Help wanted: Raiders defense must improve 'at all levels'

Help wanted: Raiders defense must improve 'at all levels'

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season, with the talent required to make a playoff run. Not, however, without their MVP. Quarterback Derek Carr’s broken fibula brought the season crashing down, with the Raiders losing both games played without him. The last was a playoff flop at Houston that closed proceedings for good.

While few teams could absorb a franchise quarterback’s loss, especially with the timing of Carr’s injury, the MVP candidate covered up some weaknesses general manager Reggie McKenzie hopes to fortify this offseason.

Fixing a flawed defense tops the agenda.

“We’re just going to have to improve in every area,” McKenzie said a few weeks back. “We’re going to have to figure out the players, number one. We’re going to have some free agents and we’re going to have to overcome some injuries that we had late, but we should be okay with that.

“We feel like, at each level, we need improvement. That’s D-line, linebackers and the DB’s. We need to get better at all levels. We really do. I don’t think we’re locked in anywhere as far as position.”

That’s especially on the interior. Let’s take a look at some areas where the Raiders need an upgrade.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

The Raiders struggled getting solid push up the middle from their defensive tackles. While that position group was hampered with Mario Edwards Jr. out 14 games with a hip injury, more is required from the interior pass rush.

The Raiders had a league-low 25 sacks, and 19 of them came from edge rushers. That has to change, which head coach Jack Del Rio made clear shortly after the season.

“The interior pass rush, it’s critical for us to get that going. We were not nearly effective enough. I think Stacy (McGee) had the 2.5 sacks in there and Mario, we got Mario back late and he wasn’t a huge factor. (Jihad Ward) wasn’t a huge factor, Denico (Autry) played with that wrist all year and he wasn’t (as effective).

“I didn’t feel like we got enough inside push. That’s going to be an area for sure that we’re going to have to be better and do better.”

Defensive tackle could be a target in free agency or high in the NFL draft. There could be some turnover as well. Dan Williams’ salary could be trimmed without penalty, and McGee is an unrestricted free agent, and Ward might be better suited developing as a rotational player.

INTERIOR LINEBACKER

Expiring contracts leave the Raiders with a skeleton crew at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker, positions generally posted in the middle of the field in coverage and against the run. Ben Heeney (recovering from ankle surgery) and Cory James are the only options under contract. Perry Riley and Malcolm Smith started there, and both guys are set to hit unrestricted free agency.

Riley could be brought back to add a veteran presence in the middle. Coaches like Smith, though he may have played too key a role in recent seasons. He could return or the Raiders could look for an upgrade in search of speed and sure tackling at that spot.

EDGE RUSHER

Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were obviously strong getting after the quarterback, but there was no support behind them. Depth is needed at this spot. Shilique Calhoun wasn’t effective enough as a rookie sub, though Aldon Smith could be a huge addition if he’s reinstated. He’s an excellent pass rusher, and could help especially in sub packages. His reinstatement could come in March and would impact how the Raiders proceed in this area.

CORNERBACK

Many fans were disappointed in the return on investment from Sean Smith, but he wasn’t all bad and should benefit from offseason shoulder surgery and another year in the Raiders system. David Amerson wasn’t as good as 2015 following a contract extension last summer, but it’s reasonable to expect him and Smith to start outside again. DJ Hayden is a free agent and could be brought back, though TJ Carrie fared well despite a hamstring tear. One can’t have too many good cornerbacks, so a draft pick is certainly possible here.

SAFETY

The starting lineup seems set with Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson and 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph. Depth is required, especially if Nate Allen signs elsewhere in free agency. A versatile player could help in the back, and Nelson’s replacement could be groomed right away, with the Pro Bowler playing next season at 34 and in a contract year.

Oakland, Lott Group pen letter to NFL in last-ditch effort to keep Raiders

Oakland, Lott Group pen letter to NFL in last-ditch effort to keep Raiders

Through the office of mayor Libby Schaaf, the City of Oakland issued the following statement on Friday, revealing a letter they sent to the NFL a day earlier highlighting the viability and appeal of keeping the Raiders in Oakland.

***

OAKLAND, CA — Today, the City of Oakland, Alameda County, the Lott Group and Fortress, who have been working in concert to develop a fully-financed local stadium proposal for the Oakland Raiders, shared publicly documents detailing the strength of the Oakland plan.

Specifically, they made public for the first time, their most recent correspondence to the NFL. The letters and accompanying documents were sent in follow-up to a March 6, 2017 presentation Mayor Libby Schaaf and former NFL player and real estate investor Ronnie Lott made to the NFL’s Joint Stadium and Finance Committee that outlined the economic advantages to the league and the team of staying in Oakland.

[RELATED: Letter to NFL from Libby Schaaf, Lott Group]

“We’re not giving up in the fourth quarter,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Since I took office two years ago, I have been focused on taking a team-centered approach that is responsible to the Raiders, the NFL, the fans and the taxpayers of Oakland. We’ve been successful in doing the environmental clearance, aligning the City and the County which jointly own the land, engaging the league and bringing partners to the table in the Lott Group and Fortress who have the financial backing, compassion for this community and intimate knowledge of the game -- on and off the field -- to get a deal done. All that’s missing is the Raiders.”

“I know how passionate the Bay Area is about the Raiders,” said NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. “To rip this team away from Oakland for a second time would be heartbreaking and entirely unnecessary given that we have a viable option on the table that keeps them here and helps this community and the team grow. We have a sophisticated financial partner in Fortress. We have done the due diligence, and it is clear that the only fully-financed, ready-to-roll option for the Raiders is in Oakland.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Council President Larry Reid, whose district is home to the existing Coliseum and the proposed new stadium site, Lott Group partner and former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete and Fortress Managing Director Drew McKnight plan to gather with fans, local business leaders, nearby residents and other community members to demonstrate support for the Oakland stadium plan at events planned for Saturday, March 25. This is the day before NFL owners begin a series of meetings during which they are expected to discuss, and possibly vote on Raiders’ owner Mark Davis’ request to move the team to Las Vegas.

City of Oakland media services

Why the Raiders 2013 draft class was disbanded

Why the Raiders 2013 draft class was disbanded

Reggie McKenzie has owned three top 5 picks since becoming Raiders general manager. He used one on Khalil Mack in 2014, another on Amari Cooper a year later. McKenzie got a defensive player of the year and a two-time Pro Bowl receiver.

Pretty nice haul.

His first big draft pick came in 2013, when a 4-12 record the previous year earned the No. 3 overall selection. He turned that into the No. 12 and No. 42 overall selections – the Raiders didn’t have a second-round pick, and also gave up a fifth-rounder in the deal – that garnered cornerback DJ Hayden and Menelik Watson.

Both guys were beset by injury early on, setbacks that kept them from realizing potential identified during the pre-draft process. The Raiders got some quality players from the 2013 draft class – Latavius Murray was a two-year starter and Pro Bowl rusher -- but none of them remain Raiders after their rookie contracts.

Sixth-round tight end Mychal Rivera was the last leave, signing with Jacksonville on Wednesday. The Raiders wanted a few back – Watson and Stacy McGee, in particular – but all of them ended up elsewhere.

That’s not ideal. McKenzie prefers to draft, develop and reward. That didn’t happen for his 2013 draft class. While he didn’t have a first or second round pick, the 2012 draft class has been gone some time now.

He compensated well for that veteran talent void in free agency, bringing in Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele and others of that age.

McKenzie’s draft record after 2013 has improved dramatically. A 2014 group that includes Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson was franchise altering. The 2015 bunch stands strong, and 2016 has talent but can’t be evaluated quite yet.

Let’s take a look at the 2013 draft class and why it didn’t work out:

CB DJ Hayden (No. 12 overall)
Current team:
Detroit (1 year deal, $3.75 million; $2.25 million guaranteed)
Comment: The Raiders didn’t pick up Hayden’s fifth-year option, proof their first-round pick didn’t work out as planned. Hayden was drafted despite a heart condition stemming from a practice injury in college, but a series of soft-tissue injuries slowed him down. He was ineffective at times, though he played better in his final season as a nickel back.

OL Menelik Watson (No. 42 overall)
Current team:
Denver (3 year deal, $18.3 million, $5.5 guaranteed)
Comment: Watson was an athletic, nasty offensive lineman the Raiders hoped to keep, someone who showed real potential when healthy. Those moments didn’t come often for a player who lost 2015 to injury and never made it through a full season.

LB Sio Moore (No. 66 overall)
Current team:
Free agent
Comment: Moore made an instant impact as a rookie working off the edge. He started on the weakside in 2014, but never seemed to recover from a late-season hip injury. He didn’t fit in well with new head coach Jack Del Rio, and he was traded to Indianapolis before the 2015 season began, he has bounced around ever since, playing as a reserve and special teams player. He remains on the open market.

QB Tyler Wilson (No. 112 overall)
Current team:
Out of football
Comment: Tyler Wilson never fit in at the NFL level and didn’t give the Raiders anything for a mid-round selection. Wilson lost his No. 3 job to undrafted rookie Matt McGloin, spent most of 2013 on the practice squad, and was signed by Tennessee late in the year. Wilson was the highest 2013 draft pick to not make the opening day roster.

TE Nick Kasa (No. 172 overall)
Current team:
Out of football
Comment: The converted defensive end struggled with injury, and suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 2014 preseason. He spent the year on injured reserve and didn’t return to the active roster.

RB Latavius Murray (No. 181 overall)
Current team:
Minnesota Vikings (Three year deal, $15 million, $3.4 million fully guaranteed)
Comment: Murray was the most productive player in the draft class. He missed his rookie year with an ankle injury, but assumed the starting spot by the end of his second season. Murray exceeded 1,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and had nearly 800 yards and 12 touchdowns the following year. He wasn’t a perfect scheme fit for the Raiders, who didn’t pursue him once he hit the open market. Murray signed with the Vikings, and should be a major contributor in that offense.

TE Mychal Rivera (No. 184 overall)
Current team:
Jacksonville Jaguars (Two year deal, worth up to $6.75 million)
Comment: Rivera was a vital receiving option on bad Raiders teams, but fell out of favor under Jack Del Rio. That cut his opportunities way down, giving way to 2015 third-round pick Clive Walford. Rivera has receiving skill but isn’t much of a blocker, and his exit was no a surprise after he was a healthy scratch several times in 2016.

DT Stacy McGee (No. 205 overall)
Current team:
Washington (Five year deal, $25 million, $9 million guaranteed
Comment: McGee flashed interior talent when healthy in 2016, and cashed in with Washington on the first day of unrestricted free agency. The Raiders hoped to bring him back, but he got far more than they were willing to pay. McGee developed well during his time in Oakland, which ultimately priced him out of town.

WR Brice Butler (No. 209 overall)
Current team:
Dallas Cowboys (One year deal, $1.1 million, $300,000 guaranteed)
Comment: Butler was an occasional contributor during two seasons with the Raiders, though the athletic pass catcher was a bit too inconsistent. He finished the 2015 as the fifth receiver, and McKenzie got something for him via trade. Butler remains a Cowboy, and signed a new contract with them this offseason.

DE David Bass No. 233 overall)
Current team:
Free agent
Comment: Bass was cut after the 2013 preseason, but he hung on during the next four seasons with Chicago and Tennessee as a reserve and special teams player.