Las Vegas Raiders general manager Tom Telesco

Las Vegas Raiders Welcome $24 Million In Additional Cap Space: Now What?

Post-June 1st designated cuts are a beautiful thing – once June rolls around, that is. For the Las Vegas Raiders, $24 million was added to the team’s salary cap thanks to the release of Jimmy Garoppolo which the team opted to designate as a post-June 1st move back in March. In total, the Silver and Black now have $34.1 million in available cap space to do with as they please; the sixth-most league-wide.

But what should the team do with their newfound wealth?

Veteran players such as Stephon Gilmore, Steven Nelson, Justin Simmons and Marcus Maye are available free agents who instantly help bolster Las Vegas’ secondary. Additional edge rushers never hurt either with Yannick Ngakoue, Carl Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah serving as viable options to strengthen the pass rush.

There’s still an abundance of talent left unsigned for the Raiders to capitalize on if that’s the route the team chooses. Or maybe general manager Tom Telesco will choose to turn his attention to Raiders on their final contract year. Telesco has, after all, prioritized keeping roster cores intact over the last decade with the Chargers. For Las Vegas, Malcolm Koonce, Robert Spillane, Divine Deablo, Marcus Epps, Trevon Moehrig and Nate Hobbs are set to become free agents in 2025.

Or, if the Raiders truly believe they’ll be contenders in 2024, perhaps they’ll elect to be buyers at the deadline. T.J. Hockenson, Christian McCaffrey, Calvin Ridley and Roquan Smith were all players acquired near the NFL trade deadline within the last two seasons; perhaps the Silver and Black go all-in on a player of that caliber and pay them accordingly.

There’s plenty of options for the Raiders moving forward, and each path helps the team improve.

Reload or re-sign: How should the Las Vegas Raiders spend their remaining cap space?

Spit balling different ways the Raiders can spend their remaining cap space may sound fruitless, but it’s what each and every general manager does across the NFL. General managers constantly go through each and every possibility, from signings on the open market or contract extensions in-house, to trading for a player or shipping one away.

Do you remember the scene in Marvel’s End Game where Dr. Strange goes through 14 million different scenarios, factoring in how each new action either opens or closes additional doors? That’s kind of how general managers operate. If they didn’t operate that way, they wouldn’t be doing their job.

There won’t quite be 14 million different possibilities in this article, but the Raiders’ options will be broken down nonetheless.

Reloading

Simply put, reloading is the act of adding established talent to a roster. There are two ways this can be done: Agreeing to terms with players on the open market or acquiring players via trade.

The positive of going the free agency route is, no assets are given up to add the player(s). The downside? You have to convince the player to sign with your team over the other 31 clubs.

Conversely, the glaring negative with trading for talent is you’ll have to give up assets. However, you guarantee the player you’re interested in becomes a member of your football team by trading for them.

The Raiders, like the other 31 teams in the National Football League, will explore both options.

Getting the Raiders a cornerback

We may be in June, but the open market still houses plenty of talent.

Defensively, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Steven Nelson stand out. Gilmore, a former Defensive Player of the Year, is older now. But don’t get “older” confused with no longer being good. In 2023, the 33-year-old allowed only 56.8% of passes his way to be completed. Gilmore also forced 14 incompletions; five more than any cornerback in Dallas’ secondary, including ’23 Defensive Player of the Year candidate DaRon Bland.

However, the question isn’t if Gilmore will better the Raiders’ defense or not. The question is if he’ll want to spend what may be his final year of playing football in Las Vegas. And if he doesn’t want to, Steven Nelson stands as another fantastic option.

With the Texans last season, Nelson allowed a 60.8% completion percentage. The veteran corner broke up 10 passes and took an additional five the other way. Nelson’s quarterback rating when targeted was 69.1; notably less than Gilmore’s 90.4, for example.

Xavien Howard and Adoree’ Jackson have played under Patrick Graham before, but both players seem to have lost a step since. Howard posted the worst coverage grade of his career this past season (51.9), allowing 62% of passes his way to be completed with an opposing quarterback rating of 86.7. Howard, widely touted as a ball hawk, intercepted just one pass last year and two passes in 2022.

Jackson posted an even worse 45.9 coverage grade, allowing a completion percentage of 65.9%. The ball skills weren’t on display as he broke up just 6 passes, adding one interception to his season.

Ahkello Witherspoon – a personal favorite – remains available after his great ’23 campaign. Targeted a massive 104 times, Witherspoon allowed only 50% of passes his way to be completed while posting three interceptions.

Other free agents

Raider Nation wants a cornerback, but perhaps it makes more sense for the Raiders to add a safety instead. Both starting safeties – Trevon Moehrig and Marcus Epps – are slated to be free agents after 2024, after all.

Justin Simmons is a veteran who knows the AFC West like the back of his hand. Spending eight seasons with the Broncos, Simmons earned four All-Pros, including an active streak of three consecutive All-Pros. The veteran safety notched three interceptions last season in addition to his team-high (among safeties) 77.6 grade against the run.

Simmons would serve as an instant upgrade in a vacuum, but at 30 years old, there may need to be a plan in place for the future. The same can be said about 31-year-old Marcus Maye who picked off two passes in 2023 while allowing zero touchdowns.

Additional pass rushers also never hurt. Aside from Tyree Wilson, the depth behind Malcolm Koonce and Maxx Crosby looks bleak at best. If the Raiders plan to run Tyree Wilson inside often, that makes the depth at edge even worse.

Of all edge rushers currently on the team’s roster who aren’t Crosby, Koonce or Wilson, the six remaining players combine for one career sack. Yikes.

Given that fact, it makes a lot of sense for Las Vegas to target a serviceable edge rusher.

Emmanuel Ogbah and Tyus Bowser stand out as players who can create pressure and finish. In 2023, Ogbah totaled 20 pressures for six sacks. However, Ogbah beat his assignment on only 8.6% of plays; the lowest percentage among all five Dolphins’ edge rushers in 2023 with at least 100 pass rushing snaps. Although Bowser didn’t play in 2023, the 29-year-old has totaled 19.5 career sacks.

Or perhaps a reunion with former Raiders edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue is the move.

Re-signing

Throughout the last decade with the Chargers, new-Raiders general manager Tom Telesco has been exceptional at working the cap to keep the core of his rosters intact. That will be a skill he’ll have to showcase this year as the team is set to have a number of key contracts expire.

As previously mentioned, both of the Raiders’ starting safeties are working on expiring contracts. Unfortunately for Las Vegas, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Currently, the Silver and Black are scheduled to lose seven of their 11 defensive starters. This includes both safeties, both starting linebackers (in addition to LB3 Luke Masterson), defensive tackles John Jenkins and Adam Butler, edge rusher Malcolm Koonce, and slot cornerback Nate Hobbs.

Two words: Not ideal.

What Patrick Graham has done with the Raiders’ defense is outstanding. The unit allowed the ninth-least total points and 15th-least yardage. More impressively, the defense seemed to get better as the weeks went on. From Week 9 onward, Graham’s defense surrendered more than 23 points just once.

Between now and then, Las Vegas has lost a total of zero defensive starters. More than that, the team went all-in on adding Christian Wilkins during free agency.

One can only assume the defense will be even better this upcoming season. And if that happens, it feels imperative that Telesco retains a great deal of the unit’s starters.

Fortunately, Telesco has a rich history of keeping the core of his teams intact – on both sides of the ball. He’s not only been excellent at adding talent, but keeping that added talent around.

If the Raiders believe they’re ready to contend right now..

It would be smart to hold onto their additional cap space and see who becomes available as the season progresses. Christian McCaffrey, who once changed the entire dynamic of the Panthers’ offense, carried the 49ers’ offense to top-three in both yardage and points. Roquan Smith, who once commanded the Bears’ defense, led the Ravens’ defense to best in the NFL this past season.

Those two teams also paved their way to a Conference Championship Game appearance in their ’23 campaign.

These were players recently acquired at the trade deadline, who have been absolutely invaluable to their club.

Should the Raiders hold onto their remaining cap space in case such an opportunity presents itself? The positive of taking this route is, should no such option present itself, you retain the available cap space and can pivot towards resigning your own. It’s a low-risk, high-reward path.

Whatever the Silver and Black choose to do, they have the funds to make it happen. Hopefully Las Vegas is able to add a legitimate difference maker for the upcoming season.

*Top Photo: John Locher, Associated Press

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