As the calendar turns to March 14th, that means one important thing in the NFL world, and that is that free agency officially gets underway. With teams being allowed to negotiate with unrestricted free agents during a “two-day negotiating period.” It’s one of the most exciting times of what is otherwise a relatively eventless offseason, and now every team across the league has the possibility to improve by adding some key players. This year, the Las Vegas Raiders are looking at the large possibility that all of their four defensive tackles from the 2021 season could enter free agency.
This is understandably a cause for concern, and it should make the defensive line an obvious position to look at once free agency begins. Nobody would be upset if the likes of Johnathan Hankins and Quinton Jefferson were brought back, but for the purposes of this article, we will be looking at three players who weren’t on the Raiders last year but could make a difference for them in 2022.
Which three free-agent defensive linemen should the Raiders target?
There isn’t a player on this list who makes more sense than the ageless wonder himself. At the ripe age of 35, Campbell is still able to find his name among elite interior defensive linemen.
Campbell posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 80.8 last year, which was far higher than any other free agent at his position. Calais is getting a bit older now, so it is fair to expect a bit of a decline in his performance, but Campbell has proven throughout the past couple years that his age doesn’t affect him as much as you might expect. He’s not as great of a pass rusher as he once was, but those efforts won’t be needed as much with Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue lining up outside of him.
On the contrary, Campbell is still an elite run-stopping defensive lineman. Las Vegas’s run defense was middle-of-the-pack last year, but if the Raiders want to be a true contender in 2022, it must get better. Landing Calais Campbell would go a long way towards solving that. A short-term deal would make a lot of sense for both sides.
Akiem Hicks is another veteran player that would add a ton of value to the Raiders’ defense. Hicks was seeking a long-term contract extension with the Bears before last season began, but no deal was ever reached, and he enters the 2022 season looking for a new team.
Hicks battled a groin injury throughout last year, but he was still able to put up some solid numbers. Like Campbell, he’s getting up in age at 32. Due to his aforementioned injury struggles, he only saw the field in nine games, but in that time, he tallied 25 tackles, including five for a loss. He also proved he could still rush the passer, with 3.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits and 11 total pressures. Hicks will likely get a two to three year deal, and his pass-rushing ability would help bolster the Raiders’ defensive line tremendously.
If Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels really want to improve the run defense this off-season, they should look no further than D.J. Jones.
Jones is a strong, strong man who doesn’t let any ball-carrier get around him. In his last two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Jones posted an impressive 17 tackles for loss. Last year as a whole, Jones was able to make 56 tackles, including 10 for a loss, six quarterback pressures, six quarterback hits, and two sacks. That is a very, very good contract year.
Unlike the previous two names on this list, Jones is still relatively young and will be on the free agent market for the first time. Jones is 27 years old and should receive a handsome amount of money from whichever team is lucky enough to land him. A realistic contract for Jones this spring would be for threeâ€“four years and at least $8 million per year on average.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Isaac Brekken