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Raiders free agency preview: Breaking the bank?

Top-flight free agents are going to cost Las Vegas some primo coin

NFL: JAN 02 Jaguars at Patriots
J.C. Jackson is reportedly seeking to become the NFL’s highest paid cornerback as he hits free agency later this month.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To spend? Or not to spend?

We’ll certainly find out this coming week what general manager Dave Zielger has in mind for his Las Vegas Raiders. The legal tampering period is the dawn of free agency and it’s going to be intriguing to see if the Silver & Black are players on the open market.

This much is for sure: Top-flight free agents are going to cost teams primo coin. And if Vegas is going to roll the dice and get into bidding wars for the cream of the free agent crop, it’s going to take lofty numbers and offers to get in the mix.

To potentially get his Raiders in the competitive-offer business, Zeigler and his personnel staff did contract restructures for left tackle Kolton Miller and running back Kenyan Drake on Thursday. See below:

“Potentially” is the operative term as Las Vegas does have in-house big-ticket items looming in contract extensions for quarterback Derek Carr, defensive end Maxx Crosby and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. Freeing up some cap space may be a step in that direction. Then again, inking Carr to an extension, be it short-term or not, likely frees up cap space, anyhow. But I digress.

Creating cap space just before the market opens for business is eyebrow raising, nonetheless. It gives the impression the Raiders may be players in the open market. Or they could use the freed-up coin to lock up their own key players.

That said, if there’s one unrestricted free agent the Raiders must pursue, it’s cornerback J.C. Jackson. An undrafted free agent diamond who blossomed into a shutdown corner and absolute thief in the New England Patriots secondary, both Zielger and Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels got to see Jackson become the defensive back he is now up close and personal during their respective times in Foxborough. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound corner snared 25 interceptions in his first four season in the league and an impressive 53 passes defensed over that course of time. At age 26, Jackson is just hitting his prime.

With the AFC West suddenly becoming a quarterback-laden division and the league turning into an aerial showcase, defending the pass is becoming more critical and Las Vegas lacks a true shadow/shutdown cornerback. Jackson would go a long way into remedying that.

However, he won’t come cheap. Dig it:

Jackson wasn’t tagged and hits the open market as a likely hot commodity who’s likely to draw plenty of interest amongst the NFL landscape. It won’t just be one team looking to acquire his talents and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raiders make a play or not considering the contract Jackson will eventually land.

With the start of free agency just days away, the rumor mill is swirling that one of the teams interested in landing Jackson is the Raiders division foe to the West, the Los Angeles Chargers. Despite trading for and taking on Khalil Mack’s remainder of his contract in it’s entirety, the Bolts still have around $24 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap. Adding a talent like Jackson at corner would be a tremendous lift to both Mack and in-house pass rusher Joey Bosa as having quality cover men in the secondary forces a quarterback to hold on to the ball longer than anticipated.

Vegas has it’s own formidable edge duo in Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby. What the team is lacking, however, is perimeter cover corners, a strong safety that’s equal parts center fielder and run defender, and interior pass rushers. There’s a safety that is hitting the market that so happened to patrol the Kansas City Chiefs secondary that could bring both attitude and cover/tackling skills to the desert: Tyrann Matheiu. He won’t come cheap, either, however.

That was defensively. Vegas has needs on the offensive side of the ball, too. The team needs a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver — the call to give quarterback Derek Carr more weapons is a loud one. But the biggest need is at right tackle. McDaniels didn’t say where he envisions Alex Leatherwood playing — the rookie started at right tackle before being shift inside to right guard. If McDaniels and his coaching staff are in-line with the previous staff’s belief Leatherwood is a better fit at guard, the tackle spot on that side of the line is severely lacking. And it’s only amplified when you consider Mack joining a suddenly super-charged Bolts pass rush. Brandon Parker, who played 77 percent of the snaps at right tackle this past season is an unrestricted free agent.

The top right tackle on the market is a familiar one for the Raiders — both past incarnations and the new regime — as Trent Brown is an unrestricted free agent. He was elated to head back to New England after a rocky stint in Vegas. Would the two sides have mutual interest once more? Say what you will about the tenuous tenure of TB77 in Silver & Black in his first go-around, but he’d be a marked improvement over Parker. But it’ll take good contract offer to garner Brown — or any free agents — interest. The lack of state income tax in Nevada is going to be a solid selling point for the Raiders, however.

Still, Vegas isn’t the only squad that has coin to play with on the open market. And it remains to be seen if they’ll be active players. That’s the crucial caveat: Conventional wisdom says a team that clears cap space seems intent on spending said coin.

Ziegler and McDaniels are said to be methodical and deliberate. They’re not necessarily reactive, knee-jerk types.

Just don’t be surprised if Vegas doesn’t engage in the spending spree.