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Grading the Raiders’ first wave of offseason acquisitions

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There are several teams which have made themselves much better this offseason (Browns, 49ers, Raiders, Titans, Jets) and others which have made themselves considerably worse (Chiefs, Giants, Dolphins). Free agency is by no means done, with dozens of players yet to sign and millions of dollars yet to be spent.

The Raiders are sure to pick up a few more players before the Draft to fill out their roster, but let’s examine each of their offseason moves so far. The first big offseason move the team made was to hire Mike Mayock to replace Reggie McKenzie, and so far he’s looking like he’s worth his weight in gold. Hopefully, that assessment will remain true after this upcoming draft.

1) Trade for Antonio Brown

This was the first big roster move the Raiders made, and it sent shockwaves throughout the NFL and both the Steelers and Raiders fanbases. Oakland fans were wondering how they got so lucky, while Steeler fans were aghast at how little compensation they received for the best WR in football. The only knock on this deal is that the Raiders had to pay big bucks in a new contract to a 30 year old receiver, but one who is in fantastic shape with great work ethic. The deal is short-term, lasting only three years, so if it somehow doesn’t work out it won’t cripple the team long-term. You’re going to see a pattern in this respect.

Bottom line is, getting Brown for a third and a fifth round pick was highway robbery, and the contract is market value and fair and not an albatross by any means.

Grade: A+

2) Signing Trent Brown to a 4-year, $66M contract

The Raiders kicked off the free agency period before anyone else, agreeing to terms with the massive tackle Brown nine minutes into the open tampering period. Brown was last seen as a Super Bowl champion, and a large part of the season Tom Brady made it through the entire AFC Playoff bracket without taking a single sack. Brown went up against some of the best pass rushers in the AFC and made them totally ineffective.

Mayock and Gruden clearly had targeted Brown and called his agent with an offer Brown could not refuse. My only apprehension is in the prospects of giving the largest offensive line contract in history to a player who is so unproven, but it’s also not very often that you have a player this young and this good with this much upside come available at offensive tackle. That positions usually gets locked up to extensions early on. Brown’s contract is for four years, but if the Raiders cut Brown after the 2020 season, there is zero dead money.

Grade: B+

3) Signing Lamarcus Joyner to four-year, $42M contract

Oakland has been rolling with Reggie Nelson at one of the safety spots for the last several years, and that simply can’t go on any longer. Joyner comes over from the Rams after five solid seasons with them in both St. Louis and Los Angeles. He was a do-everything DB at Florida State, and played both slot corner and safety with the Rams. He is a sure tackler, having missed only five tackles last season. He is a ballhawking, rangy safety who is good against the rush.

Joyner’s issue is his height, as he’s only 5’8”. He’s good in coverage, but as a Raiders safety he’ll be asked to cover some very tall and talented tight ends, whom he may be as much as eight inches shorter than. That presents some challenges, especially considering his fellow safety, Karl Joseph, is 5’10”. Nobody will ever question Joyner’s talent, only his stature. This move is an interesting one, considering all the safeties who were (and are still) available who are taller than Joyner. Perhaps the Raiders want Joyner to return to slot corner, in which case he’s a great fit. Just don’t stick him on Travis Kelce and expect good results.

Joyner’s deal contains zero dead money after the 2019 season.

Grade: B-

4) Signing Tyrell Williams to a four-year, $44.3M contract

Outside of New York Giants signee Golden Tate, Williams was probably the best wideout available in this free agency period. The Raiders had absolutely nothing at that position near the end of 2018, and now they are stacked with two good outside receivers.

Williams is 6’3” and runs a 4.4 with a nearly 40-inch vertical leap, so he has all the measurables and athletic ability you could want. The Raiders haven’t had this type of big target since Andre Holmes, and Williams is adept at using his height to win jump balls. Where Williams is lacking is in route-running, as he’s not crisp and doesn’t use his body to shield defenders from the ball well enough. He also must continue to improve his run blocking. I would have preferred the Raiders go after Tate, but Williams offers a size element that the smaller Tate does not.

Like Joyner’s contract, Williams’ incurs no dead money after the 2019 season.

Grade: C+

5) Signing JJ Nelson to a one-year, $1M contract

Nelson is one of the speediest wide receivers in the league, and the third member of the new Raiders WR triumvirate which is so collectively fast that Al Davis personally came to Mike Mayock in a dream to command him to sign them. Nelson’s issue in his career has been the dropsies, as his hands aren’t very reliable. He’s a perfectly cromulent third receiver and will surely find himself wide open as teams key in on Brown and Williams. Perhaps Brown’s proposed tip jar for drops will motivate him, as will playing with a better quarterback than he’s ever had.

There’s very little downside to this contract, as it’s only for $1M and only for this season, but there’s also not very much upside either.

Grade: C

6) Signing DE Josh Mauro to a one-year, $1.4M contract

At this point, Mauro is the only defensive end on the Raiders roster, and almost nobody knows who he is. Surely the Raiders had planned to sign a pass rusher in free agency, but all the good ones were hit with the franchise tag and then Antonio Brown sucked up a good chunk of the cap. So Mauro is what we get.

Mauro spent four years at Stanford and started 11 games, totaling 11 sacks, so he does have some ability. He’s just never been a starter at the NFL level. He seems like the type of guy who can be a part of a DE rotation and not be a liability, so that’s something the Raiders do need, but he’s probably not a starter on this team so long as the Raiders get some edge guys in the draft. He’s certainly not what anyone had in mind when they thought Oakland would sign a defensive end.

Mauro’s contract is just for this year and for peanuts, but hopefully he plays well enough to be brought back.

Grade: C

That’s it as far as additions go thus far, though the Raiders have made a few cuts including Donald Penn, Jordy Nelson and AJ McCarron. They also traded Kelechi Osemele to the Jets. All of those were expected and free up cap space, giving the Raiders about $25M left to play with, not including their rookie cap pool. There is plenty more to come.

Overall Grade: B


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