There’s no getting around this one: The name recognition and star power of the Las Vegas Raiders’ 17 new additions via free agency reside squarely on the offense.
The Silver & Black did add eight new players on the defensive side of the ball, however, outside of safety Marcus Epps — who started on the Super Bowl runner up Philadelphia Eagles defense this past season — there isn’t another name that immediately jumps off the page.
This isn’t to outright damn the acquisitions. They could very well turn into solid contributors. It’s merely pointing out the surface disparity.
Las Vegas general manager Dave Ziegler brought in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, and tight end Austin Hooper to help shore up head coach Josh McDaniels’ offense. Each bring plenty to the table.
Defensively, Ziegler inked Epps, linebacker Robert Spillane, and former Raiders cornerback Brandon Facyson to bolster Patrick Graham’s unit at the onset of free agency. No worries if they don’t tickle your fancy as much as the offensive signings.
McDaniels, however, sees the newly inked trio as potential starters for Graham’s defense in 2023.
“We felt like with Marcus and Robert and Brandon we might have been able to get three starters at different levels of the defense there with a corner and a linebacker and a safety,” McDaniels said at the owners meetings two weeks ago.
Ziegler was equally as bullish on the defensive additions, too.
“Just take two guys on defense: Robert Spillane and Marcus Epps,” Ziegler told The Athletic during the owners meeting. “We felt that they fit the mold of that in terms of the research that we had done leading up to adding those players. They’re two very intelligent football players, high traits, high passion for football. We need to build that type of core of our team. Having those types of players that are smart, tough, dependable, love football and, again, are good football players, too.
“So, part of our thinking going into free agency was to do that: Improve the depth and competition of the team, address needs and address them with the right type of people that we felt fit the fabric of what we want to build here.”
Of the trio, only Epps was a full regular season starter — 17 games, 17 starts for Philly. Spillane’s high-water starts mark came with seven back in 2020 with the Pittsburgh Steelers (he played in 16 games this past season with five starts). While Facyson career-high starts was nine with the Raiders back in 2021 (he played in 16 games with the Indianapolis Colts this past year with four starts before getting benched for ineffectiveness).
But in Ziegler’s words lies the kicker: Competition.
Facyson, in particular, joins a revamped cornerback room along with free agent signees Duke Shelley and David Long Jr. Shelley, in particular, putting up the fiercest fight for starting snaps. Spillane is slated to go toe-to-toe with 2022 undrafted free agent Luke Masterson for the middle linebacker spots (and green-dot duties). While Epps has the least path of resistance to a starting gig at safety with only incumbents Tre’Von Moehrig, Isaiah Pola-Mao, Roderic Teamer, and free agent addition Jaquan Johnson the current depth chart.
Ziegler and Co. surely aren’t done adding more talent to a defense bereft of it. The NFL Draft is at the tail end of this month and the Raiders are currently tied with the Houston Texans for the most picks at 12. Like any good GM, Ziegler is approaching the draft like so many others before him: Build a foundation via the prospects you select draft day and supplement the roster via free agency.
The plethora of one-year deals the Raiders struck with free agents this past month speaks volumes to that.