One thing I noted when grading this year’s free agency for the Raiders was the rather astounding fact that even while adding some 16 players, the team’s primary needs appear to be unchanged. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it.
The basic reason behind it is the fact that most of what Jon Gruden has been up to since he arrived has been bringing in players who, as he would put it, adding toughness to the team. That also has mean letting players leave whether by their choice or by his.
Gruden sat down for the coaches’ breakfast at the owners meetings in Orlando and among other things, he wasn’t shy about listing the positions that are still in immediate need of help.
Though he said he didn’t want to point to one particular position -- nor should he or risk tipping his hand for the draft — he did list off three positions off the top of his head.
Though he didn’t point to cornerback or safety specifically, it would seem obvious cornerback would be the higher priority. After cutting starters Sean Smith and David Amerson and allowing slot corner TJ Carrie to leave in free agency, a complete rebuild of that unit was needed. They had last year’s top pick Gareon Conley waiting in the wings, signed Rashaan Melvin to start opposite him. They also added Shareece Wright on a one-year deal, but there could be more work ahead. There is rumored interest in veteran corner Leon Hall who played with DC Paul Guenther in Cincinnati. But even then, another long term solution from the draft would be wise.
Ah yes. That right tackle spot continues to be a major problem spot for the Raiders. They’ve tried to fix it several times over the years with no success. From giving Austin Howard big money as a free agent, to drafting Menelik Watson in the second round, to adding Marshall Newhouse who only lasted one season of his 2-year deal before being cut last week.
They brought in Breno Giacomini who is a former Packers 5th round pick under Reggie McKenzie and starting right tackle under Tom Cable in Seattle, but counting on him as the answer would be...unwise. According to McKenzie, there will be quite and open competition at right tackle between Giacomini, 2nd year drafted players David Sharpe and Jylan Ware, and third year undrafted lineman Denver Kirkland.
There is also the eventual replacement for 35-year-old left tackle Donald Penn in the last year of his contract. Really only Sharpe could be considered for that and his performance in the season finale after Penn was lost to injury left very little confidence in that.
Clearly regardless of the supposed open competition McKenzie sees on the right side, Gruden still sees a need. Look for a selection at the position sometime in the first two days of the draft
“We’re not done there,” said Gruden. The Raiders have been fairly busy at the position. Jordy Nelson comes onboard, but they cut Michael Crabtree beforehand, so that’s an outright replacement situation. They then traded Cordarrelle Patterson to New England to move up from the 6th round into the 5th round.
Patterson’s position has not been filled. In his one season in Oakland, he did his best work as a return man. As a receiver, he was still the sloppy route runner he was always known to be and seemed to always think the criticisms he received were unjust and overblown. They aren’t. And that will not do in Gruden’s offense. He still has to find that player. And no, Griff Whalen isn’t that player.
Specifically Gruden said inside pass rusher is a priority. The team’s best interior pass rusher last season was Denico Autry who they inexplicably let leave as a free agent without showing any real interest in bringing him back. Mario Edwards Jr is inconsistent and hasn’t ever been able to stay healthy, Jihad Ward is looking like a complete bust, and Eddie Vanderdoes had a couple nifty moves in the first two weeks of his 2017 rookie season and then disappeared the rest of the season. All three of them were day two picks in each of the past three years. Fourth time’s the charm? Maybe day one this time?