One of the predominant needs for the Raiders this offseason has been free safety after future hall of famer Charles Woodson announced his retirement. The Raiders attacked other key positons early on in free agency, but the hole in the back of their secondary still remained. That need has now been addressed as the Raiders signed former Bengals safety Reggie Nelson to a two-year contract on Wednesday.
Despite turning 33 this September, Nelson has showed the ability to play safety at a high level as he led the NFL with 8 interceptions last season and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Charles Woodson was arguably the best player in the secondary for Oakland, but the Raiders could actually be getting an upgrade in Nelson. Pro Football Focus certainly thinks so as he was listed as their best available free agent as of Tuesday. Among the 89 qualified safeties last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Woodson #28 overall while Reggie Nelson graded out at #9 overall. Another interesting statistic is that Nelson has recorded 14 of his 30 career interceptions in the past three years alone.
The addition of Nelson will allow T.J. Carrie to move back to cornerback where he is more comfortable. Carrie emerged as the team's best cornerback his rookie season, but was forced to switch to a safety role last season after Nate Allen was injured.
The signing of Nelson definitely helps fill the void Woodson left in the secondary as the Silver and Black believe he still has gas left in his tank these next two seasons. That being said, I would not be surprised if Reggie McKenzie drafts a safety in the top three rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Nelson has played at a consistent level "averaging 3.3 interceptions, 9 passes defended and 72 tackles per season while missing just 6 games in nine years with the Jaguars and Bengals," according to S&BP lead writer Levi Damien. But there is no guarantee he will continue this level of play as he approaches his mid-30's. Even if Nelson does manage to play at a high level, he is only signed to a two-year deal and the Raiders will need someone to take over after him.
Ideally, Oakland will target one of the talented safeties that should be available in the second round (Karl Joseph, Vonn Bell, Darian Thompson). Adding one of these players would give the secondary more depth, and it would also allow the Raiders to groom their rookie under the veteran leadership that Nelson brings to the table. The addition of a rookie safety would add to the competition at the position and give the Silver and Black insurance in case Nelson gets injured.
Reggie McKenzie has done an excellent job this offseason targeting needs so his hands will not be tied in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Raiders shouldn't feel forced to take a safety early in the draft, but investing in the position would be wise as Nelson is only a short-term option and could potentially see a slide in production and health as he approaches 33.