At positions where the Oakland Raiders have lost players this offseason, did they upgrade or downgrade the roster with the incoming free agent class and the trades that have been made?
The Oakland Raiders have been quite busy in free agency, with a handful of familiar faces no longer on the team and plenty of fresh faces being added to the mix in their place.
It seems like for each player/position the Raiders lost, they gained at least one player at that same position. The season doesn’t start until September, but on paper, let’s take a look at whether or not the Raiders upgraded or downgraded their roster with each move.
This is only an evaluation of players the Raiders have added at positions where they have also lost players. Doug Martin, Derek Carrier and Coby Wadman are the free agents that have been signed at positions where the Raiders have not lost anybody, so they aren’t included here.
Out: Michael Crabtree, Cordarrelle Patterson, 6th round pick
In: Jordy Nelson, Griff Whalen, 5th round pick
The most notable roster change of the offseason (so far) has been the release of Michael Crabtree and the signing of Jordy Nelson.
Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review Journal reported back in December that the expectation was for the Raiders to move on from Crabtree in the offseason, but with a change to the coaching regime, it seemed like those plans may have changed. Reggie McKenzie was even quoted saying that “Crabtree was in their plans”, but apparently that just meant they planned to release him after all.
Crabtree put up some impressive numbers in 2015 and 2016, recording at least 80+ catches and 8+ TDs in both years, with one of them also eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark. He was Derek Carr’s most productive, most reliable and most clutch receiving option. But a down season, continued issues with drops and rumored reports of that “diva” attiude and some locker room problems ultimately ended his tenure in Oakland.
Crab had two years left on his deal with around $16M in total money coming his way, but none of it was guaranteed. He certainly could have had some trade value, but perhaps every team in the league knew the Raiders would just cut him, so no trade came to fruition.
Enter Jordy Nelson.
After his long run in Green Bay came to an end, Jordy was set to begin his free agent tour. But his first and only visit ended up being with the Raiders, who closed the deal via a 2-year, $15M contract with $13M of it being guaranteed.
Nelson will be 33 over the summer, and he also has recently torn his ACL and has dealt with a lingering shoulder injury. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t around for much of 2017, but even so, Jordy didn’t quite look like the same player. But maybe he’ll find the fountain of youth under Gruden and put up numbers close to what he was doing with Rodgers during their peak, or at least what Crabtree did in 2015 and 2016.
The next notable move here was the decision to trade Cordarrelle Patterson. Gruden certainly takes route-running seriously, otherwise this move never would have happened. At just above a $3M salary, Patterson’s value as a kick returner and a special teams gunner is worth that alone.
In the trade with the Patriots, the Raiders will be moving up roughly 50 spots in the draft. Reggie McKenzie now has a 5th round pick to work with, and he gave up Patterson and a compensatory 6th rounder to get it. Who wins this trade is obviously heavily dependent on who McKenzie grabs with the pick the team acquired.
Ultimately, the Raiders got older with the addition of Nelson while also dishing out more guaranteed money. If his production eclipses what Crabtree was able to put up in 2015 and 2016, then this move will be looked at as a win.
However, trading Cordarrelle Patterson to move up roughly 50 spots in the draft might not be worth it. Patterson was a WR4 as his ceiling, and Gruden may have been the coach who could have finally utilized his playmaking ability. But now we’ll never know.
And even if Patterson wasn’t going to be all that great of a receiving weapon, he still is the best kick returner in the NFL and also one of the best gunners in the league.
Lastly, Griff Whalen might not even make the 53-man roster. He has 6 catches total the last two seasons, so expectations for him should be next to nothing.
Out: Denico Autry
In: Tank Carradine
Denico Autry was easily the third best pass rusher on the Raiders roster the last few seasons. He was a quality rotational lineman who picked up 5 sacks in 2017, so his absence along the defensive line will leave a definite void.
Autry was also a versatile asset who could line up in different spots along the line, and he blocked his fair share of field goals and extra points during his tenure in Oakland. Raider Nation should be bummed that he is gone, but should feel happy for the player who cashed out an $18M deal.
With Autry gone, the Raiders opted to sign former Niners second-round pick Tank Carradine.
Carradine will be on a one year deal, at a much cheaper price than the $6M annually that Autry will fetch with the Colts. But he’s also a fraction of the player.
Tank was viewed as a pass rusher coming out of college thanks to an 11-sack season prior to entering the draft, but he’s only managed 5.5 total sacks in four seasons thus far. At age 29, he is who he is at this point, and that is a low-end rotational player. He’s decent against the run, but don’t expect much contribution from him.
In terms of the quality of the two players, Carradine is a clear step down from Autry. But understand that the Raiders could not justify $6M per season for Autry, so they had to let him walk.
So the team got worse on paper, but they were able to make several other moves instead with the money saved. And this also makes addressing the defensive line more of a priority in the draft, so we’ll have to wait and see to find out what additional moves are made at the position.
Out: NaVorro Bowman (Unsigned)
In: Tahir Whitehead, Kyle Wilber
This one is more of a TBD because it really depends what happens with NaVorro Bowman. There aren’t any solid reports out there on whether or not the signing of Tahir Whitehead changes the team’s plans or interest in Bowman, but hopefully it doesn’t.
Even with Whitehead on a three-year deal worth around$6M annually, Bowman would still be great to have back on the roster. Whitehead can play inside linebacker, but having NaVorro there for at least another year or two would be ideal.
But if not, Whitehead isn’t that much of a downgrade from Bowman at this stage of their respective careers. Neither are that great in coverage, but Bowman is better against the run while also providing valuable leadership.
Whitehead is younger and a better athlete at this point, and he still has some room to get better under Guenther. So overall, there is a slight advantage towards Bowman but this one could be considered a push if Whitehead develops a bit more.
An underrated move will be the signing of Kyle Wilber. He likely will see little to no snaps at linebacker, but he’s a quality special teams player. New ST Coordinator Rich Bisaccia had Wilber on his special teams unit in Dallas, and thought highly enough of him to convince Gruden and McKenzie to bring him on board.
It’s nice to see special teams be a priority this offseason, like it was when McKenzie inked Brynden Trawick and Daren Bates to deals a couple of offseasons ago. The Raiders special teams units were humming that season, and it seems they are trying to get back to that with the additions of Wilber and Keith Smith.
Bowman to Whitehead is a bit of a downgrade, but again, Whitehead is younger and offers a needed boost of athleticism in the linebacker group.
Plus, Bowman could still return, and the addition of Wilber as a quality special teams player is enough to say this one is a push overall.
Out: Sean Smith, David Amerson, TJ Carrie
In: Rashaan Melvin, Shareece Wright
This has been the positional group that has seen the most change so far this offseason. Smith and Amerson were both cut while Carrie signed a $31 million dollar deal with the Browns. And just like that, Oakland’s top three cornerbacks the last two years are gone.
To most in Raider Nation, only Carrie will be missed. He turned out to be a nice find by McKenzie in the 7th round, and his versatility really helped patch up the secondary. Smith played well when used properly, but his overall body of work made it an easy decision to part ways with him. And Amerson was never able to regain the form of his first season with the team.
In comes Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright.
Melvin will be 29 in October, and the Raiders will be his seventh NFL team since going undrafted in 2013. He signed a one-year deal worth $6.5M.
The story of Rashaan’s career thus far has been a rollercoaster. He’s been cut many times, he’s been hurt, he’s played really well and he’s played poorly. But everything seemed to click for him in 2017 with the Colts, and he put together by far his best season as a pro.
For the PFF folks, he graded as their 17th best cornerback for the 2017 season. For the non-PFF folks, he recorded 3 interceptions and 7 passes defensed, while also proving himself willing and capable in run support.
He fits the typical McKenzie mold for cornerbacks (long and athletic) and he talks a big game. Melvin should prove to be an upgrade over any cornerback the Raiders lost this offseason.
Shareece Wright, on the other hand, not so much. The 2011 third-round pick will be on his 5th NFL team, and he’s widely considered an average at best cornerback. He’s also the cornerback Crabtree cooked against the Ravens to the tune of 3 TDs — with Shareece being on the defending end of two of those.
Depending on what else happens in the offseason at the cornerback position, Wright could be asked to man the slot. However, if Gareon Conley can stay healthy and make some strides in his sophomore season, and if the Raiders can add one more cornerback — likely via the draft — having Wright as CB4 wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Based on most of their play in 2016 and 2017, the losses of Sean Smith and David Amerson are addition by subtraction. The pass defense suffered greatly with those two logging the majority of snaps as CB1 and CB2, and the Raiders also saved a good chunk of change by letting both go.
Melvin and Conley has the top two cornerbacks should absolutely prove to be a notable upgrade at this spot, but the loss of Carrie will be felt. The Raiders couldn’t pay him as much as the Browns did, so hopefully Gruden and McKenzie can find one more corner in the draft that can make contributions for the 2018 season, and beyond.
Out: Reggie Nelson, Keith McGill (Unsigned)
In: Marcus Gilchrist
This position should also be considered TBD for now, as Reggie Nelson and Keith McGill are both unrestricted free agents. It should be a safe bet that neither will return to the Raiders in 2018, but never say never.
In regard to Nelson, his old defensive coordinator in Cincy is now leading the Raiders defense, so perhaps that familiarity could lead to a reunion. On the plus side of that, Nelson would be able to help the rest of the defense learn Paul Guenther’s scheme.
However, Nelson has been a complete liability on the back-end of the defense. He is slow enough that even if he starts in great position to make a play, he still ends up getting left in the dust. His biggest contribution was that he had a penchant for interceptions, but that penchant is all but disappeared when his athleticism did the same.
In regard to McGill, he never did anything of note in the secondary, but he did develop into a pretty good special teams player. But the Raiders have signed Kyle Wilber and Keith Smith this offseason, so McGill’s services should no longer be needed.
Even though Nelson is presumably on the way out, safety wasn’t viewed as a position of need. The team already has Karl Joseph at one safety spot, and they invested a 2017 second-round pick on freak athlete Obi Melifonwu. Unfortunately, Obi missed nearly his entire rookie season with an injury, so he hasn’t earned the starting role. He’ll have to prove himself to the new coaching staff if he is going to fill one of the two safety spots long-term. Or perhaps he could find a home in a hybrid role of some kind.
In the meantime, the Raiders opted to sign safety Marcus Gilchrist to a one-year deal. He’s been a low-end caliber starting safety for five or so years now, and is a decent addition. He should at least be able to patch up the back-end of the secondary as a stop-gap option, until Guenther figures out what to do with Melifonwu or finds a different player (Derwin James?).
Like Sean Smith and David Amerson, the departure (presumably) of Reggie Nelson would be addition by subtraction. Simply put, without Nelson manning the back-end, the defense gets better.
Also, Gilchrist has played some cornerback in his day, so that versatility can help replace some of what was lost with TJ Carrie. Signing him was a low-risk, moderate reward move.
Out: Jamize Olawale, 6th round pick
In: Keith Smith, 5th round pick
When the Raiders signed a second fullback to the roster in Keith Smith, most of the fan base did not think twice about the fate of Jamize Olawale. It’s obviously unusual to carry two fullbacks on a 53-man roster, but the two are completely different players.
Olawale is a great athlete, ball carrier and pass catcher. He’s essentially a gadget player that had gone underutilized, but the hope was that Gruden would finally be the coach who could maximize his skill set.
Keith Smith, on the other hand, is more of a classic fullback. He is a quality run and pass blocker, and a pretty good specials teams player as well. In a perfect world, Olawale could have been used on passing downs or occasionally be given the ball to mix things up. While Smith could be in when the team wanted to go smash-mouth and run the rock.
But that won’t be happening. Olawale has been sent to the Cowboys, where Smith played, for a 5th round pick. The Raiders are giving up a 6th round pick in return, just like in the Cordarrelle Patterson trade.
Olawale might seem like the superior player, but Smith is the better fit for Gruden’s offense. He also will upgrade the special teams units, and is cheaper.
Also, Jamize has missed a handful of games the last few seasons, and he is three years older than Smith.
So it might be hard to say, but the Raiders got younger, cheaper, healthier, a better fit for the offense, and upgraded a draft pick. That’s a win.
Out: Jon Condo
In: Andrew DePaola
Alongside the end of the Sebastian Janikowski era came the end of the Jon Condo era in Oakland. As the last of Al Davis’ renegades, no player remains on the roster from when Al was still running the team following the departure of these longtime Raiders.
For Condo, in particular, he’s been the most consistent Raider over the last decade-plus. He comes in, does his job well, and goes home. A real lunch pail guy. And for proof of his value to the team, look no further than the Travis Goethel game.
But now the Raiders have found a new lunch pail guy in Andrew DePaola, who they have made the highest paid long snapper in the league via a four-year deal worth just north of $4 million.
Long snappers of course aren’t household names, but DePaola seems to be well regarded and the team thought highly enough of him to make the change.
Per Pro Football Focus, DePaola ranked 7th in snap accuracy (97.7%) among 33 NFL long snappers in 2017, while Condo ranked 28th (91.7%). So they got younger and they got better, and his salary doesn’t move the needle. Thanks to Condo for his contributions while in Silver and Black, but this is an upgrade.
Out: EJ Manuel (Unsigned)
In: Josh Johnson
Last but not least, the Raiders have made a change at the backup (or third-string) quarterback spot. EJ Manuel remains unsigned, but with the signing of Josh Johnson, it likely will stay that way.
Manuel signed a one-year deal last offseason and beat out Connor Cook for the backup job. He looked good in the preseason, while Cook did not. But in the times Manuel was on the field when it counted, he didn’t do much to inspire confidence. He shouldn’t be expected to do much, to be fair, which is why this move isn’t a big deal.
More importantly, Johnson was with Gruden in Tampa Bay in 2008. So bringing in a QB familiar with Gruden’s playbook, his terminology and how he operates should pay dividends for Carr and the rest of the offense.
Manuel is the better quarterback, but as stated above, Johnson will be able to help get Carr and the offense up to speed thanks to his familiarity with Gruden. That’s why he’s here.