Five Denver Broncos the Oakland Raiders Should Poach in Free Agency


November 9, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 41-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With the word out of Broncos camp that “unnamed players” have expressed disdain for the way Julius Thomas handled an injury last season and his desire to be paid at a level commensurate with his production, it’s clear that all is not well in Broncosville. After losing to the Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the 2013 AFC Champions decided to part ways with head coach John Fox, who led them to a 46-18 regular season record and three playoff victories – including a Super Bowl berth – in four years.

John Elway’s team is in a tight bind: they have no fewer than 19 players approaching free agency, many of them players who saw significant playing time or were starters in 2014. With Peyton Manning, Aquib Talib, Von Miller and Ryan Clady eating up a big portion of the Broncos cap space, and a likely pending Franchise tag deal for Demariyus Thomas slated to eat up even more, there isn’t room to re-sign everyone. Many other players may choose to depart to follow Fox to Chicago or to follow former DC Jack Del Rio…to Oakland.

More from Las Vegas Raiders Free Agency

The time is right for Reggie McKenzie to swoop in and scoop up some talent from the division rivals as the Raiders prepare to establish themselves as the new dominant force in the AFC West in the years to come. Here are five players McKenzie may want to look at:

1. Julius Thomas

Thomas has been one of the more productive young tight ends in the game, and with this latest news is almost assuredly on his way out in Denver. He has already publicly flirted with the idea of coming to Oakland in 2015, and he grew up a Raider fan in Northern California.

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  • Thomas will likely command a salary approaching $9M per year on the open market, a number the Raiders can very easily afford for at least the next three seasons, and can definitely afford in 2015. Thomas has 108 receptions and 24 TD’s over the last two seasons, and would instantly improve the Raider receiving corps while giving Derek Carr a consistent 3rd down and Red Zone target.

    2. Terrance Knighton

    The big defensive tackle is a disciple of Jack Del Rio, and followed him from Jacksonville to Denver. He is now approaching free agency and could garner as much as $10M a year on a three year deal. He has stated openly that he wants to follow Jack Del Rio again, and has obvious deep respect for the coach.

    Knighton would instantly upgrade the defensive line rotation, and could potentially start at anywhere from the nose to the 3-technique. He’s the type of player that can eat up blocks, push the pocket, get into the quarterback’s face, and free up linebackers and edge rushers to do what they do.

    3. Rahim Moore

    Moore is one of the best young safeties available in this free agent market, and at only 25 already has four years of NFL experience under his belt, much of it as a starter. The rangy UCLA product has good size and speed for the position, and had great production in 2014 after coming back from a scary leg injury the year prior. He’s already well versed in Jack Del Rio’s system and coverage schemes, having been Del Rio’s starting free safety for most of the past three seasons.

    Moore is also a good name but not a huge name on the market, meaning he’ll garner some interest but likely won’t command a monster deal. He could probably be brought in on a four or five year deal worth roughly $25M-$30M, and would initially likely spend time rotating as a third safety in with Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch. After Woodson’s inevitable retirement, he would then ideally become the long-term every down starter at the position for years to come.

    4. Orlando Franklin

    The gigantic offensive tackle-turned-guard is also headed to free agency, and probably wants more than the Broncos can offer him. As one of the two best free agent guards in this class, and indeed one of the better young guards in the league, he can command a sizable offer from any team, but the Raiders have the most cash to spend in free agency, and could offer him a deal for four of five years with an average salary of somewhere in the $6M per year range. He will turn 28 years old in April, meaning he likely will be in his career prime, barring injury, for the majority of the next four years.

    And though Franklin is a monster at 6’7″ and 320 pounds, he is a very athletic, nimble man for his size, while still having plenty of strength to play the position. He can move his feet well to get lateral and sweep or lead block, as well as get up to the second level quickly on double teams. He also seems to have the conditioning level required of an offensive lineman in a heavy no-huddle scheme like the one Bill Musgrave hopes to install this season. He’d be a big upgrade at the right guard spot over Austin Howard, who could then slide over to right tackle – his natural fit – and upgrade that position.

    5. Nate Irving

    Irving could be another defensive defector to the Raiders who wants to follow his former defensive coordinator. With the future of the Raiders middle linebacker position in flux with the possibility of Nick Roach not returning from his concussion, the Raiders want to add a veteran at the position for insurance. Nate Irving started the first eight games of 2014 for Jack Del Rio as the middle linebacker of the Broncos before going down for the season with a knee injury, and played quite well in the process.

    Irving won’t cost a lot of money, and the Broncos could probably re-sign him if he wants to stay there. But with his defensive coordinator gone on to be a head coach in Oakland, Irving may jump ship and head west. With the very strong possibility that Nick Roach isn’t coming back, Irving could come right in and start for Oakland on day one, in a defensive system he is familiar with. And since he will be only 27 when the season begins, he could – if he remains healthy – play at a high level for another four or five seasons, meaning he could be the solution at that position for the forseeable future. That said, he has 12 career starts under his belt and is coming off a knee injury, meaning he won’t be a very expensive signing: perhaps as low as $2M per year over a 3 year deal, give or take.

    The Broncos and the Raiders have a long and contentious history, and for the past few years the Broncos have dominated the division with Peyton Manning at the helm. With Manning apparently in decline and the team running into both cap trouble and internal strife, the end is near for the team from Denver. After nabbing Jack Del Rio from the Broncos’ staff, the Raiders could set themselves up to have their pick of former Bronco free agents as well, and it’s always fun to poach talent from your rivals.