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Raiders offseason positional primer: Cornerback

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With the offseason here and the Raiders readying for their move to Las Vegas, it’s time to take an in-depth look at the future of every position.

For all the griping fans have done about the Raiders problems at wide receiver and linebacker, cornerback has flown a bit under-the-radar as a major need for this team. This secondary has been one of the league’s worst for years. And considering that general manager Mike Mayock was a defensive back himself, it’s hard to imagine him not looking to bring in some help on the back end.

This list doesn’t address Lamarcus Joyner’s future with the Raiders, as we will wait to talk about his future when we discuss safeties. Joyner played in the slot all season, but he’d been a safety for his entire career to that point, and the transition was clearly not natural.

Currently on roster

Trayvon Mullen (UFA in 2023)

Isaiah Johnson (UFA in 2023)

Keisean Nixon (RFA in 2022)

Nick Nelson (RFA in 2021)

Aside from Trayvon Mullen, the cupboard looks relatively barren heading into the offseason.

Mullen will have one of the outside cornerback spots locked up heading into 2020. The rookie second round pick broke out once Gareon Conley was traded to the Texans after Week 6 and looks like a foundational piece.

The other guys around him? Not too inspiring at the moment.

Isaiah Johnson never found a chance to contribute after missing most of the season with a broken jaw. He was always expected to be a project as a fourth round pick out of University of Houston who converted from receiver midway through college, and the team will likely continue to bring him along slowly. Johnson’s place on the roster should be safe heading into next season, but he probably will probably be relied on primarily in a special teams role unless things click with his development.

Keisean Nixon is a dog who brings competitive fire whether lined up outside, in the slot, or on special teams. The gritty UDFA from Compton scratched and clawed his way to a roster spot out of training camp last summer and will likely do the same this year unless he’s squeezed out by other acquisitions.

Nick Nelson will probably be with the team this summer, but it’s tough to imagine him making it past final cuts. Dylan Mabin was also recently signed to a reserves/futures contract with the Raiders, but he may just be a camp body at this point.

2020 Raiders free agents

Daryl Worley

Nevin Lawson

The big question here is whether or not Daryl Worley will be re-signed.

Worley gives the Raiders a bit of versatility in the secondary due to his ability to play cornerback and safety, but he’s a middling presence at both spots. He could be back on a modest deal, but it would be a mistake if the Raiders came into the 2020 season with him penciled in as a starter.

The 24-year-old was signed to a 1-year, $3.095 million deal last offseason, and I could imagine the Raiders signing him for another year around the $3-to-4 million range. If another team fancies him a bit more, don’t expect Mayock to chase him.

Nevin Lawson, on the other hand, is unlikely to be re-signed unless he’s brought back for the sake of continuity. He was serviceable over the season’s last few weeks, but his body of work across the year was subpar.

Top free agent CBs

Chris Harris

Kevin Johnson

Byron Jones

Logan Ryan

Bradley Roby

Brian Poole

I don’t expect the Raiders to push all their chips to the center of the table and break the bank at the cornerback position, but with over $70 million in space available, they’ll at least gauge the market and make a few offers.

Pairing Mullen with an established free agent cornerback would be a smart move, as rookie cornerbacks can often be hit or miss.

Byron Jones looks likely to be the odd man out in Dallas with a massive deal for Dak Prescott incoming and not much cash left over. The Cowboys’ loss could be the Raiders gain, as Jones brings the type of versatility to play every position in the secondary at an above average level. I expect Jones to look for something in the 4-year, $45 million range, which would put him among the top 10 highest paid cornerbacks.

The guy on this list with the least fanfare is Brian Poole, a slot corner who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-best cornerback of 2019. The Jets will likely look to lock up Poole on a long-term deal, but if the Raiders decide to either move on from Joyner or move him back to safety, Poole could be an interesting target. He probably won’t get paid as much as the other names on this list, but could have just as big of an impact.

Logan Ryan is another top-tier option in the slot, while Chris Harris, Kevin Johnson and Bradley Roby could all seamlessly fit in as starters on the outside.

Other free agent CBs of note

Darqueze Dennard

Mackensie Alexander

Artie Burns

Eli Apple

If the Raiders don’t feel like throwing a ton of cash at the cornerback position, they could potentially get more bang for their buck with the guys on this list.

Dennard would bring a veteran presence and would be an upgrade over Worley, but he wouldn’t move the needle quite enough to warrant a long-term deal. A 2-year deal for around $10 million could probably get things done.

Artie Burns and Eli Apple are both still young and fast as hell with prototypical size, but both may be available for bargain prices due to their uneven play.

Apple turned it on late in the season and actually looked better than his counterpart Marshon Lattimore at times. But he’s always been better as a run defender than in coverage, so a 1-year prove it deal that pays $5-to-7 million might be in order.

Mackensie Alexander looked primed to get a multi-year contract heading into this season, but he will reportedly be undergoing knee surgery after suffering an injury in the Wild Card matchup with the Saints. Surgery this late will likely scare away some of Alexander’s suitors, which could make him an excellent bargain bin candidate.

Draft Options

Day 1 targets — Kristian Fulton, Bryce Hall, Trevon Diggs, Paulson Adebo

Day 2 targets — C.J. Henderson, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Jaylon Johnson, A.J. Terrell

Day 3 targets — Darnay Holmes, A.J. Green, Lavert Hill, Lamar Jackson

We will go much more into depth on different cornerback prospects leading up to the draft, but here are a few options for guys the Raiders might desire.

This is a deep enough cornerback class that the Raiders could wait until Day 2 to take someone like Cam Dantzler or Jeff Gladney with one of their trio of third round picks. Although if the Raiders shore up the cornerback spot in free agency, they may not look to draft any cornerbacks at all.

At this point, the mostly likely scenario at the cornerback position would include re-signing Worley, bringing in a bargain bin free agent like Burns or Alexander, and drafting a cornerback in the third or fourth round.