It’s easy to turn your head towards the NFL Draft around the corner, but the Raiders can’t look past free agency which officially opens March 18th with the league’s new year. Their first order of business should include addressing the linebacker position.
Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the Raiders try to fill this position with sleepers and bargains. Some, you could argue, hit like Nick Roach, Vontaze Burfict, Bruce Irvin, Tahir Whitehead or Navarro Bowman. Others flopped like Derrick Johnson, Curtis Lofton and more.
Still, you could argue this position is among the worst on the roster. Burfict was solid last year but his lack of discipline and aggression cost him an indefinite suspension. The Raiders defense never recovered from Burfict’s suspension. Burfict is a free agent and might be worth a depth option. Either way, he should still get pushed for playing time.
Tahir Whitehead was ok in run support, blitzing, leading the team and being a good guy even if he lacks adequate coverage skills for the modern NFL. The Raiders finally cut Tahir Whitehead which will gain them more than $6 million in cap space. Again, with or without Whitehead the Raiders needed an upgrade at the position.
Marquel Lee finished his year on injured reserve with an ankle injury. The 2017 fifth-rounder will enter the final year of his rookie contract. Lee is a solid role and depth player but could get upgraded or pushed for playing time too.
Thus, the Raiders could use multiple roster moves at the linebacker position this year. Luckily, this draft class is filled with different types of linebackers who can help the Raiders across the board. The kicker is Las Vegas has no second-rounder to snag a steal so they will have to gamble that their guy is there in the third round.
Either way, the Raiders got to first figure out what they will do at the linebacker position in free agency. They should look to the draft for at least one starting linebacker with their five picks in the first three rounds as well as adding one or two linebackers as well as keeping Burfict or Lee.
Joe Schobert – The Dream
Schobert is 26-years-old and fresh off a season where he finished with 4 interceptions. It was his third consecutive season with over 100 tackles too. He is not expected to stay in Cleveland and he should get offered a ton of cash. The Raiders will probably get priced out of this one since Schobert can play multiple positions and schemes. Nonetheless, his age and fit are the reason why he is atop many Raiders free agency big boards.
Corey Littleton – The Goal
Littleton has 7.5 sacks, 259 tackles, 2 ff and 5 interceptions between the past two seasons as a starter for the Rams. He played in a Super Bowl last year and he could upgrade the Raiders pass defense. Littleton is a PFF Darling too. In theory, Littleton would give the Raiders a linebacker who is finally competent in coverage. That’s a large reason why he is a linebacker constantly speculated as a fit for the Raiders. The biggest obstacle will again be price since this is a very deep class for all linebackers spots in the draft.
Blake Martinez – A Change of Scenery
Martinez is another 26-year-old set to hit free agency. The PFF rating isn’t much less pedestrian than some of the players with more experience than him. However, Martinez could be the guy who benefits most from a change of scenery. That is what the Raiders would bank on if they made Martinez a big contract offer, making him the starter.
Nick Kwiatkoski – Low Key
Kwiatkoski is off his best season. Starting eight games a year ago. the 26-year-old finished last season with three sacks, a pick and a forced fumbled. He carries a good grade from PFF as well. Although he is not a household name, Kwiatkoski should get a ton of interest from other teams who need an inside linebacker. Again, the Raiders’ interest will probably come down to price.
Nick Vigil – Scheme Fit
Vigil had his best statistical season as he started the full season for the first time. He finished with an interception, sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery along with 111 total tackles. He knows Paul Geunther’s defense which is nice. Vigil should be a nice plan B if the Raiders strike out on the other top linebackers on the right side of thirty.
Alec Ogletree – Dark Horse
The former Rams Pro Bowler had a down year this year which led to him being a cap casualty. After having five interceptions and over 90 tackles last year, he had only 80 tackles and one pick. Ogletree is only 28 so there is some hope he can turn it around with the Raiders for a couple of years. He played multiple linebacker spots over his career too but he is probably best on the outside.
Nigel Bradham – The Bargain
Bradham started getting phased out in Philadelphia. He doesn’t offer much of an upgrade in terms of coverage. He does have a Super Bowl ring and offers versatility to play a couple of different linebacker spots. PFF ranked him as the No. 31 player at age 30. Bradham has to be better than Whitehead at least, right?
Mychal Kendricks – Why Not?
In 14 games last season, Kendrick finished with 71 tackles, 3 sacks, and 1 interception. He is on about to turn 30 and brings some Super Bowl experience too. Kendricks will probably look at a more obvious contender again but he is a good player to take a look at if the Raiders miss on other linebackers.
Danny Trevathan – Buying Low
Here is another linebacker with Super Bowl experience about to be 30-years-old. Trevathan finished last year on IR but his coverage skills weren’t that great before. He is another emergency option as he finished 2018 with over 100 tackles in one of his best statistical years. This move seems a couple of years too late but it could pay off if you believe Trevathan is still a starting linebacker when healthy.
Sean Lee – A Vet
Lee rumors should surface about Lee to the Raiders because let’s be honest they love veteran linebackers. He will turn 33-years-old but found himself with some added playing time last year after starting 13 games, the most since 2016. Lee is probably a last, last resort but I would not count him off the Raiders free agency board.
Preston Brown, Darron Lee and Jamie Collins are linebackers I do not think the Raiders will really consider. These guys have been free agents more recently and I am sure the Raiders would have signed them previously if they wanted them. That’s partly why Trevathan and Kendricks were mentioned so late.
In the end, the Raiders are probably best splurging on a backer who might help them in coverage like Littleton or Schobert and then adding another bargain veteran with experience like Bradham or Trevathan. That perfect scenario still probably requires drafting a linebacker in the top three rounds of the draft though. They need to extreme makeover that group or at least push them to develop by adding competition.
Bottom line, the Raiders need to add linebackers. They need at least one and probably two starting-caliber players along with whatever they invest in the position in the upcoming draft. Vegas should be aggressive courting linebacker free agents March 18th, assuming everything with free agency stays on track.