Pauly G is smiling right now. He finally got some reinforcements.
While the initial wave of the free agency frenzy focused on Jon Gruden’s specialty – offense – the Oakland Raiders focused on the other side of the ball this week adding a true-to-the-bone Paul Guenther guy in linebacker Vontaze Burfict. A day later, the Raiders added cornerback Nevin Lawson.
Burfict and Lawson join run-stopping defensive end Josh Mauro and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner as new blood in the Silver & Black.
The joke was: “Paul Guenther and Jon Gruden are signing guys while Mike Mayock is at Pro Days.” Rib or not, the Raiders made maneuvers to bolster a defense which had been the worst and most comical in the NFL in 2018.
Signing Burfict to a one-year deal – reportedly worth up to $5 million – was the no-brainer move of the offseason. Once he was waxed by Cincinnati, there was only one place where he could go: Oakland. Burfict said he called his mom first and, the second call he made after the Bengals dropped him, was to Guenther. Seven times, in fact.
“Once Pauly [Guenther] came here, I called my brother like, ‘man, my defensive coordinator left me. He went to Oakland,” Burfict said. “He was like, ‘I told you you’re going to be there one day’, man, and a dream come true.
“He’s a player’s coach. He understands how to get his players to play. He understands how to coach his players – in the NFL, you have different types of characteristics from different players, so he knows how to [connect] with everybody. His scheme is very difficult, but once you get it down pat, everybody gets it down pat, then everybody plays at a fast level.”
Burfict is slated to anchor the middle of the Raiders linebacking unit and bring much-needed attitude to the group. Said attitude has earned him the moniker as the dirtiest player in the NFL and can draw a bevy of flags, if Burfict is not careful.
In Lawson, the Raiders add another diminutive but forceful presence in the secondary. The 5-foot-9 former fourth-round pick has plenty of starting experience (54) and has played in 64 games. His got speed to burn and instincts to go along with it, however, the biggest knock is he’s snagged a whopping total of zero interceptions in his career. Perhaps, like Burfict, that changes with the Raiders.
Competition is the best form of motivation and adding Burfict and Lawson to the mix surely does that. While Burfict is pegged as a starter, Lawson has the chops to make a go at manning one of the outside cornerback spots, one of which is occupied by Gareon Conley (who flashed shutdown moments last year). Joyner, at 5-foot-8, is tapped to play heavy snaps at nickel/slot corner and safety. That should leave a wide-open competition at the other outside corner spot between Lawson, Daryl Worley and anyone else the Raiders add to the roster. (Interestingly enough, the 1-year pact Lawson inked has nearly the same value as the second-round tender the Raiders assigned to Worley ($3 million to $3.095 million).
Reinforcing the secondary and linebacker groups is surely the proper step in turning around last year’s horrid defensive unit. The portion that needs the most attention, however, is the front four. Mauro and Arden Key are the only defensive ends on the roster, as of now. Key fits the mold of a pure rusher and should make the second-year leap this coming season. Mauro fits the bill as a Pauly G strong side defensive end that’ll set the edge and give enough juice as a rusher. Still, the ends need TLC.
Free agency has its options (Ziggy Ansah, Junior Galette, Justin Houston, etc), but the plethora of offerings belongs to the NFL Draft. There’s a high probability on the No. 4 overall pick being one of the promising pass rush talents (Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, if they fall) and the Raiders have eight overall to play with (four in the top 35).
Pauly G is probably trying to convince Gruden to let him have at least 2 of those four picks.