While NFL free agency was buzzing over the last couple of days, the Las Vegas Raiders remained quiet and fans grew impatient. The Raiders kept making cap space but not making any moves, leading some to speculate what the point of moving money around was.
Then, Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler made their move.
The Raiders signed edge defender Chandler Jones to a three-year $51 million contract — per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport — and traded Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin — full trade details are TBD.
Now that they’ve finally made a move, let’s dive into the details and see what the Raiders are netting.
This time of year the NFL feels more like the stock market with so much money talk, but it is important in a salary cap league so let’s get the boring stuff out of the way.
As mentioned above, Jones carries a price tag of $17 million per year. At the time of writing, the full details of his contract have not been disclosed so we don’t know exactly how the cap hit will be staggered, but for now, we’ll use that number as a baseline measurable.
Ngakoue was scheduled to be a $15 million cap hit this season, per OverTheCap.com, so Las Vegas is looking at taking a slightly bigger hit than if they had done nothing.
Looking at the actual situation at hand, they’ll take on $8 million in dead cap from Ngakoue and save $7 million, netting a projected $10 million loss in cap space to swap out one of their edge rushers.
As for Ya-Sin, Las Vegas will take on $2.54 million of his salary and Indianapolis will eat just under a million in dead cap.
Per OTC, the Raiders began the day with about $28.7 million in effective cap space for this offseason and all-in-all, will walk away with about $16.2 million left after these transactions, again, depending on how Jones’ deal is structured.
The numbers everyone cares about!
Jones has some outstanding, Hall of Fame-caliber numbers with 107.5 career sacks in 10 seasons. He’s surpassed the double-digit mark in seven seasons and three years he didn’t was his rookie season when he had six in 14 games and in 2014 and 2020 where he only played in eight and five games, respectively. Also, he’s only two years removed from a career-high 19-sack campaign.
However, Ngakoue is no slouch either. He’s gotten to the quarterback 55.5 times in six years, including a team-leading 10 sacks a year ago. For comparison’s sake, Jones had 10.5 in 2021 and Ngakoue had the edge when comes to pressures.
The Maryland product finished the regular season with 62 pressures on 554 pass rushes, while the former Syracuse Orangeman had 47 on 501. That’s the difference between a pressure once every 8.9 opportunities versus one every 10.7.
Granted, Ngakoue reaped the benefit of playing on the other side of Maxx Crosby, allowing him to have more opportunities to rack up unblocked pressures or draw more one-on-ones, while Jones was the primary rusher in Arizona. That’s somewhat reflected in their PFF pass-rush grades as the former registered a 66.3 grade and the latter came in with a near-elite 87.7 grade.
For what it’s worth, Ngakoue ranked tied for 10th among EDGEs in pressures while Jones was tied for 26th, and they finished 52nd and tied for fifth in pass-rush grade, respectively.
Run defense has always been a struggle for the now-former Raider, and he struggled in that department last season with a PFF run-defense grade of 28.2 and only eight run stops. Those figures were the worst and tied for the 81st fewest among players with at least 73 snaps against the run at the position. While Jones is expected to be an upgrade as a run defender, his numbers do still leave something to be desired.
Last year, the 10-year veteran earned a 41.9 run defense grade that ranked 128th among 132 qualifying EDGEs and recorded 16 run stops which were tied for the 18th-most. To put the 16 stops in more context, he had a 5.5 percent run stop rate which was tied for 71st, and had the 20th-most reps against the run, so his ranking in that area benefits from some volume.
There is no direct, one-on-one comparison for Ya-Sin since, in a way, he’s the one that’s coming solo, but let’s take a look at how he compares to the Raiders corners from a year ago.
The former Colt allowed 26 completions on 46 targets (56.5 percent) for 248 yards and three touchdowns last year. Among the Raiders’ corners who took at least 200 coverage snaps, his completion percentage allowed would have ranked 2nd, and he would’ve tied for second in touchdowns and surrendered the fewest yards. Granted, Hayward did edge out Ya-Sin in yard per coverage snap, 0.57 to 0.63, as the latter participated in about 275 fewer coverage snaps.
Ya-Sin also would have been one of the Silver and Black’s top corners in coverage snaps per reception. He finished last season at 14.5 snaps per catch, which was behind Hayward’s team-leading 21.0 mark and above Nate Hobbs’ 11.4. The newcomer also registered a 72.4 coverage grade that was just below Hobbs (75.8) and Hayward (75.0)
So, it looks like the Raiders got a solid starting cornerback for a relatively low price, on paper at least.
New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has been almost secretive with his intended philosophy so far, stating that he values versatility and wants to deploy multiple looks. While that still can be true, these transactions are tipping his hand a bit and suggest a change is coming.
Gus Bradley, now Indianapolis’ defensive coordinator, ran a four-man front almost exclusively that Ngakoue was a great fit in. He’s an excellent pass rusher and that scheme allowed him to get up the field and after the quarterback. What it didn’t ask him to do was drop in coverage as he registered zero coverage snaps in 2021.
Graham, on the other hand, primarily used more of a 3-4 type of personnel in New York with two to three large interior defensive linemen and two standup outside linebackers who would rush the passer and drop in coverage. Jones has primarily played the standup backer role throughout his career, having dropped in coverage 330 times in 10 years including 45 times last season.
So, if we’re reading the tea leaves here, it looks like Graham is gearing up to stick to his roots and run a similar scheme to his previous stomping grounds.
Tashan Reed of The Athletic posted a breakdown of what that type of lineup might look like. The only tweak I might make is taking Clelin Ferrell out and sliding Maxx Crosby in to play some 4i- to five-technique and putting Malcolm Koonce at outside backer, but that also depends on Koonce’s development. Plus, this might be the best scheme fit Ferrell has played in since he was drafted.
A mock #Raiders 3-4 defense depth chart:— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) March 16, 2022
OLB - Maxx Crosby
DE - Clelin Ferrell
NT - Andrew Billings
DE - Bilal Nichols
OLB - Chandler Jones
LB - Denzel Perryman
LB - Divine Deablo
CB - Trayvon Mullen
CB - Rock Ya-Sin
Nickel - Nate Hobbs
FS - Tre'von Moehrig
SS - Johnathan Abram
Coverage-wise, Graham was very zone-heavy with the Giants but Ya-Sin’s numbers are slightly better in man. That's where the defensive back earned a 79.4 coverage grade and allowed just four completions for 37 yards last year. His zone coverage numbers aren’t bad, a 67.3 grade with 14 receptions allowed for 152 yards, but that’s clearly where he’s at his best. Also, Bradley is known for his cover three scheme, so if the Colts are trading Ya-Sin, that might suggest they don’t think he’ll be a great fit in their new system.
Maybe the Raiders' new defensive play-caller will change things up to play more man, but we’ll need to see a few more moves to have a definitive answer at this point.