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A tale of two acquisitions

Raiders hit bullseye acquiring Perryman, not so much with Littleton

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders
Raiders linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) lays the lumber on Ravens fullback Patrick Ricard in the season opener back in September.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Based on trade compensation alone, the Las Vegas Raiders acquiring linebacker Denzel Perryman from the Carolina Panthers back in August was an innocuous move by both teams. The Raiders sent a 2022 sixth-round pick to get Perryman while the Panthers sent the inside linebacker and a 2022 seventh-round pick out West. The transaction read more like a back-end roster move than anything else.

After signing Perryman to a two-year, $6 million deal with $2.99 million guaranteed in the offseason back in March, nagging injuries hurt his availability in Panthers’ camp and the team was no longer enamored with the veteran. The Raiders, meanwhile, suffered a rash of injuries at linebacker necessitating a move to acquire one. And when Las Vegas came calling, it was a no-brainer for Carolina and off Perryman went out West to be reunited with defensive play-caller Gus Bradley.

The shrewd investment is paying off handsomely for the Raiders. Perryman not only costs the Raiders just $990,000 this year, but he also leads the team in tackles (133 total tackles, 85 solo). His physical bring-the-wood style provides stability in the middle of Vegas’ defense and earned the 29-year-old linebacker a Pro Bowl nod.

“I was watching TV right before the game and was wondering why Coach (Rich Bisaccia) was FaceTiming me,” Perryman said during his early-week media session. “And when I answered, it was Coach, (linebackers) coach (Richard) Smith and (defensive coordinator) Gus (Bradley) all on the camera and they said they wanted me to hear from them first that I made the Pro Bowl.

“My eyes just opened up. … It still hasn’t hit me, but it’s a good feeling, though.”

Las Vegas is surely hoping its middle linebacker feels good soon as Perryman missed the last two games due to an ankle injury. Fellow veteran K.J. Wright stepped into the starting role vacated by Perryman playing 74 percent and 100 percent of the Raiders defensive snaps the past two games. Perryman returned in a limited capacity this week, but it harkens on one of the main drawbacks for the middle linebacker: it’s that penchant for injury that made teams cautious.

In his seven years in the league after being selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft (48th overall), the 5-foot-10, 240-pound linebacker has never played in a full regular-season slate of 16 games (now 17).

“I don’t think anybody wants to sit at home … just my history in general, this being injured and not playing a full season, irks me a little bit,” Perryman said. “At the same time, man, it’s football, and I am getting better. It’s a great frustration not being out there …

“Nine times out of ten, I am yelling (at the TV) and it’s not nice. At all.”

But there’s no denying the impact Perryman has when he is sporting that No. 52 jersey and roaming the middle of the Raiders defense. He’s a heat-seeking missile that puts all of his body weight into a tackle and hits. Sure, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Perryman.

He leaves something to be desired in pass coverage as Pro Football Reference charts him for allowing 53 of 66 passes (80.3 percent) to be completed on him for a whopping 446 yards and five touchdowns. And he’ll be on the books for $3.01 million in 2022.

That said, Perryman’s acquisition and contributions to the team are head-and-shoulders better than Cory Littleton's. Signed to a rich free-agent deal in 2020 (three years, $35.25 million, $22 million guaranteed) to be the impact coverage linebacker, Littleton’s performance has been disheartening. He did get a mulligan for 2020 after being saddled with Paul Guenther as the defensive architect, but his 2021 campaign has been lackluster, too. Once a takeaway artist as a Ram, Littleton has nary a one as a Raider. While he is third on the team in tackles (97 total, 51 solo), he’s allowed 41 of 56 passes thrown his way to be completed (73.2 percent), according to Pro Football Reference, for 350 yards and a touchdown.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Las Vegas Raiders
Linebacker Cory Littleton (42) hasn’t been the impact defender the Raiders thought he would be when the team signed in as a free agent.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Two different coaching staffs, two different schemes. Similar results.

The Raiders staff don’t seem to hold Littleton in high regard as his snap counts have decreased tremendously since the Thanksgiving Day clash with the Cowboys. The 28-year-old saw 34 percent, 29 percent, and most recently, nine percent of the Raiders defensive snaps in the last three games. Surely, the ascension of rookie linebacker Divine Deablo (57 percent, 79 percent and 61 percent in the same three-game span) has something to do with it, but a sudden decrease for a costly free-agent linebacker bears notice.

To compound matters, Vegas restructured Littleton’s deal in September and converted $4.25 million of the linebacker’s salary into a bonus. This resulted in a kick-the-can-down-the-road effect where Littleton’s cap number in 2022 is an ungodly $15.768 million. And if the Raiders were to cut him, it’d leave a $14 million dead money void in the cap, according to OverTheCap. Essentially, lessening snaps or not, Littleton is likely going to be a Raider for the 2022 campaign.

Littleton’s contract and play are eerily reminiscent of Nick Kwiatkoski, a middle linebacker the Raiders inked to a three-year, $21 million deal ($13.5 million guaranteed) the same offseason in which it acquired Littleton. Kwiatkoski, a 2020 starter turned 2021 backup, also went through a contract restructure and carries a cap number of $8.252 million in 2022. If cut, his dead money hit would be $5 million. Kwiatkoski played sparingly (16 snaps in the season-opener his 2021 high-water mark) and was placed on injured reserve in early December.

Fortunately for the Raiders, they hit big on Perryman. It’s up to the next crop of coaches and general manager Mike Mayock (or someone else if he’s canned) to A. get more return on investment on big-ticket free agents and B. to avoid shelling out big coin for meager production.