The Las Vegas Raiders have just cut Tahir Whitehead, who must have been sufficiently self-aware to see the writing on the wall after a subpar 2019 season. Some in Raider Nation are taking the streets to celebrate, but they should proceed with caution as he was just a symptom of a greater disease.
It’s an understatement to say Whitehead struggled to shadow opponents in his tenure with the Raiders. He had a penchant for letting receivers and tight ends catch passes effortlessly. Moreover, he allowed a 148.6 passer rating on passes thrown his way over the past two seasons.
No NFL linebacker allowed a higher passer rating when targeted over the past two seasons than Tahir Whitehead (148.6). pic.twitter.com/oMNrKT1nhW— PFF (@PFF) March 9, 2020
Something had to be done if the Raiders want to improve their linebacker corps and releasing Whitehead was the first step, which has the added benefit of saving almost $6 million in cap space. Now, before everyone starts asking for permits for the parade, we have to remind Raider Nation of the scarcity of talent that has haunted the organization for years (and possibly decades).
The linebacker position is currently bare
Marquel Lee is the only linebacker who took meaningful snaps for Las Vegas in 2019 that is on the roster at the time of this article’s publication. It’s clear the organization is revamping the position and how they go about it will be interesting to say the least.
Can’t go back to square one
There are many routes the Raiders can take and all of them are pretty straightforward. They can pay premium for free agents that will be in high demand such as Joe Schobert, Cory Littleton or Blake Martinez. There will be some other cost-effective contributors like Nick Kwiatkoski too. What they can’t afford to do is to sign anyone from the bottom of the barrel; Nick Virgil comes to mind. They won’t cost much but their return on the field might be proportional to the money allocated to them. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Raiders did precisely that when they signed Whitehead back in 2018. A full circle of Silver and Black futility at linebacker if you will.
The future is bright (maybe)
Another road Las Vegas can take is the 2020 NFL Draft, which will be full of prospects. The Raiders will likely need to trade up if they want a shot at Isaiah Simmons, who seems to be the consensus top player at his position. On the other hand, they could settle on Keith Murray, Patrick Queen or Zack Baun if available at 12 or 19, but they either come with some red flags or don’t have as much upside as Simmons. Again, they must refrain from making the position an afterthought and wait until later rounds to pick impact players. Last year, they signed undrafted free agent Tavon Coney and that was it. They can do better than that.
Regardless of what I think (or anyone for that matter), if the Raiders feel comfortable drafting a linebacker or signing a good one, they must go for it. They can’t let the organization’s past mistakes affect their decision making. Ronaldo McClain was a fiasco, but so were many other draft busts and also, it was a while back.
The Raiders are in control of their linebacker situation and they have the means to improve. They can’t continue ignoring the position any longer.
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