Editor's note: Here is the fifth installment of a five-part series on the organization’s top offseason priorities.
The Raiders defensive front showcased plenty of talent last season. Khalil Mack is a monster, already considered among the league’s elite pass rushers. Mario Edwards Jr. had a strong rookie season. Justin Tuck flashed veteran savvy. Aldon Smith proved to be a physical freak 49ers fans knew well, athletic and nasty from the outside linebacker spot.
A collection like that suggests the Raiders don’t need help up front. Mack will be a force again next season, but it’s hard to count on anything else after that.
Tuck retired. Smith was suspended for a full calendar year, and can’t return until mid-November at the earliest. A banishment following a repeated violation of the substance abuse policy offers no guarantee of reinstatement, even if player and team plan on a reunion.
Edwards Jr. has a mysterious neck injury that muddies future prospects. General manager Reggie McKenzie said earlier this month that the Raiders were waiting on another round of tests to paint a clearer picture of the second rounder’s future.
That leaves the Raiders in a strange spot. They will need reinforcements, even with Denico Autry coming back as an exclusive rights free agent, but the exact volume remains uncertain. That could come from the draft, especially if Edwards Jr.’s outlook isn’t great.
The Raiders should need a shorter-term option to at least spell the team until Smith comes back. He’s formally eligible during the 2016 season, but it would be difficult to expect a major contribution. He would be away from the team until reinstated, and it would take some time to get back in rhythm.
That’s why a veteran edge rusher would be beneficial to the club no matter what. The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos showed a team can’t have too many pass rushers, and adding safety in numbers couldn’t hurt. Any threat to divert attention from Mack would be welcome in silver and black.
If Edwards Jr. is ready to go, adding another edge rusher would allow him to move inside on passing downs.
It depends on what the Raiders want to spend. New York Giants' Robert Ayres would add some flare to the pass rush. Los Angeles’ William Hayes is solid off the edge, could come a bit cheaper at age 30 and add depth to this unit. Detroit’s Jason Jones is an option. Miami’s Derrick Shelby would certainly make a splash.
The Raiders have options, and could and probably should add talent. Despite faring surprisingly well without Tuck, Smith and Edwards Jr. near season’s end, when Mack was truly dominant.