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. That was his lowest sack total since his rookie year. PFF also ranked him outside the top 100 edge rushers.

Either way, the Raiders may consider Branch due to his age, versatility, and size. His contract should also be right like most of the people in this group. The Raiders might take a chance on him hoping last year was fluke.

 

Derrick Morgan

Morgan got hurt early last season and never looked like himself. It didn’t help that Harold Landry slowly replaced too. Nonetheless, he barely turned 30 and has 44.5 career sacks. He got only .5 sacks last year but he also brings scheme versatility.

Again, I’m not sure if the Raiders don’t want a bigger body at end. Still, Morgan could come cheap and he might be exactly what the Raiders want to push Arden Key for playing time on the backside. Oakland would bank that last year was also an outlier.

 

Nick Perry

Perry also had a down year last year. He only played in nine games, registered 1.5 sacks and ended the season on injured reserve. For his career, he has 32 sacks as a stand up edge rusher during his career in Green Bay.

For the Raiders, Perry is the best athlete in this group but he doesn’t really have the size or length the Raiders need at pass rusher. They’ll probably look elsewhere but Perry did go to USC so there’s a chance he might take a discount to play in CA again. We all know the USC to Raiders connection is strong.

 

Tier Three  – Take a chance on me

You could argue anyone in t this group should get ranked in the second tier. However, these are the players who no one is sure what they’re getting. These guys are younger with more flashes but lacking the consistency of the last group. They’re the players hoping a change of scenery can help them finally breakthrough, get paid and stick in the league.

 

Aaron Lynch

It wasn’t too long ago that Lynch was a boom-or-bust project out of South Florida in 2014 via a transfer from Notre Dame. Then he had 12.5 in his first two seasons appeared trending towards becoming a good player. Then he battled injuries and had 2.5 sacks the next two years. San Francisco shipped him to Chicago where he had three sacks and an interception in a rotational role.

Lynch already visited the Raiders and it is honestly weird that he didn’t sign since he has the ideal size, length and frame for the Raiders. He’s only 26, graded as PFF’s No. 28 edge and is familiar with the Bay from his time in S.F. This probably has something to do with him wanting more money long-term but Lynch might be wise to take a bigger role in Oakland even if he gives up money right now.

 

Dion Jordan

Don’t forget the Raiders traded the No. 3 pick in 2013 to the Dolphins, which they used on Jordan. He lasted only two seasons in Miami and recorded only three sacks during his time there, before he missed two seasons dealing with off-field concerns. He resurfaced with the Hawks in 2017 and flashed ability registering four sacks in five games. Jordan was also more balanced off the field. Then, he only recorded 1.5 sacks in 12 games last year and it is no wonder the market is slow for the 29-year-old.

Still, Jordan offers the size, speed, and athleticism that you cannot teach. Considering Oakland’s limited pass rush, he might make sense as a low-risk, high-reward player. Not to mention, his mentor and person who helped him get his life together is the same guy who helped Marshawn Lynch not too long ago. Maybe, Jordan makes sense in the Bay for that reason.

 

Shane Ray

Remember when Ray fell due to off-field concerns and it looked like the Broncos got the steal of the 2015 draft? Ray appeared headed towards becoming a player with 8 sacks in his second year. Then, he battled injuries in 2017.

Last year, Ray finished the season as a healthy scratch for Denver’s last three games. They appeared to move on from Rey and into the Bradley Chubb era. Either way, Ray is only 25 and he’ll bank on another team giving him a chance to pay off on all that draft potential. It most likely won’t be the Raiders given that Ray is better suited for a 3-4 stand up edge role. However, he does know the division and might take a discount to play the Broncos twice a year. The Raiders will take that.

 

Tier Four – Best Football is Behind Them

There’s no question these guys have something to offer the Raiders in terms of leadership and even talent, this late in the career. The only issue is they’ve worked and earned the right to determine if they still want to play and how much money another year of punishment is worth. Regardless, Oakland might not engage this tier until after the draft.

Chris Long

This one is self explanatory. A Raiders legacy and conscious in the community. Don’t forget, Long brings 3-4 and 4-3 experience with two Super Bowl rings in three years. He hasn’t missed a game over that time span either. Long is 33 but finished last year with 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Plus, he’s already made a ton of money in his career so he could come as a bargain.

The only question is does he still want to play football because he doesn’t have much else to prove. Further, how much money will he want? Ultimately, it would be great to see Chris suit up in his Pop’s old uniform one-time, especially as the Raiders try to build a winning culture. Not to mention, Long would still play a lot of meaningful football in Oakland.

Other Guys

Other guys like Pernell McPhee and Connor Barwin don’t appear to be anything more than depth at this point in their career, despite their name recognition.

 

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