Editor’s note: The Raiders have been right with the salary cap for a few years now. They have roughly $74 million in cap space heading into the start of unrestricted free agency next week. Teams can negotiate with other team’s players on Monday and formally sign them Wednesday. We’ll take a look at how the Raiders could fill several areas of need heading toward the NFL’s free-agent frenzy. Theis installment examines safeties.
Charles Woodson played better than even the die-hard Raiders fans could have dreamed after he returned to Oakland in 2013. He was excellent again last season, riding into retirement following a Pro Bowl season and a second-team All-Pro honor. He never had a partner last year, with Nate Allen hurt in the opener and a roving cast of players beside him. That included cornerback TJ Carrie. The Raiders need talent and leadership at safety. That combo will most likely come from free agency.
Nate Allen: 6 feet, 210 pounds, six accrued seasons, South Florida
Stats: 11 tackles, one interception, two passes defensed
TJ Carrie:6 feet, 205 pounds, two accrued seasons, Ohio
Stats:52 tackles, one interception, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble
Thoughts: The incumbent list is seriously that short. Allen was re-signed after getting cut, with an essentially restructured contract. Carrie could end up playing cornerback, his natural position, but played well in the middle last year. Larry Asante is a restricted free agent and Taylor Mays is back on the market.
Eric Weddle (Chargers): 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, nine accrued seasons, Utah
Stats: 78 tackles, .5 sacks, six passes defensed
Good fit? Weddle didn’t have a great 2015, an aberration during a career where he was a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time Pro Bowl. Weddle is a free safety by trade who can cover tons of space in coverage. He’s 31 but should have good mileage left. He’ll take time making a decision, but the Raiders could be a good landing spot for a player who wants a chance to win and stick it to his old team (the San Diego Chargers) twice a year.
George Iloka (Bengals): 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, four accrued seasons, Boise State
Stats: 47 tackles, one interception, four passes defensed
Good fit? The Bengals have a pair of poachable safeties – Reggie Nelson is the other – but Iloka is younger with more future upside. He’s a big player with solid range and room to develop under top Raiders secondary coaches Marcus Robertson and Rod Woodson. He has position versatility the Raiders crave.
Tashaun Gipson (Browns): 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, four accrued seasons, Wyoming
Stats: 60 tackles, two interceptions, two passes defensed.
Good fit? Gipson is another player just entering his prime, and might be slightly cheaper after a somewhat disappointing 2015 campaign. He has potential to be a star player in the right system.
Walter Thurmond (Eagles): 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, six accrued seasons, Oregon
Stats: 71 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, seven passes defensed.
Good fit? Thurmond had the type of all-around contributions in 2015 the Raiders want from a strong safety. He was solid against the run and pass, and made several game-changing plays. That included five takeaways. The Raiders could be a good option, considering he played in Seattle when coordinator Ken Norton was with the Seahawks. Thurmond has been injury prone throughout his career, and 2015’s clean bill of health could be a fluke. Giving him a big-money deal seems like a risky proposition.
Other options: Isa Abdul-Quddus (Lions), Reggie Nelson (Bengals), Rodney McLeod (Rams)
Overall thoughts: While Woodson can’t be replaced, finding someone who can lead from a key position could be crucial. Weddle would fit that bill, though he’s expected to take time making his decision following several visits. The team’s plans for Allen are also key in this equation. If they’d like him to start, he’s a better free safety. The Raiders like position versatility, which might also be key in their safety search. Iloka would seem like the man there, especially considering his size and upside, though competition for him could be fierce.