A key focal point for the Las Vegas Raiders’ free agency plans should be the safety position. With Erik Harris most likely out of the picture and Jeff Heath’s inconsistency, the Raiders will need a reliable starter next to Johnathan Abram in 2021. Justin Simmons is a solid option to fill that role.
Defense hasn’t been the Raiders’ strongest suit in recent seasons
Winning is a good indicator of success in the NFL, and the Raiders haven’t won much in the last 18 seasons. A potential reason for this has been the hesitation to spend big money on the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders are spending about $46 million more on the offensive side of the ball, according to Over the Cap.
A common adage in the NFL is that defenses win championships. Having a dynamic offense certainly plays a role of importance but there aren’t many offenses that can consistently score over 30 points per game. In fact, in the last five seasons, only 12 teams have been able to cross that threshold. Meanwhile, the most the Raiders have scored in that span is 27 and that was last season. Back in 2017, the Raiders defense only surrendered 23 points per game but the offense had a hard time scoring the ball that year.
Perhaps the best way to beat the Kansas City Chiefs isn’t to keep them off the field. Instead, the Raiders should stop them in their tracks, the way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did in Super Bowl 55. If Las Vegas wants to accomplish such a feat it starts with spending money on the defense. Enter Justin Simmons.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit will likely run a lot of cover 3. That formation is often a set up in which both cornerbacks and a free safety are responsible for a third of the deep field each. In a 4-3 set (four defensive lineman and three linebackers), linebackers and the strong safety handle the shallow routes.
The case for adding Justin Simmons
In Bradley’s system, your free safety has to be a ball hawk with a lot of range. Simmons can be that type of player. The Boston College product had a stellar 2020 campaign, racking up five interceptions, nine passes defended, and 94 total tackles while playing in all 16 games.
Simmons has at least two interceptions each year he’s been in the league and at least four passes defended. He is the kind of free safety the Raiders need. He has a nose for the football and knows when how to strike at an opportunity to get the ball back for his offense. Abram is much better suited to be a “buzz” safety in Bradley’s scheme. A buzz safety plays down in the box near the linebackers and is usually responsible for the flat zone on the weak side.
What does Justin Simmons bring to the table?
Abram was a liability when tasked with covering deep. Playing the role of buzz safety would allow him to play slightly more aggressively. Simmons would give Bradley and Raider fans alike peace of mind while patrolling the deep part of the field.
The veteran safety won’t come cheap though. Simmons is listed as the top free-agent defensive back in Pro Football Focus Top 100 free agent list. He could easily command a deal with a yearly value of about 16.5 million. There is also the possibility that the Denver Broncos just franchise tag him.
Simmons will also most likely be looking for a multi-year deal which will inflate the value. None of this should be a deterrent to the Raiders’ front office. In the NFL you often get what you pay for and if you want the best you have to be willing to spend the money for it.
While Simmons alone isn’t enough to fix the defensive issues entirely, bringing him to the Silver and Black would be a good start and a great sign that Raiders are starting to take defense a little more seriously.
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