Season review -- Raiders DBs


Season review -- Raiders DBs

Sure, the loss of All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was going to hurt. How could it not? But the Raiders believed enough in Stanford Routt and another pair of drafted cornerbacks that they thought they could get by. Instead, opposing offensive coordinators and their quarterbacks had field days against Oakland's secondary. Consider: the Raiders had the 27th-ranked pass defense, giving up 251.4 yards per game through the air. They also gave up a mind-numbing 31 touchdown passes. Only Minnesota surrendered more (34). The Raiders gave up 58 passes of 20-yards-or more, 11 of 40-yards-or-more and opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 81.3, which was only 22nd worst in the NFL. Still, the secondary was banged up all season, contributing to the free fall. A lack of depth also hurt.
Grade: F

SECONDARYStanford Routt -- Many fans scratched their heads when Routt was given a three-year, 31.5-million contract, with 20 million guaranteed. Would that not have been a good offer to at least throw at Asomugha? Then, after re-working the deal to clear some cap space, Routt had a five-year, 54.5-million contract, with the same 20 million guaranteed. Yes, that's No. 1 cornerback money. But did Routt perform like a No. 1 cornerback in his first season without Asomugha on the other side of the field? In 2009, Routt allowed opponents to complete 65.9 percent of their passes thrown at him. In 2010, it dropped to 39.4 percent. This past season -- 47.4 percent while giving up eight touchdowns. Plus, he was the most penalized player in the NFL, getting flagged 17 times, including nine in the last three games. So while he started strong, things came unraveled at the end. Not only for him and the secondary, but the entire defense as a unit. Routt did, however, have a career-high four interceptions.Lito Sheppard -- The two-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro had seen better days. One of the last players cut by the Raiders in the exhibition season, Sheppard was re-signed on Oct. 31 -- it marked his fourth team in four years -- and started seven of the nine games in which he appeared. He would have a highlight moment here and there but the 5-foot-9 cornerback was victimized by San Diego's tall wideouts in the season finale. For the season, Sheppard had a 58.8 percent burn rate and gave up a touchdown.DeMarcus Van Dyke -- Oakland had high hopes for the lithe Van Dyke, the fastest player at the Combine, in drafting him out of Miami in the third round. Listed generously at 180 pounds, the rookie had trouble with the bigger, more physical receivers in the league. Which is to say, most of them. His lone interception came against Matt Cassel in the Raiders' 28-0 loss to Kansas City on Oct. 23. Van Dyke surrendered one TD and had a burn rate of 43.8.Michael Huff -- Coming off a season in which Huff was named second-team All-Pro, Huff cashed in at the bank quite nicely, thank you very much. The free safety inked a four-year, 32-million contract in camp, with 16 million paid up front. His body, though, betrayed him. Having never missed a game in his five-year career, Huff missed four in 2011 with an assortment of ankle and hamstring injuries. He did not have a sack for the first time since 2008, his two interceptions were his fewest in three years, as were his 38 tackles. Huff was charged with giving up two TDs and a 55.3 percent burn rate. There have been rumblings of moving him to cornerback opposite Routt.Tyvon Branch -- A seeming bright spot in the secondary, Branch was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl after a breakthrough season. He again led the Raiders in tackles, with 109, and his end-zone interception of the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez in Oakland's home opener was a thing of beauty. The strong safety's coverage skills also seemed to improve, even as he had a burn rate of 55.7 percent, while being charged with five TDs. He is a free agent and, along with running back Michael Bush, is the Raiders' top priority in re-signing for the 2012 season and a new coach.Mike Mitchell -- After a breakthrough sophomore season in which he was seemingly on the chopping block at the beginning of the year, Mitchell hurt a knee in camp and did not play until Week 4. And while he maintained a certain level of being an emotional leader, the safety-who-sometimes-doubles-as-a-linebacker struggled through an injury-marred season. He had 31 tackles in 13 games with an interception of Aaron Rodgers. His burn rate was 34.6 percent, and he gave up a pair of touchdowns.Matt Giordano -- One of the last players cut in camp, Giordano was back two days later and immediately made his presence felt in the season opener at Denver with a sideline interception. What the safety might have lacked in tackling skills he made up for as a ballhawk. His career-high five interceptions led the Raiders. And his 70 tackles were also a career high and were third-most on the team. The seven-year vet will also be a free agent. He had a 42.5 percent burn rate and gave up three TDs.Jerome Boyd -- Practice squad veteran who went back and forth this past season. Perhaps the safety's most memorable "contribution" was mistakenly running off the field in the final seconds at Houston on Oct. 9, leaving the Raiders with only 10 men on defense. No matter, Huff picked off Texans QB Matt Schaub in the end zone to seal the win the day after owner Al Davis died. Boyd had a 54.5 percent burn rate while giving up three TDs.Chris Johnson -- Endured injury -- he underwent a procedure in training camp and an ensuing infection kept him out of action for seven weeks in the middle of the season -- and personal tragedy -- his sister was shot to death and his mother wounded in Texas. Johnson was active for only five games before being placed on the season-ending ReserveNon-Football Illness list on Dec. 17. He had a 71.4 percent burn rate and gave up a TD in Buffalo that went right through his hands that, had it been intercepted, would have essentially sealed the win for the Raiders. The cornerback is still owed 3.5 million in 2012.Chimdi Chekwa -- Promising fourth-round draft pick dislocated his shoulder on the first day of padded practice in camp and was then shuffled between cornerback and safety before a hamstring injury ended his season. He was put on IR on Nov. 17 after appearing in four games and starting one. He was targeted 14 times and gave up nine completions, including a touchdown. He later underwent shoulder surgery.Hiram Eugene -- Remember him? The unsung safety signed a four-year, 10.25-million contract in the offseason only to suffer a season-ending hip injury in Oakland's first exhibition game. His injury occurred after the Raiders messed up the opening coin flip, saying they would "kick off" rather than defer. So they kicked off twice, and it was on the second kick off that Eugene's season came to an end. His absence on special teams was especially felt.

McKenzie: Raiders well prepared with Carr, Mack extensions on horizon

McKenzie: Raiders well prepared with Carr, Mack extensions on horizon

The Raiders once again march into the offseason with significant salary cap space. That’s been the case a few years now, since general manager Reggie McKenzie got his franchise right with the cap by exchanging bad contracts for good.

McKenzie currently has $46.5 million available, according to, to spend on draft picks, free agents and his own players.

There are teams with more money available, but there’s plenty to do what’s necessary.

A top priority will be keeping superstar quarterback Derek Carr and edge rusher Khalil Mack in silver and black.

“You can say that,” McKenzie said last week. “The good thing is we do have time, but I’m not the type to wait until the last minute. Those two guys are not only great players but they are great men. They are true Raiders and I want to make sure we do the best that we can to make sure that they stay Raiders.”

McKenzie accurately points out the Raiders have some time to work these deals out. The Raiders have a fifth-year option on Mack, a luxury afforded teams on all first-round picks. He’ll have two years until the open market creeps up, with a possible franchise tag to extend that stretch.

There’s less sand in Carr’s hourglass. There’s no fifth-year option on the second-round pick’s four-year deal, meaning their franchise quarterback is ready to enter a contract year.

The Raiders don’t want him anywhere near free agency or the franchise tag’s exorbitant pricing on quarterbacks. A contract extension could come this offseason to keep Carr a Raider long-term – his broken fibula should have zero impact on contract talk – meaning the Raiders must in time adjust to life with a massive cap number for their quarterback.

McKenzie and his staff prepared well for that day. They have signed veteran free agents to contracts with up-front money that essentially become pay-as-you-go deals over time. That provides flexibility should money be needed elsewhere and not stuck to an underperforming player.

The Raiders might have to make tough decisions regarding popular supporting players who could command more money elsewhere.

“You can’t keep everybody,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said shortly after the season. “You can’t pay everybody, especially once you start paying your quarterback what he’s going to end up making, which I’m sure will be a pretty nice amount. So we’ve been fortunate the last few years, we’ve been able to do more other places because we didn’t have a lot put in the quarterback number. As that number goes up, it’ll limit some of the things you have to do.”

Attrition will happen as some quality players leave for greater riches, but there are several top NFL teams with highly-paid quarterbacks. For example, five of the top six teams with highest-paid quarterbacks in 2016 made the playoffs.

“Hopefully it won’t beat up the roster that much,” McKenzie said. “You try to do the best that you can to work the contracts so you can keep as many good players as possible. But, we all know that you cannot have a roster of a lot of multi-million dollar players. That’s just not the way this system works. So, we’re just going to have to continue to strive to get good players for the lesser amount. I mean, it’s just the way it is. Our quarterback is going to command a high dollar. Khalil’s going to command a high dollar. So, we’ll work around it. But we don’t feel, at this point, threatened by it.”

Big cap numbers for Carr and Mack also places a premium on drafting and developing players well. Those guys are cheaper, and can keep roster strength high.

The Raiders prefer to reward their own players but have to spend smart, starting with the 13 players set to become unrestricted free agents later this spring. That group includes running back Latavius Murray, tackle Menelik Watson, receiver Andre Holmes and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley.

“We’ll have decisions to make,” Del Rio said. “I’m sure we’ll want to keep as much of the nucleus. We have a good, young nucleus of players here. We want to keep as much of that nucleus intact as possible. That will be the plan going forward.”

Raiders name former Chargers DC as assistant head coach-defense

Raiders name former Chargers DC as assistant head coach-defense

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has hired former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano, the team announced on Monday evening. He will be the team’s assistant head coach on the defensive side of the ball.

Pagano has spent most of his coaching career in San Diego, working with the Chargers in various capacities since 2002. He was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in 2012, where he led that unit for five seasons.

Pagano and Del Rio worked together in 1997, when Pagano was a New Orleans Saints defensive assistant and Del Rio was the assistant strength coach.

Pagano was a longtime linebackers coach before becoming a play caller. He has worked with several quality pass rushers and has proven to be adept at creating pressure.

The Raiders created a position for Pagano, who will help a defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed and dead last in sacks. Pagano was looking for a different gig after new Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn hired Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator. 

Ken Norton Jr. remains defensive coordinator, but Pagano will bring experience and creativity to the game-planning process.

He has worked within a 3-4 defensive scheme, but has experience in all formations. The Raiders run multiple defensive fronts.

Pagano is the assistant coach on defense, while offensive line coach Mike Tice has a similar title on the offensive side. The Raiders have a vacancy on the staff, and are looking for a new defensive backs coach.

John Pagano is the younger brother of Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano.