The Raiders already heavily invested in the d-line during last year’s draft and the 2018 draft. Last year’s draft gave them a couple of bookends to build around with Maxx Crosby and Clellin Ferrell.
On one end, the Raiders have Crosby who came out of nowhere with 10 sacks last year as a pick. He seems like a legit player even though he didn’t get a bulk of the snaps until injuries let him. It’s worth getting a veteran to work with Crosby in case he experiences any sophomore slump.
Ferrell, on the other hand, was the highly productive college player drafted a bit too high based on upside. He had a quiet 4.5 sacks last year. That’s solid enough except you would like a little more from your No. 4 pick as most of his sacks came versus the lowly Chargers. Either way, Ferrell can dominate into a strong player who can slide inside with the right rotation and starters around him.
The Rotational Guys
Speaking of which, the Raiders 2017 draft class features players who have flashed but failed to show anything more than solid to good play for a bad defense. This should be the offseason of truth for Mo Hurst, PJ Hall, and Arden Key. They are lucky to have been apart of Gruden’s first draft class but unlucky that the GM who drafted them, Reggie McKenzie is no longer with the team.
Those guys could get traded if the Raiders can get a pick. Alternatively, the Raiders may keep them and make them work for their playing time versus veteran free agency pickups or draft picks. Hurst, Hall, and Key could all be solid rotational players in the right scheme with quality players around them. They could be that with the Raiders if the starting group was better and they could limit those players to the situations they play best.
Oakland can cut Hankins and save almost half his salary. It remains to be seen if they will do that since they will need a veteran run stuffer at nose tackle with or without Hankins. The former Giants defensive tackle runs hot or cold. Las Vegas could afford to sign a veteran to push or upgrade Hankins regardless if they keep him into the season or not.
Then, there is Benson Mayowa who surged again year with seven sacks as a key rotational player and occasional starter. Mayowa is a free agent but his old coach is now the d-line assistant so maybe he stays on board?
Stay or Go
Josh Mauro was also in the defensive line rotation. Zero sacks in seven starts probably means this journeyman’s services will move elsewhere.
Dion Jordan joined the Raiders during the season and flashed with two sacks. He might be worth bringing back for a similar rotation role as he turns thirty next year. However, an upgrade does not hurt either.
Here are some other ways the Raiders can add to their defensive line rotation in free agency. We start on the edges and move inside because the defensive line needs upgrades and depth across the board. Las Vegas values guys who can play multiple spots as well.
Yannick Ngakoue: A Dream
Ngakoue said he wants to get traded from the Jaguars. Jacksonville should command that second-round pick the 49ers gave up for Dee Ford at least. All makes acquiring him harder. However, 37.5 sacks in four seasons are worth the investment. The bigger question is will the Raiders give up a pick and give him a big contract at age 24. Don’t forget how he trolled the hell out of Derek Carr so I am not sure if the Raiders are even on his radar as long as D.C. is QB.
Bud Dupree: Not Happening
Dupree is expected to get the franchise tag. However, anything could happen after his breakout season with 11.5 sacks. Dupree would get his opportunity to play full-time hand in the dirt defensive end with the Silver and Black. Still, he has been up and down his entire career and if Pittsburgh wants to pay him after a breakout season let them.
Robert Quinn: Mr. Reliable
Quinn had a resurgent season last year as well with 11.5 sacks in 14 games. Defensive line coach Rob Marinelli was the defensive coordinator on the Cowboys with Quinn starting for him last year. That connection could carry on for the Raiders. Quinn will be 30-years-old next year but when he is a consistent disruption when healthy over his career. That should be enough to get him consideration to mentor Crosby and Ferrell in the defensive rotation.
Everson Griffen: The Bargain
One of my favorite sleepers. Griffen will be 33-years-old next season but he finished with eight sacks and 2 forced fumbles last year. Griffen opted out of three years on his deal and $8 million last season so you figure his services start at that price. Las Vegas runs a scheme not too different from the Vikings so Griffen would be a nice fit to mentor the other edges if they price is right.
Shaq Lawson: More Clemson
Lawson finished one of his best statistical seasons with 6.5 sacks last year. He could be a candidate to play Mayowa’s role for the Raiders. However, Buffalo did not exercise their option on the 2016 first-round pick who never lived up to expectations and heard his name in constant rumors. Still, there’s a Clemson connection which Mayock loves
Chris Jones: More Dreams
More tag and trades are expected this year. Kansas City pulled off moving Dee Ford last year but this year they will have to do the same with Jones. Jones will be 26 next year and his career includes 33 career sacks, 9 sacks in 12 games last year. Jones can play inside or out but probably best fits as a three-technique with the Raiders. Unfortunately, he plays for the Chiefs which complicates the Raiders trading for him. They will have to give up a pick and make him a record contract so the Raiders are probably out on Jones unless he hits unrestricted free agency. Even then, he is probably out of the Silver and Black price range.
Arik Armstead: Is the Price Right?
There is mutual interest in Armstead staying a 49er but that doesn’t mean it will happen. San Francisco will need to make some cap priorities and Armstead will command interest. He would thrive alongside our young defensive line as a three-technique off his first 10 sacks season. The question remains if he stays in San Francisco and if the Raiders put the dinero to get the 26-year-old his first big contract.
Jarran Reed: Why Not
Two sacks in 10 games after 10.5 sacks the season before. Personally, I prefer to buy low on a player off a down year overpaying high on a player off one good season. Reed is worth a prove-it deal. Plus, he got suspended last year which means his perceived red flag is the Raiders gain. Reed could play both defensive tackle spots in the Raiders scheme. He is 28 which means he might take a short-term deal in hopes of getting a big deal next year.
Derek Wolfe: A Welcomed Foe
Wolfe registered 7 sacks and 8 tackles for loss in 12 games last year. It was one of his best statistical seasons and he is reportedly lining up free agency visits already. The Raiders should take a look at the long-time Broncos player who will turn 30 next year. Wolfe probably more likely ends up with a 3-4 defense but the 2015 Super Bowl Champion is worth a look for the Raiders inside pass rush.
Emmanuel Ogbah: More Realistic
Ogbah finished last year with 5.5 sacks in 10 games and 4 starts for the Chiefs. He would be a candidate to stay there if they didn’t have other cap needs. Ogbah might still be affordable enough to stay in Kansas City. He brings the size and length to play inside or out and has done both over his career. If the Raiders strike out on better options, Ogbah might be a nice sleeper.
Sheldon Day: Value
Fifteen tackles, 5 for loss, 2 QB Hits and a sack in 15 appearances and two starts for the 49ers. He could be a solid rotational depth piece at the three-technique. Day is only 26 with Super Bowl experience too.
Michael Brockers: Production
Brockers played all over the Rams defense his entire career. He might slip through the cracks considering the talented draft class and free agency filled with interior defensive linemen. He could still be a nice rotational piece for the Raiders to push Hankins.
Jordan Phillips: Boom or Bust
Phillips had a breakout season with 9.5 sacks with the Bills last year but he will test free agency. PFF ranked him 103 out of 113 but Phillips always offered this sort of potential. His penalties and lack of production outside that one year might discount him. The Raiders could give him a one-year prove-it deal. He offers the size to play nose with the explosiveness and getoff to play the other DT spot as well. He would probably start for the Raiders right away.
Vernon Butler: Potential
Butler had a breakout year with six sacks as the Panthers moved to more odd fronts that benefited him. He is a big athlete as well who could upgrade the Raiders nose tackle position as well. Nonetheless, he probably ends up with a team that runs more 3-4 looks. Vegas should still consider him if the price is right.
A’Shawn Robinson: Kick the Tires
Three forced fumbles, three recoveries, five sacks and 172 tackles in four seasons with Detroit. Again, probably a better fit for a defense with more two-gapping opportunities. Either way, Robinson is a big interior lineman barely turning 25 so he is worth Vegas consideration on the right contract.
Dark Horse: Geno Atkins or Carlos Dunlap
We all know the Raiders to Bengals pipeline is real ask Vontaze Burfict. Would the Raiders try to get defensive Paul Guenther another familiar veteran on the defensive line?
The Bengals could outright cut the 32-year-old Atkins who was hurt last year. That would save Cincinnati over $6 million this year and two more years on his deal.
Cinci could also save $6 million cutting a 31-year-old Dunlap. He only has one more year after 2020 left on his deal though which means he is far more tradeable.
If the Raiders could get either player for a late-round draft pick why not make the move?
Marcell Dareus, Damien Harrison, Ziggy Ansah, Michael Bennett, Mike Daniels, Gerald McCoy, Mike Pennel, Dontari Poe, Timmy Jernigan, Danny Shelton, Noah Spence and Beau Allen have all been free agents over the past few years. I am a firm believer that teams don’t not sign a guy and then sign him a year or two older later. The point is, the Raiders could’ve had any one of these guys over the course of the past few offseasons if they wanted.
Speaking of trades, I also omitted Leonard Williams, Vic Beasley, Jason Pierre-Paul and Jadeveon Clowney. Williams and Clowney both got traded for the top half of the draft compensation which means their teams better try hard to re-sign them. Beasley and Pierre-Paul were both rumored available too. Beasley because he underperformed and JPP because of his age and contract. The Raiders could sign any of these guys now that they are free but I would put the odds very low.
I group all the positions together because they will probably come out of the same cap and draft budget. The Raiders should spend in the eight figures here to get both a premium piece and one or two additional rotational veterans.
For me, upgrading the defensive line starts with the interior defensive line. I’ve been saying that for years but maybe this is the year the Raiders finally listen as there is a ton of talent on the open market. As much talent, as there is on the inside in the draft, the Raiders shouldn’t dip in that pool unless it is a for sure can’t miss top prospects available. There is no guarantee a player drafted is better than what they have on the roster instantly.
You want to get a DT and Nose who can upgrade that unit and push for time from your young guys. That is how you improve. I look at trying to add Chris Jones or Arik Armstead first and foremost. They have the athleticism to play the edge as well.
After that, Reed or Phillips makes sense at the right price as high risk and reward guys. Brockers’ experience wouldn’t be bad either. The Raiders just really need a nose tackle who can push Hankins, get off the ball and disrupt the passer.
On the edge, the Raiders are a bit more set. That means they don’t have to push to find a starter. Ngakoue would be great, but he isn’t absolutely necessary. Vegas could save some serious long-term coin giving Griffin and or Quinn. Sign one of the veterans to both upgrade your locker room and pass rush early or hold out for the draft.