The Raiders are working through a crucial offseason, trying to build upon a solid young foundation and make the transition from competitive to controlling.
Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele and Sean Smith aren’t the only bastions added to the existing structure.
Big-money signings are done, but the Raiders are still searching for talent. Their primary means of doing so starts in a month’s time, though veteran depth could be added in the interim.
“We’ve just just gotten started,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said last week. “I just think we were recognizing needs on our roster to fortify ourselves. That remains the approach we’ll take. We’ve accomplished some things by being able to acquire the first three guys we got. We still have more work to do. That’s the way we’re looking at it.”
The Raiders aptly recognized and filled crucial needs in free agency. More remain.
They all won’t be reinforced with starter quality. They’ll also draft and develop hoping to glean immediate impact from some young player. General manager Reggie McKenzie’s roster remains, after all, a long-term project.
Let’s take a look at what should be prioritized on the team’s offseason checklist.
Simply put, the Raiders need numbers here. Nate Allen and special teamer Brynden Trawick are the only safeties currently under contract. There are some versatile options there as well, with TJ Carrie playing safety with solid success last season. Cornerback Keith McGill played safety in college and could be a convert option.
Del Rio said the Raiders need to acquire some players there.
Bottom line: The Raiders need depth and talent at this spot, which was aptly manned by Charles Woodson last season. It doesn’t seem there’s a safety worthy of the No. 14 overall draft pick, so options could be considered in later rounds.
Veteran safety Reggie Nelson remains on the unrestricted free agent market, among others. Arizona restricted free agent Tony Jefferson drew cursory interest, and the player seems intrigued by the Raiders, but it hasn’t gone farther than that.
Del Rio said the Raiders would attack the secondary through free agency and the draft. They added Sean Smith to anchor that group, and have David Amerson as an option at another outside spot.
Bottom line: It seems a perfect time to draft for depth this year, possibly in the first round, and find a quality contributor who could develop into something more.
The Raiders still have DJ Hayden available and Carrie could play the slot if new players don’t work out.
The team added Irvin, who can function in pass coverage but will be attacking often off the edge. Coverage linebackers are needed to aid Malcolm Smith. Ben Heeney is working to get bigger and stronger after a solid finish to last season, and Neiron Ball is working to recover from a knee injury.
Bottom line: There are quality options in the early rounds of this draft. Ohio State’s Darron Lee jumps out as a solid fit with the versatility to excel in this defensive system. The Raiders will reportedly bring USC hybrid linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens to Alameda for a visit, and he could be a quality option in the early rounds.
McKenzie said he was looking for help at running back, where Latavius Murray carried too heavy a load last season. Del Rio said the Raiders could use a running back, but it’s not a “glaring need.” The Raiders have Murray and backups in Roy Helu and Taiwan Jones, but adding competition for all of them would certainly help.
Bottom line: They looked at some frontline free-agent options who signed elsewhere, and the draft should be a quality avenue to find a contributor in the middle rounds.
Donald Penn re-signed with the club on a two-year contract expected to his last. The Raiders need a long-term option at left tackle, a crucial fixture on any squad.
Bottom line: The Raiders have some flexibility here, and definitely don’t have to reach for an offensive tackle. If they like someone, the selection could be afforded some time to develop. If not, one of the NFL’s most talented lines could function with the loser of the right tackle position battle (either Austin Howard or Menelik Watson) as a swing tackle. Watson is also an option on the left, with the athleticism and skill to play that spot.