The legal tampering period is less than 24 hours away, and general manager Dave Ziegler has plenty of work to do. Quarterback is the position hogging the spotlight, but the Las Vegas Raiders have holes up and down the depth chart; particularly, on the defense. From defensive tackle to linebacker, even continuing to the secondary, the team has multiple immediate needs. To fill these positions, Raider Nation has hoped for names such as Jessie Bates, Tremaine Edmunds, James Bradberry and Dalvin Tomlinson.
How many of the popular names being thrown around actually make sense, and which ones can we expect the Raiders to target?
Here’s the free agency notepad you need, Raider Nation.
Raiders’ free agency notepad: Jessie Bates, Trumaine Edmunds, James Bradberry and more
With Duron Harmon hitting free agency, Tre’von Moehrig needs a new partner opposite of him at safety. Jessie Bates is the most popular name among fans, but there are plenty of premier players who fit the bill. These are the names to watch.
Bates stands tall as the preferred safety option from fans, but let’s be clear; this is off of name value alone. Bates has no real place in a Patrick Graham scheme without Moehrig’s presence, never mind with Moehrig, who brings the same deep-safety makeup to the table that Bates does.
Here’s the deal: Graham’s scheme requires versatility from the team’s safeties – Bates is strictly a deep-safety, similar to Moehrig. Raider Nation watched as Moehrig trended town in 2022, due to being in a role he doesn’t fit. In 2021, as a center-fielder, Moehrig allowed a completion percentage of 56.3% with a quarterback rating of 99.2. This gave him a coverage grade of 77.7, via Pro Football Focus. In 2022, now used as a versatile strong safety, the 23-year-old saw his allowed completion percentage rise to 72.5%, with an opposing QB rating of 132.7. His coverage grade reflected his poor performance, dropping to 49.0.
Why all this Moehrig talk? After all, this is about Jessie Bates.
As mentioned earlier, Moehrig and Bates are the same type of safety. In 2021, Moehrig played the second-most snaps as a deep-safety all season. The only player with more was Jessie Bates.
Bates simply doesn’t make sense for the Raiders. There is a Bengals’ safety who does make sense, though.
Jessie Bates isn’t the safety Raiders need
For the most part, the Cincinnati Bengals were perfectly content with letting Bates play over the top. Having Vonn Bell at the other safety spot is a big reason why.
If you’ve ever watched a Bengals game, you might happen to notice one player who sometimes lines up as a slot cornerback, sometimes as a linebacker, sometimes as a box safety and sometimes as an additional free safety. That’s Bell.
Jessie Bates gets the love for coverage skills, but Bell is just as good; in 2022, he was actually better. Although Bell’s 69.0 completion percentage allowed falls just short of Bates’ 65.7%, he logged a passer rating 20.0 lower. On top of that, Bell’s 12.9 yards per reception stands superior to Bates’ 14.7.
In 2021, Bell was once again the better safety in coverage. Both him and Bates allowed the same completion percent through the regular season, but Bell’s passer rating allowed was lower by more than 30. His yards allowed per reception was superior as well, posting a mark of 9.3. Bates finished the season at 15.4.
The ability to cover as well as Bates is just the cherry on top; the real reason Bell is perfect for the Raiders is due to his proven versatility. Expect the Bengals to try to keep him around, but Raiders should be in play as well.
Most of the reasons Bell makes sense for the Raiders can be directly translated to Poyer. The Bills’ safety can do a bit of everything, and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2021. During his ’21 campaign, Poyer allowed an unfathomably low quarterback rating of 15.1 on 27 passes his way. If a quarterback was to throw the ball into the dirt every play, their rating would be 39.6 – let that sink in. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler also expects the Raiders to target Poyer in free agency.
Cornerback options for the Raiders
Safety is a need, but with Anthony Averett and Rock Ya-Sin set to hit free agency, so is cornerback. This is a position I expect the Raiders to attack earlier in the draft, but some big-name free agents make sense.
Nate Hobbs failed to produce on the outside in 2022, but the team remained committed to the experiment. With the emergence of Tyler Hall in the slot, who played nearly as well as Hobbs did in ’21, the team will feel no pressure to move Hobbs back inside. Expect the experiment to continue as Hall remains at slot.
You can’t trade Yannick Ngakoue for 11 games of Rock Ya-Sin, right?
Ya-Sin is as good as they come in man coverage. In 2021, the former second-round pick allowed the lowest completion percentage league-wide in man coverage (26.7%; min. five targets). His opposing quarterback rating when targeted was 61.8. In 2022, the numbers dropped some, but not much. Ya-Sin allowed a completion percentage of 40% in man coverage, with an improved QB rating of 51.3.
Retaining Ya-Sin is a priority.
For many reasons, James Bradberry and the Raiders are a match made in heaven – which is exactly why PFF predicts Las Vegas to be Bradberry’s landing spot. Patrick Graham worked with Bradberry as a member of the Giants in 2020 and 2021, helping him earn a Pro Bowl nod in 2020. This past season, the 29-year-old was an All-Pro. The problem here is, Bradberry might be looking for a payday that’s pricier than Dave Ziegler wants to hand out.
With Denzel Perryman hitting the open market, there isn’t a position that needs more attention throughout free agency than the linebacker unit. High-graded cornerbacks and defensive tackles will be plentily available during the draft, but there aren’t many off-ball linebackers who are household names – if any.
The big fish.
Only 24 years old, Edmunds is a two-time Pro Bowler who’s started 74 contests. This past season, the Bills’ linebacker logged the fifth-highest coverage grade among players at his positions (88.1). Against the Dolphins during Wildcard Weekend, Edmunds allowed a completion percentage of 20% in coverage, being credited for four pass-breakups. No other linebacker totaled more than one breakup that week. The problem with Edmunds – at least half of the league is thinking the same thing. There will be a major bidding war for him, potentially ending with the Raiders exploring elsewhere.
Like Bradberry, PFF also predicts David lands in Las Vegas. Also like Bradberry, the pairing makes too much sense.
The Raiders need an off-ball linebacker, and Lavonte David is near the top of the pyramid. A three-time All-pro, the 33-year-old has consistently shown his coverage skills at the linebacker position are elite. In 2022, David notched the third-highest overall grade at his position (84.1; min. 70 snaps). He also earned the third-highest coverage grade among linebackers, with a grade of 88.5.
The downside is the age. At 33, David isn’t a piece for the future – he’s a piece to win now. If Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels believe the Raiders can contend, David is a legitimate option.
Perryman came to the Raiders and instantly broke a 32-year streak of no Pro Bowl appearances from an off-ball linebacker on the team. Now a free agent after being unable to agree to a new deal, Perryman’s middle linebacker spot remains vacant. Don’t rule out a return, though.
For a more-detailed read on available linebackers, click here.
Defensive tackle options for Raiders
Defensive tackle is likely addressed in the first-round of the upcoming draft. Many see the Raiders trading up for a quarterback, but I can’t see it. If by chance one of the big-three miraculously makes it to seven, Ziegler might find himself with no choice but to grab a signal caller. Other than that, edge rusher Tyree Wilson makes the most sense, or a trade-down where Bryan Bresee or Calijah Kancey are selected.
The best pass-rushing defensive tackle in free agency – perhaps the league, Aaron Donald aside – Hargrave would instantly change the entire complexion of the defensive line. Hargrave brought down quarterbacks on 11 occasions last season, adding 10 tackles for loss against runners.
Tomlinson worked with Patrick Graham as a member of the Giants in 2020. There’s familiarity there, and the price-tag is sure to be cheaper than Hargrave.
For a more-detailed read on available defensive tackles, click here.
Quarterbacks and re-signings
Raider Nation is hoping for a big move at quarterback this offseason, but it just isn’t likely. Instead, expect the Raiders to go quarterback somewhere in the middle of the draft, and get a stopgap for the time being. The names I expect to see via free agency: Jarrett Stidham, Jacoby Brissett.
Lastly, we get to talking about players you should expect to return. A few of the names have already been mentioned, while others haven’t been. The following are the notable players I expect the team to try to maintain: Duron Harmon, Rock Ya-Sin, Denzel Perryman, Andrew Billings, Mack Hollins, Jarrett Stidham.
*Top Photo: Joshua A. Bickel/ The Associated Press.