Las Vegas Raiders bolster defense, but need secondary piecesBy Matt Verderame
The Las Vegas Raiders are making progress. Now make the big move.
Vegas has added quietly throughout free agency through the tampering period. First, general manager Mike Mayock landed middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski from the Chicago Bears on a three-year deal. The following day, Mayock once more found a piece for the second level of his defense in Cory Littleton, again on a three-year pact.
The duo of Kwiatkoski and Littleton turn the Raiders’ linebackers from a weakness into a strength seemingly overnight. As a result, Las Vegas has something to build around. Additionally, Mayock signed Maliek Collins to buttress the pass rush, going with second-year players Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby. While there may not be All-Pros in the group (although Crosby may be soon), it’s without any black holes in the lineup.
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Now, Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden have to find secondary help in a big way.
The Raiders struggled to cover for most of last year, rotating through Daryl Worley and Gareon Conley. Worley is a middling player while Conley was dealt to the Houston Texans at midseason, showcasing little ability compared to the talent which made him a first-round pick out of Ohio State only a few years ago.
Reportedly, the Raiders were heavily involved in the pursuit of safety Jimmie Ward and cornerback Byron Jones. However, they lost bidding wars to the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins, respectively.
Luckily, there are still quality players to be had at both spots. Vegas could also look within the division for replacements, including Bashaud Breeland of the Kansas City Chiefs. As well as that, former Denver Broncos star Chris Harris Jr., and safety Adrian Phillips, formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers are available. Any of them would be a significant upgrade over the current lineup.
In the AFC West, the Raiders understand their plight. If they can’t slow down the trio of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, they’ll always be fighting for the best wild card spot in the AFC. Fixing the linebacking corps and adding depth to the defensive line is terrific as a first step. Although, the secondary will hold the entire process back if left as currently constructed.
There’s time and candidates to be had for Mayock, and with cap space still in ample supply, expect more noise from the Raiders before free agency truly settles, and we turn our attention to the NFL Draft.