The Oakland Raiders have 11 players who are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. One of those players is Reggie Nelson, and there is both a case to keep him and to let him walk.
The Oakland Raiders signed safety Reggie Nelson to a two-year, $12 million dollar deal before the 2016 season and the team will now have to decide if they want to re-sign him this offseason or let him walk. In his two years wearing the Silver and Black, Nelson has accumulated 110 tackles, 6 interceptions, forced 2 fumbles, and recovered 2 others while starting all 32 games. He also logged 5 tackles in the teams playoff loss following the 2016 season.
Those are obviously not earth-shattering numbers, and given his age (34), Nelson has probably played his last game as a Raider. Like any player, there are reasons the team could consider keeping him and reasons the team could let him walk. Let’s examine the case for each.
The Case For Re-Signing Reggie Nelson
The main reason Nelson could get brought back is the level of production new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther got out of him in Cincinnati. Guenther was his defensive coordinator for two years, including the 2015 season in which he led the NFL with 8 interceptions. If anyone knows how to put Nelson in position to make an impact on a game, it is the guy who is now running the Raiders defense.
Reggie has shown he has a knack for coming up with turnovers. There are some players who the ball just tends to find. That has been the story with Nelson, who has 36 interceptions, 9 forced fumbles, and 8 fumble recoveries over his 11-year career. Oakland needs to correct their -14 turnover differential from 2017 if they expect to have a better 2018 campaign, and the way this pass finds him is a perfect example of how to make that happen.
Another thing that could get Nelson an invitation back next season is new head coach Jon Gruden loves to have veteran players in the most important roles on his roster. Playing as the last line of the defense is about as important as it gets. It was Gruden who brought Rod Woodson to Oakland in 2002. He doesn’t mind trading a little athleticism for veteran experience.
The defense will most likely be shifting away from the Seattle single-high safety sets as well. This will shrink the area Nelson will be responsible for and should mask the step or two he has lost over the years. Less responsibility could free him up to attack routes and add to his turnover totals. If the coaching staff wants a safety that can impact a game and don’t mind his limited range, Nelson could get consideration.
The Case To Let Reggie Nelson Walk
There may not have been a bigger liability in the Raiders secondary last season than Nelson. He is the definition of “boom or bust”, with far more plays ending in “bust”. His tendency to jump routes while giving up big plays was so obvious teams started game planning to take advantage of it.
The Chargers were a team that really targeted Nelson the entire game and they had great success doing so. They used several route combinations to do it but the idea was the same with all of them. They would run a deep route outside with an underneath route breaking right in front of Reggie, knowing he would jump it. Post/Corner-Dig combinations proved the most effective and the Chargers utilized them with almost comical results.
Nelson jumped this out route, leaving the deep half of the field wide open. The Charger receiver had time to slow down for the pass and still walk into the end zone. This play happened Week 17 under the second defensive coordinator the team had last year, John Pagano. At that point there is nothing else left to blame besides the player. The constant blown coverages may be all this staff needs to see to say “no thanks” and move on.
Oakland also has three young safeties in 2015 first round pick Karl Joseph, 2016 second round pick Obi Melifonwu, and 2016 seventh round selection Shalom Luani. The team will certainly be eager to find out what they have in these young players and will look to get them more playing time. There may not be enough snaps to warrant having Nelson on the roster.
Reggie did not play to a level that his cap hit would be worth it either. The Raiders will be re-signing EDGE rusher Khalil Mack and will need to maximize their remaining cap space. Wasting it on a veteran who is giving up so many big plays could hold the team back from improving other areas of the roster. It is, again, highly likely that Nelson has taken his last snap in Raiders gear. The cost simply outweighs the production and he is too much of a liability to be trusted.
Expect at least one veteran safety to be signed by the Raiders this offseason — just don’t expect it to be Reggie Nelson.