The rush hour of free agency has come and gone, but several impactful players remain on the market. With the NFL Draft already in the books, teams like the Las Vegas Raiders have a better idea of where the roster is lacking.
The pass-rushing group is the strength of the defense, while wide receiver holds that distinction on the other side. Everywhere else, as far as I’m concerned, could use more talent and competition. Cornerback and the interior offensive line stand out as the most pressing needs.
Raiders Can Still Improve Roster Via Free Agency
Lucky for general manager Dave Ziegler, options are aplenty on the open market. As many as 20 players could have earned a spot on this list, but let’s narrow it down to the five players the Raiders should consider signing in free agency.
A Familiar Face From AFC West
Free Agency Option No. 1: Dalton Risner
Raiders fans will be familiar with the first entry, as Dalton Risner donned a Broncos uniform for the first four seasons of his NFL career. He started 62 games since 2019 and never graded worse than average in any campaign (via Pro Football Focus).
Alex Bars is better suited in a backup role and Dylan Parham could use some competition on the left side, too. Risner kills two birds with one stone, and at age 27, he could reasonably stick with Vegas for years to come.
At this stage of free agency, Risner will fetch a team-friendly, short-term deal. The Raiders should scoop up the former second-round pick and give him the opportunity to compete for starting reps this preseason.
A Reunion In Vegas
Free Agency Option No. 2: Casey Hayward Jr.
The 11-year veteran spent the 2021 season with the Raiders when Gus Bradley still called the shots on defense. He was the best cornerback on the roster by a wide margin, but the team chose to let him walk in free agency after switching coordinators.
Patrick Graham shares some philosophies with Bradley, but the former is more versatile with his play-calling. Under Graham, Hayward can serve as a zone defender while flexing his underrated man coverage chops. In his advanced age, it would be wise to keep the snaps limited, but Hayward’s experience would be invaluable during this roster retool in Vegas.
Raiders Need More Help Up The Middle
Free Agency Option No. 3: Rashaan Evans
Linebacker is another area begging for a difference-maker. The coaching staff has talked up Divine Deablo during training camp, and veteran Robert Spillane will provide a steady hand to the group. However, there isn’t a single offensive coordinator in the league worried about that duo.
Rashaan Evans won’t revitalize the position by himself, but his 159 combined tackles in 2022 would be a welcomed addition to the defense. The former Titan and Falcon is always eager to stuff the gap in run defense and track down receivers after the catch.
Graham can utilize Evans in a variety of ways, even as a surprise blitzer off the edge. At 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds, the sixth-year player would, at the very least, bring elite tackling to the fold on a low, cost-efficient price tag.
Versatile Safety Presents Intriguing Option In Free Agency
Free Agency Option No. 4: John Johnson III
Consider me a believer in Tre’Von Moehrig and Christopher Smith II, but Marcus Epps is nothing more than depth on a good football team. The remaining names behind this trio are less than inspiring, to put it kindly.
Enter John Johnson III. After cashing out with a lucrative deal in Cleveland, the former Ram failed to find the same success he found in Hollywood. Still, Johnson’s trademark durability and versatility followed him to the Browns, even if his tackling efficiency dipped.
With the Raiders, Johnson can fill either safety role in the defense. Ideally, the 28-year-old defender would start alongside Moehrig in 2023 while teaching the youngster Smith the ropes. If all three safeties are viable starters by the end of the season, that is a good problem to have in Sin City.
Vegas Must Address Center Position Before Week 1
Free Agency Option No. 5: Ben Jones
How can I put this delicately? Andre James is not a starting-caliber center for any NFL team. He lacks the anchor to be impactful in pass blocking and is not powerful enough in the run game. Regardless of which quarterback is taking snaps, they shouldn’t be coming from James.
Sliding Parham to the middle might seem like an easy fix, but he suffers from many of the same deficiencies. Instead, the Raiders should look to 11-year veteran, Ben Jones. With 161 starts under his belt, Jones brings immediate credibility and accountability to the offensive line.
The former Titan is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance in 2022, proving that there is still enough left in the tank for the 33-year-old. A reliable, dependable center will keep the quarterback clean and bulldoze running lanes for ball carriers out of the backfield. Josh Jacobs would be a very, very happy man.
*Top Photo: Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports