Raiders vs. Jaguars

Around free agency: Tackling the long-lasting off-ball linebacker problem for the Raiders

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the Las Vegas Raiders have a problem at the linebacker position.

For years, it seemed almost as if the Silver and Black were blatantly ignoring the off-ball linebacker. When the team hired Gus Bradley to be the defensive coordinator for Las Vegas back in 2021, Bradley made sure to address this immediately by trading for a veteran in his system, Denzel Perryman. Perryman finished his ’21 campaign under Bradley as a Pro Bowler, becoming the first off-ball linebacker for the Raiders to earn this honor since Matt Millen in 1988.

This ended a 33-year drought of off-ball linebackers for the Raiders failing to earn Pro Bowl honors.

Now, the 30-year-old has reached the end of his two-year contract, putting Las Vegas right back in the off-ball linebacker market. With the impending removal of Derek Carr from the roster, general manager Dave Ziegler will have close to $50 million to work with this offseason; the fourth-highest in the league, per Spotrac.

That’s a lot of dough to throw at a linebacker or two.

All this information leaves one question on the table – who are some of the available free agents this summer that can help fix the Silver and Black’s off-ball linebacker woes?

Upcoming free agents who can help tackle the Raiders’ long-lasting off-ball linebacker problem

Denzel Perryman

With the loss of Denzel Perryman, Las Vegas is in serious need of linebacker help. What if Perryman never leaves, though?

The veteran LB is in the final year of his miniscule contract, and after two seasons of high-level football, Perryman is primed to be paid big bucks.

As a Raider, the 30-year-old has totaled 237 tackles, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Perryman earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2021, but his ’22 campaign was his best. During his most recent season, the second-year Raider logged 83 total tackles with 14 behind the line of scrimmage, along with two pass breakups across 12 contests.

Perryman also recorded his lone sack with Las Vegas this past season, as well as his only two interceptions. Pro Football Focus gave the team captain an overall grade of 74.2, shooting up from 62.3 the year prior. Against the run, Perryman earned a grade of 80.5; the fifteenth-highest league-wide among linebackers.

Outside options for the Raiders: Tremaine Edmunds

A Pro Bowler in both 2019 and 2020, Edmunds brings a lot to the table for the Silver and Black.

The Bills’ linebacker logged a coverage grade of 88.1 this season, earning the fifth-highest grade among all linebackers. Edmunds was responsible for seven pass breakups in addition to an interception, allowing an opposing passer rating of 82.1 in coverage.

As a pass-rusher, Edmunds was responsible for one sack and two quarterback hits. On running plays, the two-time Pro Bowler tallied 34 tackles, including six in the backfield. During Buffalo’s wildcard game against Miami this past Sunday, Edmunds posted three pressures and a sack, allowing a completion percentage of 20%. The Buffalo LB was credited for four pass breakups. No other linebacker who played during Wildcard Weekend registered more than one.

Edmunds won’t come cheap, but he might be exactly what the Raiders need.

Lavonte David

If Ziegler feels Edmunds commands too high of a price tag, two-time All-Pro Lavonte David is also set to be a free agent.

David will be 33 years old by the time free agency rolls around but make no mistake; this is still an elite off-ball linebacker. During his ’22 campaign, David logged three sacks, five pass breakups, and 10 tackles for a loss. For his efforts, the Buccaneers’ LB was given a grade of 84.1, finishing the regular season as the third-highest graded linebacker with at least 70 snaps.

In coverage, David was at his best. The two-time All-Pro earned the third-highest grade at his position (88.5), totaling the third-most stops on passing downs (31). On running plays, David totaled 26 stops, tying for the 27th-most among all linebackers.

While still a great player, age should come as a concern. It’s plenty true David can give the Raiders a fantastic off-ball linebacker for a year or two, but the future is cloudy beyond that. Still, he remains a fantastic choice, and should come cheaper than Edmunds.

Anthony Walker

Walker doesn’t get too much love—in fact, many fans have no idea who he is. If you’re familiar with the 27-year-old, you know what he’s capable of. If not, here’s what you need to know:

An expert in coverage, Cleveland’s Anthony Walker has earned a top-10 coverage grade at his position during both of the last two seasons. Since 2019, Walker has earned a grade north of 73 in coverage three times, finishing ninth in 2021.

During his ’22 campaign, Walker suffered a season-ending injury after three weeks of football. The Browns linebacker played a mere 120 total snaps but was truly masterful regardless. Not only was Walker’s 90.0 grade in coverage on 72 plays the second-highest grade among all linebackers, but his 64.6% allowed completion percentage was the eighth-lowest at his position. This followed his fantastic ’21 campaign, where he earned a 78.2 coverage grade (ninth-highest) on 399 passing downs.

As a pass-rusher, Walker ended the season beating his blockers 44.4% of the time (fourth-highest), logging a pressure every 44.4% of pass-rushing snaps. Just so there’s an understanding of exactly how dominant the veteran LB was when going after opposing quarterbacks, Walker finished his season with the 18th-most hurries, totaling eight in the three games he played prior to injury. This put him on pace for approximately 46 hurries. The most hurries any linebacker had this season was 16.

Of all the options listed, Walker will likely cost the Raiders the least amount of cash. Of course, there’s no reason for Las Vegas to limit themselves to just one; why not bring in both Walker and one of the other three aforementioned off-ball linebackers?

*Top Photo: AP/Rick Scuteri

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