Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (98) pressures Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) in the first quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
2. The Raiders Could Add Raji, Knighton
Rather than making one defensive lineman the highest-paid player on the team, McKenzie may use free agency to grab a couple of less-expensive veteran interior linemen to add to a group that includes likely long-term starter Justin “Jelly” Ellis and spry old man Antonio Smith. Two names that look likely are Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton and B.J. Raji.
Raji is a name that seems very plausible, simply due to the Green Bay connection. McKenzie was the director of player personnel in Green Bay when the team drafted Raji #9 overall in 2009, and the two are quite familiar with each other. Raji, a Pro Bowler for the Packers in 2011, was one of the most highly-rated and regarded defensive linemen in the league as recently as 2012, before injuries and issues with his weight affected his production.
A biceps injury sustained during the preseason ended his 2014 before it could begin, and the Packers may decide to let their former 1st round draft pick walk in free agency, where he may find himself overlooked. His connection to McKenzie, combined with his probably pretty low price tag and likely willingness to play on a short-term “prove it” deal make him the perfect candidate for a Reggie McKenzie free agency signing. Raji, at his peak, was one of the most versatile big men in the NFL.
While ostensibly a nose tackle at 6’2″ and 334 pounds, Raji’s quick feet allowed him to switch to end in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, commanding double teams at the point of attack in the run game and clogging up passing lanes and creating opportunities for Clay Matthews to come free and get to the quarterback.
At age 28, he may still have some years left in the tank, and even if he may have lost some quickness he may still be a player who can come in situationally to give Ellis a breather at the Nose Tackle spot, or add beef to the 3-technique spot or stud end spot in running situations. He would fit with new head coach Jack Del Rio’s defensive philosophies, as well. Del Rio, during his time in Jacksonville, always valued size and power in his interior linemen, and his best defenses with the Jaguars were anchored by “Big” John Henderson.
Terrance Knighton is a name that has been linked to the Raiders since the hiring of Jack Del Rio. Knighton and the new Raider head coach go way back to 2009, when Del Rio’s Jaguars drafted Knighton in the 3rd round, 72nd overall, out of Temple University. Knighton, nicknamed “Pot Roast” and well-known for his Bridgestone Tires commercials, started alongside John Henderson as a rookie on the Jaguars’ defensive line, and then essentially succeeded Henderson as the Jaguars’ resident big man when Henderson left to sign with the Raiders in 2010.
Knighton played his first three years as a pro under Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker, recording 5.5 sacks and 75 tackles. Knighton finished his fourth year in Jacksonville then bolted in free agency to re-join Del Rio in Denver, where Del Rio was the defensive coordinator. Knighton started every game in Denver at the defensive tackle spot, working mostly as a nose-technique tackle in Denver’s front. He has recorded 5 sacks and 47 tackles in two years in Denver, where he has enjoyed the majority of his success and media attention.
When the news broke that Del Rio had been hired in Oakland, Knighton tweeted that “the Raiders are getting a great damn coach.” While Knighton hasn’t stated he wants to follow Del Rio, it stands to reason that he would, especially if not given a compelling reason to re-sign in Denver. Knighton would also probably come cheap – he only cost the Broncos $2.75M against the cap in 2014 – and could also add depth and experience to the interior defensive line rotation, especially if both he and Raji are signed.
Knighton, who is roughly the same size as Raji, is not quite as quick on his feet, but is probably stronger and while he hasn’t had the peaks that Raji has had in his career, he has put together a very consistent six-year career as an NFL starter by the age of 28. With Ellis likely the big man of the future in Oakland, both Raji and Knighton could be very valuable veteran role-players that could come in and bolster the Raiders run defense.
Next: Wideout Weaponry for Carr a Lock