The ability to sign outside free agents won’t happen until March. As for the players set to become free agents, the Raiders can re-sign them any time. Some are more important than others.
Let this be the last time we sound the alarm bells with regard to the Raiders middle linebacker position. They were in this same position last offseason with Perry Riley and let him walk away with no one to replace him. Then their answer was to spend a fifth round pick on Marquel Lee. Not surprisingly, that wasn’t the answer to the problem.
Then Bowman came along. Released by the 49ers who wanted to get Reuben Foster more playing time. The Raiders snatched him up and in just 10 games, he finished leading the Raiders in tackles. He has 89 combined tackles (58 solo) and led the team in tackles in 9 of his ten games, including 13 in the season finale.
Bowman is still just 29 years of age. The same age Greg Biekert was when Jon Gruden took over as head coach of the Raiders back in 1998. And Biekert was Gruden’s starting middle linebacker all four years in Oakland. Bowman’s two years younger than Shelton Quarles was when Gruden was traded to the Buccaneers and Quarles was his middle linebacker for five seasons. He retired at the age of 35.
The moral of this story is Gruden likes proven veteran middle linebackers. Three-time All Pro, starting Super Bowl middle linebacker is proven. Bowman should be the utmost priority to stay in Oakland.
Carrie is borderline high priority if only because he has been the most consistent cornerback on this Raiders team for all four years he’s been here. That was especially true this past season while their top rookie was injured and their two high priced starters struggled. Carrie is also a Bay Area guy which suggests he would welcome the chance to continue his career in Oakland.
This former undrafted free agent just keeps proving he deserves to be on the field. He led the league last season with seven passes batted at the line and finished the season with a blocked extra point. He had a career high 5.0 sacks to go along with 9 QB hits.
The Raiders just keep trying to find a better option and keep falling short. Mario Edwards Jr can’t stay healthy, Jihad Ward has shown basically nothing, and Eddie Vanderdoes just tore his ACL in the season finale. The Raiders need to stop messing around and lock in Autry.
Lee Smith - I like Smith a lot. And if he came back, that could be a good thing. But it’s not that crucial and he hasn’t quite been the mauler this season the Raiders needed him to be.
Justin Ellis - Even in a career year, he was still just ok. And when you factor in the whole ‘contract year’ thing, it suggests it won’t get better from here.
EJ Manuel - His presence was welcome. He was certainly a lot better option than Connor Cook and when he was called upon late in the week four game against the Broncos, he nearly led the Raiders to a win. But Gruden likes Connor Cook and if Manuel would like to find another opportunity, he should get that opportunity.
Let ‘em walk
Reggie Nelson - He began playing a bit better late in the season and even at 34 if he wants to continue his career, he may find a team that needs him. But the Raiders have young safeties ready to step in, so it’s probably best to move on.
Sebastian Janikowski - Jano was drafted while Gruden was the head coach. But being 40 years old with back issues is too risky. Let’s look forward to the nice retirement ceremony with Gruden coming full circle from welcoming him to the NFL, bidding him a fond farewell.
Jon Condo - The man who snapped the ball for Janikowski all those years signed a one-year deal last offseason so they could finish things off together. It didn’t work out quite that way, but even still at age 36 after 11 years in Oakland it’s time for the Raiders to seek out their next long snapper.
Keith McGill - Never worked out with the Raiders. He was taken in the fourth round while Carrie was taken in the 7th. He bounced between corner and safety and ultimately found his only fit was on special teams. Perhaps a fresh start can discover if he has any hidden potential.
Note: Despite Aldon Smith having signed a 2-year deal two years ago, he is not set to become an unrestricted free agent. Each season he has been banned from the NFL, his contract has tolled. Which means his 2-year contract will begin if/when he is reinstated.