It's pretty evident that Big Reg entered this offseason with a clearcut game-plan in mind - one centered on acquiring proven veterans who know what it takes to build and sustain a winning culture. Optimism is ripe throughout Raider Nation, and rightfully so. Generally this time of year has been filled with firings, hirings, cuts of former highly-paid picks, bargain-bin signings, and endless vomiting. So go ahead and get jacked up, it's not like you've had much to be excited about in years. But be careful Nation. Optimism is a lot like getting laid: When you've been on a two year drought, even the raunchiest of chicks can get the juices flowing and cause you to overlook the stream of bacon grease running down its back. My point: there's nothing wrong with being optimistic, but keep it real at the same time.
So much has happened so fast - with the majority of fans currently drunk off the DeSean Jackson punch, while those who oppose seem hellbent on calling said punch-drinkers stupid. In any case, it's almost been tough to keep up with all of the team's additions - and more importantly, figuring out where else the team must upgrade in order to turn this squad into a legitimate playoff contender. And here we go:
Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins have both signed contracts with other teams, so Hayden and Brown are your obvious starters this season. As for depth? Yikes. Chekwa certainly isn't the guy we want to depend on in the nickel - maybe not even the dime. Jones was re-signed to continue as a Special Teams ace, and nothing more. Casey, Thorpe, and Adams are practice squad types.
Pretty clear that multiple bodies will be added to this corps in the coming weeks/months, and the fact that a viable nickel corner hasn't been signed isn't a huge deal to me just yet. The top guys are obviously off the market already, but none of them were realistic options to be our nickel guy anyway. What remains is a cluster of veteran CBs in the same age-range as many of our newest additions, and all likely in search of 1-year deals. Some guys that make sense:
Champ Bailey (36) - Yes, Bailey got exposed for what he truly is in 2013 - a declining corner. His agent says a foot injury nagged him all year, blah blah - maybe so. Still, we're talking about a first-ballot HOFer who'd be tasked with playing the nickel. I probably would have excluded Bailey from this list if it weren't for Dennis Allen's ties to Denver's defense, but connections can go a long way. It would be huge to add a CB who knows the division so well, especially it's most potent offense, but that might also be the reason he gets as far away from the AFC West as possible. The Falcons are rumored to have interest in the Georgia native and former Dawg.
Carlos Rogers (33) - He'd be the second former 'Whiner to join the Raiders secondary this offseason. He wasn't terrible in 2013, but wasn't great either. For nickel purposes, he'd fit. San Fran saved $5.1 million in cap room by cutting him.
Drayton Florence (33) - Florence revived his career with the Panthers in 2013, grading out as PFF's #22 CB. Their beastly pass-rush certainly made life easier. Nevertheless, Florence would be a great addition.
Dimitri Patterson (30) - When Patterson is healthy and on the field, he's effective. However, he's missed 17 games in the past two seasons - 10 in 2013 due to a groin. He did pick off 4 passes in those 6 games.
Dunta Robinson (31) - Formerly of the Chiefs, Robinson was benched in favor of 7th-round rookie Marcus Cooper early in the season. Cooper played way above his own talent level thru the first 9 weeks of the season. I think Robinson is a real dark horse, and absolutely fits the growing theme of "redemption" in Oakland. Family issues coupled with a rookie supplanting him made for a tough season - I'd bet he rebounds.
Terrelle Thomas (29) - Thomas has already been in contact with the Raiders and remains without a contract. It's not surprising to see him still on the market, as he has a lengthy history of significant knee injuries. Still, Thomas played in all 16 games for the Giants in 2013, and figures to improve this season being two years removed from ACL surgery.
Other Options: Rashean Mathis (33), Josh Wilson (29), Robert McClain (26; RFA)
I can definitely see the Raiders taking at least one CB in the draft, but I'd much rather have a more experienced nickel guy to begin the season. When you consider the offenses in our division - let alone our 2014 schedule - starting a rookie could be disastrous. A healthy Tyvon Branch and an actual pass rush would make things a lot easier for this unit.
Justin Tuck (31), Lamarr Woodley (29)
I'm fully aware the Raiders have more edge rushers than just these two, but I've listed only them for a reason. I don't doubt that both guys have a good amount left in the tank, but that doesn't mean their age should be ignored. Reggie needs to infuse more young talent along the edges in order for his whole game-plan to work - both long and short-term. It will be absolutely imperative to keep Tuck and Woodley fresh over the course of 16 games, and that can only be done by means of a steady rotation. Reggie has given himself a tremendous amount of freedom in this year's draft by plugging so many holes via free agency. I would be absolutely shocked if he doesn't spend AT LEAST two picks on edge rushing types. Tuck and Woodley's success depends on it.
No matter how much Reggie improves this roster, the success of the 2014 Raiders starts and ends with their pass rush. They simply cannot afford to let QBs consistently drop back, have time, and pick this defense apart - much like every other year - but especially this year considering their schedule. The time to get younger on the edge is now - for this year and the future.
Listing TE as a bigger need than WR is probably rather unpopular with most who read this. I feel you guys, but hear me out. What we have at TE is a very young group with minimal experience - 55 total catches between the four of them, and Rivera owns 38 of them. I'm not saying they don't have talent or upside - they do. But what we've added everywhere else this offseason, we're lacking at TE - and that's experience.
Why is incorporating an experienced TE so important? Go take a look at the Texans receiving stats during Schaub's best years in Houston. Andre Johnson was his #1 guy - that can't be disputed. However, Owen Daniels was not very far behind. It's blatantly clear how much Schaub depended on Daniels in critical situations, as both his TD and 1st Down totals ranked near the top during their playoff years.
Owen Daniels happens to be a free agent at the moment, and both he and Rivera check in at 6'3 245. Nearly identical, minus Rivera's younger legs. Catch my drift? Who better to mentor our young TEs than one of Schaub's former favorite targets? It just makes too much sense for both short and long-term. And before you tell me you don't want an old veteran TE stunting the growth of Rivera - consider that some of Schaub's best career passing stats have come during two TE sets. And for a team that plans on utilizing the play-action pass with it's stable of RBs, how does this not make sense?
Whether or not the Raiders land DeSean Jackson changes this entire outlook, but I'm writing this under the assumption that Dan Snyder overpays him to be a Deadskin.
Fans and media love Sammy Watkins, and I do too. I'm a huge Mike Evans fan as well, and I've read all about how this draft is loaded at WR. I know lots of people love the Jordan Matthews kid outside of the 1st round as well. That said, I'd much rather see the Raiders use their 1st and 2nd round picks getting younger and better on defense. Draft day can get pretty crazy, so it's conceivable that Reggie manages to get his hands on additional picks in the middle rounds to satisfy both needs.
But I love the James Jones signing, and I think Andre Holmes has the potential to flourish with Schaub at QB. Rod Streater needs to take the next step, but the QB carousel in 2013 surely didn't help. I think Denarius Moore has all the talent in the world, but I see Reggie moving him on draft day for a pick. To sum it all up - we have some interesting prospects already on the roster. This is just my opinion, but I think addressing defensive needs early in the draft is far more important both for this season and the future.
Everything looks great on paper in March. Is this currently a playoff roster? Not quite. There's lots of "what if" scenarios -but unlike the past few years, the "what ifs" seem a whole lot more feasible and realistic. Secure a solid nickel corner and more depth at the position overall, get younger pass rushers to preserve the veterans, and draft/sign receivers that fit Schaub's skill-set.