Oakland Raiders 2015 Free Agency Watch List: Defense

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Dec 28, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) reacts against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Ends (7-9 Tech)

Last year, Reggie McKenzie went out in free agency and signed two big name veterans to be his defensive bookends: Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. Woodley, who had been a 3-4 rush linebacker with the Steelers for his entire pro career, was a Pro Bowler in 2009 and won a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh. Tuck had been a Pro Bowler in 2008 and 2010 – and a first-team All-Pro in 2008 – for the Giants, and won two Super Bowls with them.

While Justin Tuck eventually came on late in the year to be a very productive player from his strong-side 5/7 tech spot, where he and Khalil Mack created serious matchup issues, LaMarr Woodley had another forgettable season. Woodley was ineffective through the first seven weeks of the season, then tore his biceps and was replaced by Benson Mayowa, who had a strong showing off the waiver wire from Seattle.

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Tuck is likely staying another year in Oakland, as is Mayowa, while Woodley is probably headed out the door. Mayowa, at 255 pounds, is a “tweener” who is best used as a hybrid LEO 7/9 tech end on the weak side or stood up as a rush linebacker. Tuck, a traditional defensive end, has the length and ability to play the 7 tech on either side of the formation, with the strength to push back against the run from the strong side. The Raiders also will likely re-sign CJ Wilson, who is more of a 3-4 style end but was effective last season rotating in behind Tuck and started some games as a 4-3 end opposite Tuck, also. Undrafted 2014 rookie Denico Autry, also another prototypical 4-3 end similar in size to Tuck, played some quality snaps late last year and will probably be back, as well.

The Raiders might be looking for a serious pass-rushing end who can line up on the weakside, away from Khalil Mack and Justin Tuck, and cause protection scheme issues for opposing defenses, as well as open up the pocket to allow Sio Moore to sneak through and pick up some sacks. There’s also a chance the Raiders will want to add a player who can rotate in more heavily with the aging Tuck on the other side, and even a long term starter at that spot as well. While there is a glut of such talent in the 2015 draft class, there are also some names in this free agent class who fit the bill, as well:

Greg Hardy: the man they call “The Kraken” was perhaps the one of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the league in 2013, earning second team All-Pro honors and a spot in the Pro Bowl. Expected to be the future of the position for the Panthers, he was tagged for 2014 – a massive $13M cap hit – and was expected to sign a long-term deal there at some point over the 2014 season. But then he was hit with domestic violence charges and all that went away. Hardy the football player is an outright beast: a 6’4″, 281 pounder who can play from the 3, 5, 7 and 9 technique, a dominant athlete who was also a great basketball player and track athlete in high school. He has 34 sacks in his career, 26 of them in 2012 and 2013 combined.

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  • But Greg Hardy the man apparently hits women. Hardy was found guilty of a grievous domestic assault prior to the 2014 season, and was suspended for virtually the entire year. While he was able to get the charges dropped on appeal, he’s still widely seen as a man who horribly abused a woman and missed a whole season of football because of it. Reggie McKenzie makes a point of not investing heavily in guys with character concerns, and a player who just missed an entire season for beating a woman doesn’t seem like a player that Reggie would spend a lot of money on in free agency.

    Jason Pierre-Paul: a former teammate of Justin Tuck’s with the Giants, Paul is a two-time Pro Bowler and was named first team All-Pro in 2011, the year he and Tuck won a Super Bowl together. Pierre-Paul, a 2010 first-round pick, is part of the great tradition of pass-rushers for the Giants, and may be the next great Giant pass rusher to leave the team, following Tuck and Osi Umeniyora. If Pierre-Paul is not re-signed by New York, he’ll be a hot commodity on the open market: he just had 12.5 sacks last year, and he turns 26 on Saturday. He’ll garner some interest and probably cost some money, but, again, Reggie has it to spend, especially for a proven quality pass-rusher who has the size and ability to play every down on both ends of the line.

    Jason Worilds: Worilds was transition tagged last season by the Steelers as the heir apparent to LaMarr Woodley as their principal pass-rushing outside linebacker. Like Woodley, Worilds was a college defensive end who the Steelers bought in to be a stand-up pass rushing linebacker, but who has the size (6’2″, 262 lbs.) to be converted back to a weakside 4-3 rush end – in fact the Steelers have him on their roster as a DE. Worilds is an effective pass rusher who is also good in containment against the run, but can stand up as a 3-4 rush linebacker, giving the Raiders the flexibility to change base fronts without substituting. He’s a good player but not a huge name, and could be a pretty affordable get for this position.

    Brian Orakpo: Orakpo is another 3-4 outside linebacker who could be converted to a 4-3 rush end depending on your front. A three-time Pro Bowler, Orakpo is coming off a season that saw him record only a half sack in seven games before missing the rest of the year. He also missed 14 games in 2012, but in 2013 he recorded 10 sacks for Washington, his fourth season of 8.5 sacks or more. Orakpo is a big name for fans, but might not be as big a name for GM’s after a bad 2014 season. If McKenzie does sign him, it’ll be to a short-term deal without a huge amount of dead money for the second year, and Orakpo might still garner a better deal elsewhere.

    Next: FA Watch List: Linebackers