With the Wild Card playoff round kicking off on Saturday afternoon, it is time to look at some players in those games who might not be suiting up for the same team in 2020, whatever the reason.
Much like with draft prospects, the Raiders under Mike Mayock seemed to focus on players who came from winning franchises in the 2019 free agency period. Of course there are good players who play for teams who do not make the playoffs. But there is such thing as a winning player who influences winning.
Those players are not always easy to come by. Lucky for Mayock, Jon Gruden, and the Raiders, a number of free agents-to be who influence winning are set to hit free agency in March.
In the interest of time, and the number of teams involved in the Wild Card round, there will only be one player per team profiled, with any additional options listed at the end.
Buffalo Bills: CB Kevin Johnson
Johnson is 27 and in his fifth year in the league. He was drafted in the first round out of Wake Forest by the Houston Texans, but when things didn’t go as planned there, was released. He was in the same draft as Marcus Peters, the Baltimore Ravens corner who just signed a three year, $42 million to remain with the team he reinvigorated his career with this season.
In my opinion, those were the two best corners in that draft, and coincidentally Johnson has had the best season of his career in this his contract season. He’s not the true No. 1 corner I thought he might become, but he can be a No. 2 in a zone-heavy scheme. He is 17th in yards per pass allowed and success rate this season, according to Football Outsiders, and is one of the best tacklers in the league at the corner position.
It may not be the best fit, unless the Raiders decide to run more base zone coverages next year. He should command a relatively modest contract.
Houston Texans: CB Bradley Roby
You could say this is a technicality, given that Roby may not play on Saturday. Roby is playing on a one-year deal after leaving the Denver Broncos last offseason. The former Ohio State Buckeyes corner has only played in 10 games, and he’s only been average this season, statistically-speaking.
The film, though, suggests when Roby is healthy he’s developed into a better than average corner, which is a big deal given that there just aren’t that many corners who can do the trick consistently. He’s making $10 million a year. If he plays and plays well in the postseason, that could raise his price tag this offseason.
Minnesota Vikings: S Jayron Kearse
Finding a good free agent fit from the Vikings was difficult. Jayron Kearse was the closest player who made any sense whatsoever. Given the Raiders’ musical chairs at the safety spots in 2019, it can’t hurt to have a safety who started for an NFC playoff team and presents special teams value.
Kearse was arrested for drunk driving and possessing a gun earlier this season, so if character concerns are a primary factor, Kearse may not be the guy. But if quality safety depth is the preeminent concern, Kearse, at an inexpensive rate makes sense for the Raiders.
New England Patriots: LB Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy is my favorite player on this list. Admittedly, much of that is due to how much I liked him as a draft prospect coming out of Brigham Young five seasons ago. Van Noy, despite attending BYU, and seemingly like he’s been in the NFL forever, is actually only 28.
Van Noy technically plays inside linebacker for the hybrid defensive front that the New England Patriots employ in 2019. But in his time in New England, Van Noy has been asked to do pretty much everything, from covering running backs and tight ends in the passing game to playing zone coverage to rushing the passer—something he did quite well in Provo.
Van Noy remains an underrated player at this point, in part because of the talent surrounding Van Noy, and in part because everyone is now on to the secret that Bill Belichick makes everyone look like Superman in his system.
But taking Trent Brown from the Patriots a season ago worked well for the Raiders. It could very well be a gamble well worth it, once again.
Others to watch: OLB Jamie Collins
New Orleans Saints: LB A.J. Klein
A.J. Klein has been shockingly good for the New Orleans Saints since he signed a four year, $24 million deal in 2017. Technically Klein is still under contract through next season, but given Saints general manager Mickey Loomis’s tricky cap-maneuvering and contract structuring, the final year of the deal is voided.
And given the Saints have 25 free agents-to be from one of the league’s best teams, and a young linebacker, who when healthy is just as good (Alex Anzalone), Klein is unlikely to return to New Orleans next year.
Klein isn’t the greatest athlete for a linebacker, and at 29 that’s unlikely to improve. But he’s a smart, instinctual player who excels against the run and is what Mike Lombardi calls a good “fifth rusher” (blitzer).
What Klein commands on the open market is hard to tell. Though the Saints’ defense isn’t at the top of league, it is a good one, and well-designed. He could be seen as the product of a well-orchestrated unit.
Others to watch: CB Eli Apple, CB P.J. Williams,
Philadelphia Eagles: LB Nigel Bradham
Bradham is the trickiest case of any of the potential players on this list. He is technically under contract for three more seasons till 2023, but the Eagles have a potential out this offseason, which they could use if they feel need to upgrade their team in other areas.
If they do, the Raiders could be in position to pounce, given that Bradham would seemingly be an upgrade at outside linebacker over anyone currently on the roster. Yes, he’s currently 30. But the fact he starts for an Eagles defense which plays about as much zone coverage as anyone in the league, is proof enough that he still has the athleticism needed to play at a high level, at least through his current contract.
A three-year deal, perhaps even equal in money to the three years, $28 million the Eagles still owe him after this year would be fair, especially given the cap space the Raiders will possess this offseason.
Seattle Seahawks: LB Mychal Kendricks
Kendricks has had an interesting couple years, winning the Super Bowl in 2017 with the Philadelphia Eagles and then struggling to find the field for the Seahawks due to an off-field issue the league suspended him for.
He’s just 29 this year and making $4.5 million. Given that he’s not been quite the player he was in Philadelphia, he would likely come cheap. And though it’s possible he’s lost a step or two, he is a veteran presence who still has good athleticism—something the Raiders desperately need at that spot.
Tennessee Titans: CB Logan Ryan
Logan Ryan is the most expensive player on this list (tied with Roby). One reason for that is the high-priced free agents playing in this round are generally at positions in which the Raiders are already strong. Ryan, though, has developed into one of the league’s more dependable corners.
His numbers in 2019 haven’t been as good as in past years, which oddly might be a positive from the Raiders’ perspective, for two reasons: 1) it will likely keep his price down and 2) cornerbacks’ effectiveness based on these numbers tends to fluctuate year-to-year. As long as the film doesn’t suggest Logan has lost a step, and he’s only 28 so that seems unlikely, then he could be a good fit working opposite Trayvon Mullen, with Daryl Worley in the slot.
Others to watch: LB Kamalei Correia, QB Marcus Mariota
If you didn’t notice, every player profiled, and all but one mentioned, is a defensive player. There really aren’t that many skill guys in the playoffs set to hit free agency. Defense, though, defense.
And that’s exactly what the Raiders, should, and are, looking for this offseason.