As free agency has been going on, there have been some wild mood swings from the Nation, from Reggie-hating and calls for his firing, to a Reggie-fest that has entirely too much slobbering going on. Free agency is a process, one that occurs over time, especially for a team that has as many holes as the Raiders did going in. The plus was that after two years of hard work and good decisions, the Raiders also had a huge wad of cash to address those holes, as well as their own free agents. In this post, I am going to weigh how I see the losses as well as the additions in free agency, and where that leaves the team.
DE - I believe that both Tuck and Woodley will play DE, although Smith may be slid outside at times as well; this should greatly improve the pass rush. Although Tuck had a bit of an uneven season last year, he is still a productive, consistent player, much more so than Hunter was. Woodley will likely take Houston's spot, and although he won't be as strong against the run, he will provide more of a pass rush; in today's NFL, that is an improvement. Hunter was a plugger, and had some good games, but the loss of him and Houston are more than offset by the signings of Woodley and Tuck. Verdict - upgrade.
DT - I am also including here the reserve/futures signing of Troup, who I think can be a surprise. Smith should be a constant here, and Sims was brought back, although the team wasn't completely happy with his consistency. Also brought in was Wilson, although Walker and Muir were allowed to leave. I think that the starters are an improvement with the addition of Smith, and there is now much better depth for rotational purposes, allowing players to stay fresher through the season. Verdict - upgrade.
LB - With the plethora of DT's and DE's, I expect that we will see at some 3-4 looks, and that when that happens, Woodley will play as an OLB. While this may not happen often, it will put him in a position that he has had success in, and will allow pressure to come from another direction. Because we don't know how often we'll see this, verdict - even. The more 3-4 we play, the more of an upgrade this becomes.
S - Woodson was re-signed, who I feel was the heart of the defense last year. Young was also brought back, although unfortunately (in my opinion) so was Ross. A big help will be the return of Branch, but he isn't about free agency. In all honesty, as glad as I am to see Woodson return, I can't call this an upgrade, because it is basically the starter returning, as well as who should be the top reserve. Verdict - even.
DB - Both starters from last year were allowed to leave, although given their performance last year, that may not be a bad thing. That isn't to say that they were terrible, but they weren't all that good either. While Jenkins was able to land another contract, it is another one-year 'prove it' deal, while Porter signed a deal for just two years and $6 million; not exactly like other teams were beating down their doors. Adams also left, and has yet to catch on with another team. On the other hand, the Raiders brought in Brown, who is an improvement other either Porter or Jenkins. The problem at this point is not that a better player wasn't brought in, but that enough better players haven't been brought in. Unless and until that happens, verdict - downgrade.
While I think that the defense is still not done, there has been some distinct improvements. Bringing the pressure is a requirement in today's game, and last year we saw how not being able to do that can hamstring a defense. There has been a lot of emphasis on the front four, bringing in players who have shown that they can bring the heat, and as a combination, they should be more effective as the season goes on, as they become more comfortable with each other's strengths and tendencies.
In the event that the defensive backfield is not much more improved before the season, the pass rush will help cover deficiencies, although it won't be a cure-all. I expect that there will be more DB's brought in, but that they may come from when teams release players later. I don't think that the draft will be the only place that the position will be addressed, but we will see.
As it stands, the defense has improved overall, but nowhere as near as much as the offense has. Time will tell how much that changes before the season, but that is where it stands now.