With the conclusion of the 2019 NFL Draft, NFL teams across the board can now zero in on who they plan on keeping around for their 53-man rosters. The draft undoubtedly is a critical time for a team’s improvement. However, making the right undrafted rookie free agent signings can be just as crucial for a team to take the next step forward.
In 2018, the Oakland Raiders were in a year of transition and obvious rebuilding. Despite winning a mere four games and ending with more questions than answers, the Raiders still had some bright spots. One such player who stood out to me was linebacker Jason Cabinda, who was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Cabinda made ten appearances while starting in three of those and showcased what made him a standout linebacker for Penn State. Prior to appearing in regular season games for Oakland, Cabinda had to prove himself and his talents while on the practice squad. I recently spoke with Cabinda and he told me, “I knew what I was capable of doing.” He added, “For me, it was just a matter of getting into training camp and showing these teams what I was capable of.”
After making plays and continuing to impress the Raiders coaching staff, Cabinda earned his spot on the active roster. Overall, he said it was “tough” and that the 2018 season “was a bit of a roller coaster.” Through the ride that was last year, Cabinda said, “Practice squad was very humbling. I was coming in every day ready to work, continuing to learn.”
Cabinda mentioned facing off with guys like Derek Carr, Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson helped in his development as an NFL linebacker. It was an experience Cabinda said he “one-hundred percent grew from a character standpoint.”
General manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden both have expressed high praise for their linebacker and Cabinda recognized that as he told me, “To know that coach Gruden and Mike Mayock believe in me and believe in my abilities and to hear what they’ve been saying about me lately, it means a lot.” On the other hand, Cabinda recognizes that while those words are nice to hear, it’s still on him to work hard as he said, “At the end of the day, you know, I still got to go out and prove it every day. And that’s my mindset.” He continued by saying, “I got to stay humbled and remember my roots and just grind. That’s what I’m good at, just putting my head down and going to work.”
Cabinda is obviously a man of his word, given that he was a longshot to make the roster and he exceeded expectation as he was starting by season’s end. This time around, with a stronger sense of familiarity, Cabinda said it will be “A huge difference.” He went on to say, “You go into training camp last year and you’re learning the playbook and everything is just so sped up. You’re going through huge installs every single day.” Cabinda would say he was often “Up till 1:00 or 2:00 AM, studying the playbook and getting things down.”
Now entering year two, Cabinda said, “I just think this training camp is going to be so much slower for me, knowing that it’s going to be stuff I’ve already learned and am already familiar with.” As mentioned above, Cabinda spent the majority of last season understanding what his responsibilities were on defense and did what it took to make a difference. In 2019, he wants to “continue to brush up and learn more about the guys around me and what their responsibilities are and what I can learn about the rest of the defense that’ll help me play faster.”
If this guy doesn’t scream Gruden Grinder, I don’t know what will. I am a believer in what Cabinda has already put together in a short time on the field and I think he will continue to be a force on this defensive unit moving forward.
While at Penn State, Cabinda was dominant in defending the run and that continued once he took the field for the Silver and Black. Even though 2018 was only a sample size serving of what Cabinda offers, he flashed his potential. With 94 linebackers having played more than 100 run defensive snaps in 2018, Cabinda ranked as the No. 12 run-stopping linebacker per Pro Football Focus.
The Raiders will be looking for drastic improvement in all phases of the game, and I believe with more reps and playing time that Jason Cabinda will prove to be a key contributor in getting the defense back on track.