A look at Raiders options heading into free agency signing period

A look at Raiders options heading into free agency signing period

NFL teams have been talking to free agents -- their representatives, anyway – for a few days now. Talk turns to action on Thursday afternoon, when players can start signing on the dotted line.

This time last year, the Raiders were spending heavy. As reported Tuesday morning, the Raiders won’t be following a similar tact. Nothing over the last few days has altered that expectation.

The Raiders have needs to fill this offseason, and will use free agency to help fortify an already talented roster.

Fans were hoping for top defensive tackle Calais Campbell. He’s reportedly headed to Jacksonville. They were thirsting for top safety Tony Jefferson. He’s reportedly headed to Baltimore.

The Raiders have $43 million in salary cap space heading into the formal signing period.

They’d like to spend some on an inside linebacker, though top option Dont’a Hightower might too expensive a target. Zach Brown, Kevin Minter and Gerald Hodges are options, though don’t sleep on last year’s middle linebacker Perry Riley. The veteran made an immediate impact after signing in Week 5, and had a solid season in the Raiders defensive system. He could come back, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports the Raiders are trying to lock him down. The Raiders were willing to let Malcolm Smith walk, and he was talking contract with the 49ers on Wednesday.

The Raiders could still look to a veteran interior pass rusher to pair with Mario Edwards Jr. Denico Autry was given an original round tender as a restricted free agent. The Raiders like Stacy McGee, though he has long looked forward to hitting a free agent market he’s expected to explore.

The Raiders hope to keep Andre Holmes in town, sources say. He offers solid receiver depth and excellent kick and punt coverage. He has reportedly attractive attention from other teams.

The Raiders have a need at running back. While that’s a sexy position, it may take some time to develop. There’s an excellent draft class ripe for picking in April, with several veteran options looking for teams.

Incumbent Latavius Murray has hit the market, and while it’s distinctly possible, maybe probable, that he finds another team, the Raiders haven’t eliminated the prospect of re-signing him. Should the Raiders choose a veteran running back with the size they’re looking for not named Murray, Eddie Lacy or LeGarrette Blount could be options. Adrian Peterson’s camp keeps mentioning the Raiders as a possible landing spot, it’s uncertain what type of deal would prompt a match.

The Raiders need a slot cornerback or versatile defensive back to add to the mix. Green Bay’s Micah Hyde seems to fit that bill perfectly, though it’s uncertain whether the Raiders have interest. They could look to other slot options, return to DJ Hayden or find one early in the NFL draft.

There’s plenty the Raiders can do in free agency, even if they don’t do quite as many big deals as years past.

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have done three pre-draft press conferences now. They’ve got the routine down, knowing when to deflect questions, when to put people off the scent and, more importantly, how to seem unpredictable.

They were in lockstep again Friday, less than a week before the 2017 NFL Draft.

During their first, McKenzie offered one criticism of his head coach.

“Can you guys get Jack out of my office?” McKenzie said in 2015, with tongue firmly in cheek.

The rhetorical question was answered with a laugh. McKenzie was acknowledging how much Del Rio and staff wanted to support the scouting process. McKenzie ultimately pulls the trigger on draft day, but Del Rio has a loud voice in the room as he looks for players who fit his locker room and his schemes.

McKenzie has open ears, taking advice from the entire coaching staff while arranging his draft board. This time of year especially, coaches and scouts are working together.

“It’s been unified since Day 1,” Del Rio said. “Reggie and I are very unified and much on the same mission and that is to bring a world championship home to this organization. Everything we’re doing is attacking that, adding these impact players where we can.”

The pair was focused on improving a lackluster roster that featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack but finished 3-13 the year before. Now their partnership is entering Phase II.

They must decide which players to add, and decide which previously drafted players to keep. There are some obvious extensions in the works, with Carr, Mack and Gabe Jackson. They had to let some homegrown talent go in free agency as they attempt to upgrade depth and build a championship roster that can build on last year’s success.

“There’s a whole different phase that we’re about to go through as an organization as you begin to mature, some of those players have to be re-signed or not. Those are decisions you have to make in all of this. This is year three for us working together and I feel like the relationship with the scouts and the coaches and the sharing of information is excellent. We want to continue to work that way.”

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

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AP

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

The Raiders have an opening in their secondary.

Finding a slot cornerback is a top priority with DJ Hayden now in Detroit. TJ Carrie is an option there, but the Raiders could add a young, versatile talent capable of taking a more prominent role down the line.

That’s true despite the fact Sean Smith signed a free-agent deal through 2019 last year and David Amerson received a contract extension through the 2020 season. Those contracts, however, become pay-as-you-go deals after this season.

The dead money goes away, freeing the Raiders to look for long-term upgrades if they see fit.

Head coach Jack Del Rio loves creating competition and depth, especially at such an important position in today’s NFL. The Raiders like larger, physical cornerbacks with ball skills, and there are plenty in this year’s draft.

Many analysts have the Raiders taking a cornerback at No. 24 overall, and that’s a realistic possibility. They could certainly look to help last year’s No. 24-ranked secondary in the early rounds.

Let’s take a look at some top options available in this week’s draft:

Good fits:There are quite a few quality cornerbacks who could be available at No. 24 overall, even if there’s an early run on the position.

Oakland native and Washington alum Kevin King visited the Raiders during the pre-draft process, and certainly fits what the Raiders like in a cornerback. He’s confident and aggressive, unafraid to use great physical traits to make plays on the ball. He’s tall and long and isn’t afraid to tackle.

USC’s Adoree Jackson has the quality ball skills the Raiders like, and is adept high-pointing the ball. Analysts say he can play several coverage techniques and has the agility to make up for mistakes. He can work in the slot, but at 5-foot-10 isn’t as tall as the Raiders like. They’d have to take him in the first round. He may not last beyond that.

San Jose native and Colorado product Chidobe Awuzie is another interesting local defensive back ready to turn pro. He can play outside or in the slot, and analysts say he has excellent one-on-one coverage skills but needs tackling work. He was a solid slot blitzer at Colorado, and could fill an immediate need crucial against so many three and four receiver sets.

Louisiana State’s Tre’Davious White has experience playing the slot, and could help right away there before transferring outside if asked. He can cover extremely well, though analysts say he isn’t much of a tackler. He might be a tweener as far as the Raiders are concerned, not worthy of the No. 24 pick but long gone before the Raiders pick in the second round.

Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin visited the Raiders this spring, and rightfully so. A willing run defender with good ball skills and tackling ability who could be available in the third round should intrigue them.