The Raiders came into free agency with the second most cap room. They were expected to be major players, but fans had their reservations because of last year’s free agency period. Although the Raiders made some great signings that included Rodney Hudson and Dan Williams, they did not land some of the perceived top free agents like Ndamukong Suh. GM, Reggie Mckenzie, even admitted, “It’s good to see people call us and not always have to beg,”. The quote shows how far the Raiders have come, as they have signed three of the top free agents this year in OL Kelechi Osemele, LB/DE Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith. Lets look at how these free agents will pay dividends and how it affects the rest of free agency and the draft.
1. Kelechi Osemele
Position: LT, RG, LG, RT
Contract: 5-year 58.5 million ($25.4 million guaranteed)
Most “experts” had Osemele rated as their number one rated free agent offensive linemen and with good reason. He has a reputation for being one of the meanest linemen in league and on top of that he has great feet and athleticism. He has been a joy to watch on film because he just destroys defenders and he is looking for collision on every play.
In this clip, he is pass blocking against a three-man rush. He passes off his defender to the guard and doesn’t see anyone else rushing, so he chases the defender all the way down the line to get another hit on him. Thats just a result of being mean as hell.
If he is this mean in pass blocking, you know he’s a monster in the run game. In the clip, he is lined up at right tackle and just pancakes the linebacker to open up a huge lane for the running back on an inside zone play (Raiders staple run play by the way).
Some critics want to point out that he is being paid too much money for a guard, but with the cap going up and seeing some of the deals that are being handed out (Ex: Osweiler $75 mil) getting one of the best if not the best guard in football is well worth the money. Another thing Osemele brings to the table is flexibility. In addition to play left guard, he has played left and right tackle. Not only has he played these positions, he played them well. The Raiders seem to want to play him at LG and move Gabe Jackson to RG. Wherever he plays, his flexibility gives him tremendous value and adds depth to the O-Line because he can fill in for any position on the line except for C.
Draft Implications: Even with the addition of Osemele and Donald Penn returning, The Raiders want to find a long term answer at left tackle, so drafting one at 14 isn’t out of the question. A smart, athletic player like Ohio State’s Taylor Decker could move to the right side. If the transition goes smoothly, he could be an upgrade over Austin Howard and be the eventual replacement for Penn.
Another possibility is drafting a top G propsect like Garnett by trading down for waiting till the second round and playing Osemele at RT. Although Osemele only played RT in his rookie year, he certainly has the athleticism to make the transition. Osemele opens up multiple possibilities for fortifying the line, but the Raiders do need one more quality lineman. Offensive line depth really hurt the Raiders down the stretch last year.
2. Sean Smith
Contract: 4-year $38 million ($15 million guaranteed)
Although Smith is 28 years old and approaching the dreaded three-zero, he is a pro bowl corner who has relied on his great technique and football IQ. He is a lengthy corner (6-3) with great ball skills, and has played the press bail technique that is required in Ken Norton’s scheme.
Norton’s scheme is heavily influenced from Pete Carroll’s Seattle defense. A big part of the scheme is disguising cover 1 and cover 3. The corners would give a press cover 1 look and bail out to their deep third. Here Smith comes up and gives the look like he is going to press and bails out. He also shows his great ball skills by timing his jump perfectly to tip the ball for the interception.
Smith also shows great anticipation and a great jump on this pick against the Broncos. Although Sanders is a good route runner, as soon as Smith sees Sanders plant his foot, he breaks on the ball for an interception.
Smith isn’t the fastest corner and the Chiefs didn’t ask him to play press on an island often. When he did play press, he played with a safety over the top, and played a trail technique, which does exceptionally. Here he perfectly shadows Sanders’ route and does a great job of getting his head around right when the ball is coming.
His weakness however is that he is tight around the hips, meaning he has trouble making fluid turns sometimes and his long speed is mediocre at best. Here he is playing a bail technique but underestimates the speed of Sammy Watkins. He bails too slow and at a bad angle then awkwardly tries to turn the other way and gets burned. To be fair, Watkins might be the most explosive fade runner in the NFL, but you can see how Smith has trouble turning and has no chance one Watkins is even with him. However, Smith does not get burned often because he makes up for his weaknesses with great technique and being in the right position.
Overall, Smith is a huge upgrade at cornerback for the Raiders and should provide a solid veteran playmaker that is a perfect scheme fit for Norton’s defense. The Raider secondary was so bad last year that over paying for one of the top players at his position is well-worth it.
Draft Implications: With Smith and David Amerson starting at corner, the Raiders are unlikely to draft a corner with their number one pick. Smith gives them the option of finding a corner in the second round or mid to later rounds that they can develop and use as depth.
3. Bruce Irvin
Contract : 4-years $37 million (19 million guaranteed)
Irvin said in an interview that he is going to play more defensive end, which probably means that he is going to be 4-3 defensive end because he does not have the strength and size to play end in a 3-4. Compared with some of the contracts that 4-3 defensive ends are given, Irvin’s wouldn’t have ranked in the top five for average salary per year. And that isn’t considering the inflated numbers due to the salary cap increase. He is a bargain compared to Vernon Adam’s potential $17 million dollars a year. Although Irvin is regarded as a great talent that played in an extremely talented defense, he is being partly paid for his potential as a pass rusher. He only notched 5.5 sacks last year, but also played outside linebacker and dropped back at times. The Oakland coaching staff is hoping that he can have a Khalil Mack like jump in production with more opportunities to primarily focus on rushing the passer.
Irvin has an exceptional get-off and flies off the edge. He uses his hands well and his closing speed is top notch.
However, when a Tackle gets a good set on him, he struggles to play with power to squeeze the pocket. Many of the Raiders rushers use a one hand stab technique that requires power to “stab” through tackles. Irvin has added some weight, but it remains to be seen whether he can implement the stab technique or continue to rely on his speed as a rusher.
Another dimension that he brings to the Raiders is his coverage ability. He won’t be asked to cover as much as he did with the Seahawks, but occasionally dropping him or having him cover a tight end could help to disguise looks and confuse quarterbacks. In the clip, Irvin lines up as he is going to rush but drops out and covers one of the fastest tight ends in the league in Greg Olsen. The Raiders were infamous for their terrible coverage on tight ends last year and Irvin could certainly help in that department.
Draft Implications: Defensive line was not a huge need for the Raiders before the Irvin signing but there are some question marks with the possible return of Aldon Smith and Mario Edwards Jr. injury. Reggie Mckenzie believes in building through the trenches, but I don’t believe the Raiders will expend one of their top draft picks on the defensive line. Instead, I believe they will try to find a developmental defensive end in Day 3 of the draft.