The Las Vegas Raiders faced a lot of turmoil this season. Head coach Jon Gruden resigned in disgrace less than six weeks into the season, and two former first-rounders left the team due to off-the-field incidents. Despite it all, they still made their way to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. When their season ended after a wild-card round loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Raiders found a new head coach in former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. They also fired their general manager, Mike Mayock, and hired the former Patriots’ director of player personnel Dave Ziegler to replace him. Las Vegas’ new regime will face its first test in the next month when free agency begins. The good news is they won’t have a lot of high-priority pending free agents to replace, and they’ve got a decent amount of cap space to work with too. Taking Las Vegas’ team needs, pending free agents, draft picks and cap room into account, here are six free agents the Raiders should target this offseason.
Morgan Moses, OT, New York JetsWith the Raiders holding the 22nd overall pick in the draft, it’s not unlikely that a lot of the top talent at offensive tackle will be off the board by the time they’re on the clock. Alex Leatherwood looked like a swing-and-miss this year and Brandon Parker is hitting free agency. That leaves right tackle as a position Las Vegas should look to upgrade in free agency. While Moses was part of the oft-scorned Jets offensive line this season, he was certainly not their biggest issue. In 2021, he allowed just four sacks and was penalized three times while playing in all 17 games. He’d be a great veteran presence to add to the right side of this offensive line, and since he’s entering his age-31 season, he wouldn’t take up too much free cap space.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh SteelersThis is a position of need Las Vegas could absolutely fill in the draft. With Zay Jones hitting free agency and Henry Ruggs III no longer on the team, however, there are multiple holes to fill. The Raiders’ connection with Smith-Schuster goes all the way back to last year’s free agency period when there were reports suggesting Vegas was “very interested” in signing the receiver. Even under new management, there’s reason to believe the Raiders would still be interested. First, Smith-Schuster would give his quarterback—whether that ends up being Derek Carr or someone else—a great receiving weapon to pair with whatever top talent Las Vegas might draft in the first round. In addition, he wouldn’t be too large of a cap hit for the Raiders. He turned down a multi-year contract for a one-year, $8 million contract with the Steelers last year before getting injured and missing most of the season. That didn’t give Smith-Schuster the chance to raise his market value, so the Raiders could get the chance to sign him on an inexpensive, one-year “prove it” deal.
James Daniels, OG, Chicago BearsShoring up the right side of their offensive line is really one of the biggest priorities for the offense, so the Raiders should consider doubling up on reinforcements in free agency. Moses is one solution at tackle, and Daniels would provide help on the interior. Daniels, like Moses, is another guy who was not the problem of a maligned offensive line. He’ll be only 25 next year, and he’s got experience playing all three interior offensive line positions. Signing Daniels in addition to Moses (or another tackle) would lock in the right side of the line with some much-needed upgrades. Neither signing would break the bank, and patching up the offensive line in free agency would allow the team to address other needs when the draft rolls around.
J.C. Jackson, CB, New England PatriotsSometimes, with a top priority in mind, a team has to make a big splash at one position and potentially miss out on filling other roster holes. That’s why Jackson is on this list. In a division that has both Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and maybe even Aaron Rodgers soon, defending the pass has to be one of those top priorities. Las Vegas has a couple of talented cornerbacks still on the roster, but they lost Damon Arnette due to off-the-field issues during the 2021 season. Finding another corner to replace him and bolstering the secondary are major needs as a team in the AFC West. No cornerback in NFL history has been more productive over the first four years of his career than Jackson. He would not only replace Arnette, but he’d be a huge upgrade to the Raiders’ secondary as well. Though he would most likely come with a hefty price tag, the ball production Las Vegas would get makes the star cornerback more than worth it in that division. It doesn’t hurt that the Raiders have a couple of Patriots connections with their new head coach and GM now too.
Austin Johnson, DT, New York GiantsJohnson was one of the Giants’ best pass rushers in 2021, finishing second on the team behind only Leonard Williams in sacks as well as fifth in quarterback hits. The former Giant wouldn’t be overly pricey, and the strides he took under new Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham with the Giants in 2021 shouldn’t be overlooked. If he moves to Vegas with Graham and continues to improve like he did this season, he’d be another weapon added to the Raiders’ pass defense. That could prove crucial in their division.
Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England PatriotsAs the Raiders will likely move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense with their new DC, ensuring they have depth at inside linebacker is a factor they’ll have to consider. Hightower is getting a bit older—he’ll be 32 in March—but still has some gas in the tank. He was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2019 and he started all 15 games he played in 2021. While his production has slightly declined, adding Hightower’s presence would, at worst, give their defensive unit another strong, veteran presence and depth. At best, he plays at a Pro Bowl level again and gives Vegas a quality starter at linebacker for the year. As with Jackson, the connection to the Patriots within the Raiders’ front office could play a part here as well.
- Aug 11, 2022
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