The Raiders didn’t sign any impact linebackers in free agency nor did they draft a high profile prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft but opted to go bargain shopping instead. At first glance, it seems like Oakland neglected the position but in reality, they were wise to do so.
The Raiders linebacker corps was not a team strength last year as they started players who were still developing.
Newcomer Tahir Whitehead allowed a perfect 158.3 rating against passes thrown his way. It gets to the point where Oakland could have had only ten players on the field and no one would have noticed. Marquel Lee and Jason Cabinda improved towards the end of the year, but it is uncertain if they’re going to be able to sustain that level of growth into next season.
To solve that, the Raiders signed former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and former Bengal, Vontaze Burfict, who is a defensive protégé of coordinator Paul Guenther. They aren’t All-Pro by any means but will be solid additions without breaking the bank the way the Jets did for C.J. Mosley.
Marshall was good in coverage early in his career before injuries took a toll on him. The former Bronco hasn’t been able to stay healthy, but if he manages to play and shows no lingering effects of those injuries he suffered, he should be able to provide better coverage than Whitehead did last year.
Although Burfict is better known for how vicious he is, he can be a steady force if he can keep his composure when the whistle blows. Playing under Guenther can help him achieve that. Head coach Jon Gruden knows Burfict is one ugly look at an official away from being suspended, so he really needs to make sure the former Bengals heavy hitter is motivated to make plays rather than an unsportsmanlike penalty.
As mentioned before, New York signed Mosley to a hefty five-year contract worth $85 million. That’s too much money for a player that is good, but not great. The kind of salary the former Ravens linebacker will get has to be allocated to difference makers, not an average Joe.
Furthermore, the Raiders decided to pass on former Wildcats linebacker Josh Allen and went for Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell fourth overall in the draft. I don’t know how the two stacked against each other in Oakland’s recruiting board, but general manager Mike Mayock must have a reason why he signed Marshall and Burfict instead of selecting Allen.
The Raiders will work with what they have in 2019 and aim for big improvements. There were more pressing needs such as their wide receiver corps and defensive line heading into the offseason and those both been significantly upgraded. Now Oakland can focus on, you guessed it, their linebackers next offseason.
In the meantime, Oakland will have to put together a decent second level defense, and with the players signed earlier this year they just might be able to field a respectable defense again.