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Linebacker work isn’t done for Raiders

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Raiders need a third starting linebacker even after signing Nick Kwiatkowski and Cory Littleton

NFL: Combine
Kenneth Murray
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

A week into free agency, the Raiders are in much better shape at the linebacker position than they were last season.

The Raiders’ had one of the weakest groups of linebackers in the NFL during the 2019 season, relying on a rotation of street free agents and players best suited for special teams ... which all contributed to the defense being a season-long weak spot.

Therefore, it was no surprise when the Raiders got to work quickly in free agency. They signed starting middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski from Chicago on Monday. Then, Tuesday, the Raiders, who have signed 11 free agents from other teams, netted their biggest free agent in the form of linebacker Cory Littleton. He will probably play weakside linebacker for the Raiders.

Both Kwiatkowski and Littleton are entering their prime and will be high-quality players for the foreseeable future. The presence of these two players alone means the Raiders will have much improved play in the middle layer of the defense.

However, the Raiders still may need another starter brought in.

At the moment, Nicholas Morrow would be set to start along with Kwiatkowksi and Littleton. But Morrow may be a player the Raiders try to keep as a backup. Las Vegas showed it likes him by giving him a second-round tender in restricted free agency. That’s not bad for an undrafted player from a Division III school. Morrow started eight games last season and 18 in three seasons.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Nicholas Morrow
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

But if the Raiders can get a better option, they have to look at it.

The Raiders don’t have a lot of cap room, so finding a starter may be tough in free agency. One possible option, if the price is right, could be Cincinnati’s Nick Vigil. He is a sound starter. He started every game for the Bengals in 2019 and he has 38 starts in the last three seasons. Of course, Vigil played two seasons for Las Vegas defensive coordinator Paul Guenther for two years in Cincinnati.

The Raiders could also look at the draft for a linebacker.

A dream scenario would be Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons falling to No. 12. But that’s unlikely. Still, Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, who can play both inside and outside and who is believed to be a favorite of Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, and LSU’s Patrick Queen could both be options at No. 19.

So, even with big work done at the position, the Raiders shouldn’t be done building the linebacker position.