There isn’t any kind of desperate need at safety for the Raiders. They have two capable starters in Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph for the upcoming season. But that doesn’t mean they should or will stand pat.
Nelson is in the final year of a two-year deal with the team and will turn 34 at the beginning of the season. He had 5 picks last year, but also at times was not where he needed to be to offer help with the deep ball. He would also leave behind no dead money if cut.
Depth is also a concern with Nate Allen and Brynden Trawick headed for free agency.
Should the Raiders look to free agency for depth and Nelson’s immediate or eventual replacement, there are options. I’m not trying to discount Nelson’s performance last season or suggest he should be cut. Not at all. But if they did make a move at the position, those are the reasons why.
Their interest isn’t limited to free or strong safety because Karl Joseph could play either position. Though Joseph could be better served at free safety and there are far more/better free agent options at strong safety than at free safety.
Tony Jefferson, 25
At some point, someone has to treat Tony Jefferson like the talent he is, right? Talk about a guy who gets no respect. He went undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2013, was signed by the Cardinals, and has seen his production and performance improve every season. Last offseason, the Raiders were said to have shown interest in Jefferson who was given an original round tender which would mean there would be no compensation given up should they sign him. The Cardinals would simply have the ability to match any deal given to him. But it never came to that. No deal was offered.
Jefferson ended up returning to the Cardinals on his tender and upped his game again, with a career high of 14 starts and 92 combined tackles (74 solo) from the strong safety position. He should finally get the respect he deserves, but his contract figures not to be too expensive. Add that he grew up a Raiders fan in Southern California and you have a player who would be more than happy to don the Silver & Black.
Barry Church, 29
Holy Toledo. Legendary Raiders radio voice Bill King’s catch phrase would be fitting for Church who went undrafted out of Toledo in 2010. He worked his way into the lineup and by 2013 he was their full time starter and hasn’t looked back.
The 7-year veteran has averaged over 110 tackles per season the past four seasons since locking down the starting safety job -- first at free safety and then strong safety. He is a team captain and a ‘glue guy’ which is a characteristic the Raiders value in players they add to the team.
Church added two interceptions and 4 passes defended and was one of the highest rated safeties last season among free agents by Pro Football Focus. He was just below Eric Berry in their ratings.
TJ McDonald, 26
No free agent safety played more snaps than the 1072 by TJ McDonald last season. This 6-3, 220-pounder has all the size and physicality of a fantastic strong safety, giving Ken Norton Jr shades of Kam Chancellor. Which would move Karl Joseph to free safety and allow him to play the Earl Thomas role for the Raiders.
McDonald is originally from Fresno and his father – former NFL safety Tim McDonald – was the secondary coach at Fresno State while Derek Carr was there. Tim played at USC, entered the league in St Louis with the Cardinals and moved with them to Arizona, and eventually headed to the Bay Area to play the final 7 seasons of his 13-year NFL career in San Francisco. TJ attended USC, entered the league in St Louis with the Rams and moved with them to Los Angeles. Could he again follow the same career path as his father and head to the Bay Area while also teaming up with Derek Carr? It’s an interesting thought.