No team in the NFL has a bigger gulf between offensive and defensive DVOA than the Raiders. In year 2 of the Jon Gruden experience, the offense is humming along, sitting at No. 8 overall, just behind New Orleans and Baltimore and ahead of the undefeated Patriots and 49ers.
The defense, however, has been a train wreck, ranking above only the tanking Dolphins and Bengals at No. 30. With a myriad of moves made this offseason to fortify the defense, it is disappointing that this massive chasm persists. And the most frustrating factor that nobody seems to be discussing is the deplorable performance that free-agent signing Lamarcus Joyner has put forth.
Joyner was signed to a 4-year, $42 million contracts to bring some stability to the secondary. Versatility had been the 28-year old’s calling card across his five-year stint with the Rams, and the Raiders’ front office felt that adding Joyner to shore up the nickel corner position and add depth at safety would elevate a previously porous secondary.
Nearly halfway into the season, the signing appears to be a major misstep. Per Pro Football Focus, Joyner has graded out as the No. 111 NFL cornerback out of 114 qualifying players. His grade in coverage? No. 112.
His 37.6 cumulative season grade is by far the lowest of his career, with his previous low coming in at 57 in 2015 and his highpoint sitting at 90.9 in 2017. For reference, that 90.9 grade would rank No. 1 in the NFL among safeties this season, and No. 2 among all corners.
That’s the type of production that the Raiders thought they were getting when they offered Joyner $10.5 million per season for the rest of his perceived prime. But it appears thus far that they either signed a lemon or are trying to stick a square peg in a round hole.
When targeting Joyner, quarterbacks have posted a 121.53 QBR on 21 targets through six games. According to Sports Info Solutions tracking data, Joyner has allowed 16 catches on 17 catchable targets, with the lone incompletion resulting from a dropped interception, using their Total Points Saved metric (a statistic defined as, “A player’s contribution to each play he was involved in, expressed in terms of expected points”) Joyner ranks as the worst of any Raider at -7.7.
Only one other Raider had a lower Total Points Saved output, and that was Gareon Conley, who was shipped off for a third-round pick this week after posting a -11.7 mark.
The Raiders are trying to simultaneously toe the line between building for the future and making a playoff push, and trading away Joyner before the Oct. 29 deadline would be a logical step if they weren’t so perilously thin at the position in the wake of the Conley trade.
The most likely scenario is that the Raiders push forward with Joyner and see if he can turn his performance around. After all, he is a Mike Mayock/Gruden era signing, while Conley was not. For better or worse, front office regimes typically stand by their acquisitions and are willing to part with players obtained by previous leadership epochs.
If the Joyner experiment does not improve, the team luckily has language specified in his contract that will allow the team to walk away with $0 in dead cap, according to Spotrac. His release would likely come before the third day of the 2020 league year, as that is when his $12.95 million salary becomes fully guaranteed.
Oakland needs Joyner to regress to the mean and find some semblance of his previous form if they wish to make a legitimate run to the playoffs. Otherwise, it will be back to the draft-well to find a replacement.