It was a busy week for the Oakland Raiders, as Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden began to re-shape the roster with plenty of additions via free agency. Let’s roundup the week.
It’s the season of roster renewal in the NFL. Since free agency officially opened on Monday, March 12, things have been moving fast and furious. After a quiet early period, the Oakland Raiders got in on the action in a big way toward the end of the week.
With the Raiders bringing in Jon Gruden and a new staff changes were inevitable. In the past week, changes have been abundant.
Also re-signed Ellis and Lee Smith.
Spin it however you want, but the #Raiders have gotten better and have also added much needed depth.
Out: Sean Smith, David Amerson, Condo, Janikowski, Reggie Nelson, Autry, Carrie, Crabtree.
Some of those are addition by subtraction. https://t.co/VfrFL8cLhb
— Nick Hjeltness (@NickHjeltness) March 17, 2018
There could be more coming too, as moves could be made to free up additional cap space. A lot is happening so let’s not waste time. First, the biggest news of the week…
The Raiders Cut Michael Crabtree
Yes, King Crab. The touchdown maker. The game-winner. Is. Gone.
Crabtree is mostly a beloved Raider, though he polarized some with his swagger and gold chains. He always came to play and balled out when the game mattered most. He stood up for himself and teammates and was a solid Raider.
He’s been Derek Carr’s most reliable third down and touchdown target — and now he’s gone. His play dropped off significantly in 2017 — as did the entire Raiders offense — and he dropped passes with alarming frequency. There are also rumors, though none fully confirmed, that he was a negative locker room presence. These things added to his $7.7M salary made this call for the Raiders. That, and the Packers releasing Jordy Nelson. More on that further down.
Crabtree gave the Raiders a lot of big plays and big moments in 2016 and will be missed. After declaring Crabtree was “in our plans” for the 2018 season, it appears Reggie McKenzie meant the plans to free up some cap space.
That cap space is now the property of the Baltimore Ravens, who have signed Crab to a 3-year, $21M deal with incentives. He also gets free crab cakes for life, apparently.
It remains to be seen if this was a wise move, but one move that was extremely wise was…
The Raider Cut Sean Smith
Smith disappointed on the field and his salary was high. This seemed like an inevitable move, but it’s possible Smith may have taken a pay cut to stay with the team. That was no longer an option after it was revealed Smith is heading to jail for a year after last year’s assault.
Smith, who the Raiders will reportedly release, will be sentenced to one year in jail and three years of probation as part of his plea agreement.
— Nathan Fenno (@nathanfenno) March 12, 2018
Smart move for the Raiders. They save $8.5M against the cap this season and $9M in 2019, with no dead money and get rid of a disappointing player who, at 30 and heading to jail, may never play again. No-brainer.
Based on play, another no-brainer was when…
The Raiders Cut Marshall Newhouse
Newhouse came in to steady the right tackle position for a line that had all other positions set. Mission not accomplished.
The RT spot has been a frustration for years. Overpaid and unspectacular Austin Howard manned the spot until overdrafted and injury prone Menelik Watson was ready. Except he never was, and went to the Broncos last season, where he was benched.
Enter Newhouse, a free agent from the Giants. He had a couple of decent games as the Raiders offense played well early, but like the rest of the team he struggled throughout. Gruden called out Newhouse at the Combine, and the writing was on the wall. It’s now official, and Newhouse is out the door, saving the Raiders another $2.25M in 2018 with no dead money.
While teams were flying around signing big names like Cousins and Robinson to big deals, the Raiders didn’t do much in the early wave. Including re-signing some of their own players.
Two non-moves that marked the start of a new regime, but were met with mixed emotions and reactions, were…
Raiders Don’t Re-Sign TJ Carrie or Denico Autry
Reggie McKenzie has success in the later part of the draft and with undrafted free agents. Carrie and Autry are great examples of this.
Carrie was drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, and quickly established himself as a key cog in the secondary. He became a full-time starter in 2015, played excellent as a slot corner in 2016 when needed, and was the Raiders best overall corner in 2017.
This all led to Carrie looking for a marked pay raise this off-season. The Raiders, though, weren’t the team willing to give it to him. Instead, Carrie signed with the Browns on a four-year, $43M deal with $15.5M guaranteed. Carrie played more snaps than all other Raider corners combined in 2017 and is a versatile player who can play inside or out.
He’s also an inspirational person. A native Californian from Anitoch, Carrie elected to have open-heart surgery at 16 in order to be able to participate in physical activities. That surgery was at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. His first NFL gig was with his hometown Raiders.
He played his college ball at Ohio University, which is about three hours away from Cleveland. Now, he’s going back to his second home. With a big, fat paycheck in his pocket that he’s earned. He’s not just going back to Ohio for the money, though. He knows a little something about helping a team turn things around:
Why Browns? Former Raiders starting cornerback T.J. Carrie (a former Ohio Bobcat) says: "You always want to be a part of history in the making. You want to be a part of that team when it turns around."
— Patrick Maks (@maksimuspatrick) March 15, 2018
The Browns get a good, young (28) and big corner (6’0″, 205 pounds) with loads of experience and a versatile skill set. The Raiders let a good one get away but weren’t willing to pay him that much.
They let another good one get away in Autry. Another gem from the incredible 2014 Raider haul, Autry was signed as a UDFA. He quickly established himself with his work ethic and versatility, and was the Raiders best and most consistent lineman not named Khalil Mack the past two seasons.
Autry established himself as a player that can play the run and push the pocket. He has 10.5 sacks in his four seasons, including five in 2017. But his real sneaky gift is batting down passes, which he does frequently using long arms and impeccable timing. He has 12 in his career, but had a whopping seven in 2017.
The Raiders will miss his pocket pushing and pass defense skills on the line. The Colts signed Autry to a 3-year, $17.7M deal that averages around $6M per season, with $6.5M in guarantees per Sportrac. Pretty solid for a former UDFA.
The Raiders opted to release another veteran, this one a long-time Raider who was most appreciated in his absence in his career. After eleven excellent seasons in Oakland…
The Raiders Release Jon Condo
With them since 2006, the Raiders aren’t bringing back their long-time long-snapper. Condo worked his way into the starting long snapper role from the practice squad in 2006, and played in every game in 10 of his eleven seasons.
It’s a testament to how good he is at his job that the most memorable moment of his career is when he was injured. You don’t much notice long-snappers when they do a good job. Unless it’s Condo, steaming down on punt and kick coverage to violently hammer an opponent. But usually they aren’t noticed unless they make a mistake.
Well, playing the Chargers in 2012, Condo was injured early in the contest. Lacking another long-snapper, the Raiders had LB Travis Goethel give it a try. Let’s just say everyone noticed the long snapper. And noticed it was NOT the perennial Pro Bowler Condo. Goethel’s awfulness at the job — a very important but under-appreciated job in football — led to the Raiders losing to the Chargers and more fodder for Raiders dark-years lore:
Come on, Josh, you know fans would much rather see the box score from when Travis Goethel provided a sneak peek at what it might look like without Condo as the regular long-snapper.
— Steve Corkran (@CorkOnTheNFL) March 8, 2018
Condo is cemented in that dark-years lore for his consistent, excellent and outright sacrificial play. While the team struggled year after year, Condo kept doing his job well and going to the Pro Bowl. A true Raider, he will also be very missed.
Those are the players the Raiders let walk. Some big names there. Some real Raiders. Some beloved players. Such is life in the NFL.
So let’s get on to who they’ve added. Some are to replace the above departed, others for depth. One move they DID NOT make which looks pretty smart right now is that…
The Raiders Did Not Sign Trumaine Johnson
And at a 5-year, $72.5M price tag ($14.5M per season/avg) with $40M in guarantees, thank goodness they didn’t. Add in the strange payment structure and bonuses for Johnson in 2018 alone:
Jets paying former Rams’ CB Trumaine Johnson $26 million this season.
Rams paying Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Sam Shields and Lamarcus Joyner on franchise tag a combined $25 million this season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2018
So the Rams look like geniuses. And so does every other team that didn’t overpay for Johnson, including the Raiders who were thought to be heavily pushing for him. Good non-move.
In lieu of paying Johnson more than the entire secondary in 2018, the Raiders opted for some less splashy yet intriguing signings. I’ll address the defensive signings first, then move on to offense. Let’s start with…
Free Agent Signings
It’s clear through personnel movement and numerous interviews that Gruden expects Gareon Conley to be healthy and smoothly transition into the CB1 role.
With David Amerson, Sean Smith and TJ Carrie gone, who would be #2? Well, enter Rashaan Melvin. Reggie signed him to his favorite 1-year, $6.5M show-me deal, which could be an enticement.
A former undrafted player, Melvin is only 28 years old and coming off a career year. While it’s true he broke his hand in 2017 and missed five games, he also played in 13. In those games, he gave up a paltry QB rating of 60.3 while picking off three passes and defending 13. Oh, he’s also 6’2″, 200 pounds. If he can stay healthy, Melvin is easily the most experienced and proven corner on the roster at the moment:
Rashaan Melvin is officially a Raider.
– 36 tackles (30 solo) three INTs and 13 PDs in just 10 games
– 13 PDs through 10 games was tied for 5th in the NFL
– 60.3 passer rating when targeted–10th-best in the NFL
— Evert Geerlings (@E_Geerlings) March 16, 2018
Melvin will immediately come in and push to start across from Conley.
To me, this signing hasn’t received enough love. Whitehead was the Lions leading tackler the past two seasons, posting an impressive 132 tackles in 2016. In 2017, his first where he started all 16 games, he had 110 tackles, a pick, four fumble recoveries and two passed defensed. While he’s not much of a pass rusher, Whitehead is a great interior run-stopper and has some coverage skills at at times outplayed his more hyped former teammate DeAndre Levy. The Raiders are happy to have him.
Nobody is going to mistake him for Ryan Shazier in coverage or Ray Lewis in run stopping but he is a solid player and if the Raiders re-sign NaVorro Bowman (still unsigned as of this writing) it gives Paul Guenther a formidable pair of play diagnosing run-first linebackers to build the defense around.
After a disappointing tenure with the Jets, the Raiders have signed safety Marcus Gilchrist to a one-year deal. This is smart, because although he was good early in his career with the Chargers, Gilchrist struggled in New York before tearing his patellar tendon in Week 4 of 2016 and undergoing season-ending surgery in December.
Gilchrist is currently thought to be replacing incumbent starter Karl Joseph. If this happens, this would give the Raiders a starting secondary of Gilchrist, Karl Joseph, Conley and Melvin. Gilchrist brings a very versatile skill set, and his experience and talent give him the ability to make an impact all over:
#Raiders new S Marcus Gilchrist in one word: Versatile.
The 5-foot-10, 198-pounder and former second-round pick played significant defensive snaps (100+) at free safety, strong safety, slot cornerback and linebacker with HOU in 2017. https://t.co/8dpwTozaIa
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) March 16, 2018
While it may not erase the sting of Tyrann Mathieu signing in Houston for a seemingly paltry $7M sum, Gilchrist does at least bring pedigree and experience to a position in desperate need of an infusion of both. Reggie Nelson is aging and won’t – and shouldn’t – be around long.
The Raiders may have snagged themselves three new defensive starters, and they weren’t finished. With just a quick trip across The Bay.
A likely replacement for Autry, Carradine could start right away depending on the health of Mario Edwards Jr.
Honestly, Carradine is a bit of a downgrade from Autry. Primarily a defensive tackle, Carradine doesn’t have the versatility or the pass defending chops of Autry. Nor does he have the run-stopping stats. Really, Carradine hasn’t done a lot in his career despite being drafted in the second round in 2013.
Perhaps a change of scenery will do him well, but this signing is more about depth than anything. As was the case when…
Yes, corner is a need. Yes, Wright is a former Charger starter and started five games for the Bills in 2017. But no, he won’t be starting in Oakland. Wright is being brought in solely for depth and camp competition, and if he plays well and provides another starter or solid playing time all the better. But this is definitely nothing more than a depth signing, as it was when…
Wilber was drafted by the Cowboys in 2012, and played sparingly in that time, starting a total of 16 games. He didn’t start at all in 2017 but appeared in all 16 games, recording 10 special teams tackles. He’s clearly a depth signing but these signings can be key. He is also familiar with new ST coordinator Rich Biasaccia and will be able to step in right away and help lead and teach the system to younger players. A good, solid depth signing that has intangible benefits.
Well, that’s it for the defense – for now. So let’s move on to offense, shall we?
So they essentially traded Crabtree for Nelson.
Bottom line: #Raiders thought Nelson was better than Crabtree, on field and in locker room, and didn’t want to pay both. But clearly Crabtree had trade value, as I said before
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) March 16, 2018
Some like this move, some don’t. If they just cut Crabtree instead of getting anything in return, then what’s to like?
But if Nelson stays healthy this is a good move. That’s a big if.
Nelson is 33 years old, and just two years removed from major reconstructive knee surgery. They cut Crabtree to save $7.7M against the cap – and gave Nelson a 2-year, $15M deal. The 2016 comeback player of the year, he was no longer the Packers top wideout in 2017 after the emergence of Davante Adams. They clearly didn’t want to pay him like a #1 receiver, so the Pack cut him. The Raiders snagged him up 48 hours later.
Nelson is a great route-runner and led the NFL in touchdown catches in 2016. This could go either way, really, but Nelson is slightly older than Crabtree and has never played with Carr. Nelson, though, has had a lot of success in his NFL career and if he stays healthy and meshes with Carr this could be a great signing.
The Raiders continued to address their offense when…
This was one of the first free agent rumors of the 2018 season, and it’s come to fruition. The Raiders have signed the Oakland native to a one-year deal. Martin is coming home.
Raiders RB Doug Martin said that he grew up a Raiders fan. Born in Oakland. Moved to Stockton. "Me and Jon Gruden were joking that we're both coming back to Oakland. … It's full circle for us."
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 15, 2018
McKenzie continued his trend of signing players who need to prove something to one-year safety deals, and Martin is definitely no exception.
Martin was a dynamo in his rookie season, rushing for over 1,400 yards. He torched the Raiders for 250+ yards and four TDs in one game in 2012. But he never regained that form, struggling to crack the 500 yard mark each of the last two seasons.
Injuries, a suspension and a poor Tampa team have all combined to derail Martin’s once-promising career. Gruden met up with Martin a couple of weeks ago and made it clear he was impressed with Martin as a player and a person.
Marshawn Lynch is still on the roster, and Martin’s arrival is likely more dangerous for Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington than for Lynch. Martin comes into a crowded backfield with Elijah Hood also in the mix. Depth and competition is good, and the Raiders have that at RB.
The Raiders also made other moves to improve their running game, like when…
Derek Carrier, Keith Smith, Lee Smith
Carrier originally joined the Raiders as an undrafted wideout in 2012. He didn’t make the team, but tight end was put in his mind. He worked hard at it, established himself and after four teams and six years, is back in Oakland. He’ll combine with Lee Smith, who the Raiders re-signed, to provide excellent blocking from the position. Add in Jared Cook and Clive Walford’s route running abilities and it’s a versatile and talented stable of ends.
The Raiders also signed fullback Keith Smith, a 6’2″, 240 pound beast who helped lead the way for Ezekiel Elliott in the Cowboys backfield. As Gruden once said about the running game:
Raiders' offensive UFAs — blocking TE, re-signing Smith, Doug Martin, FB Keith Smith bring to mind quote from Gruden's first go-round in Oakland: `You know what the best thing is about running for four yards on first down? You can run it again."
— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) March 17, 2018
Gruden is clearly going to emphasize a power running game, and with this offensive line why wouldn’t you?
And last but not least…
Andrew DePaola and Colby Wadman
So even though Condo isn’t officially released yet, the Raiders have informed him he won’t be back and signed former Bears long-snapper Andrew DePaola to the roster.
And the Raiders have also signed punter Colby Wadman to the roster, presumably to compete with Marquette King but more than likely just to keep him company.
So that’s it – but that’s a lot! Thanks for sticking through it to find out all the up-to-date Raiders free agency news. Remember to check in at Only1Nation.com and follow @Only1Nation_ for continuing news, analysis and updates on all things Raiders.