Oakland Raiders 2015 Free Agency Watch List: Defense

4 of 6

Sep 7, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Nate Irving (56) reacts after his sack in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports


With Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton taking over the Raiders defense – both former NFL linebackers themselves – it will be interesting to see what they do at this position. In a base 4-3 look, especially an “over” look, two linebacker roles are already taken: Sio Moore is clearly the incumbent at the Will spot, and Khalil Mack is the future of the Sam or Stud position, over the tight end.

But with Nick Roach likely not returning, the Raiders have a glaring need at the middle linebacker position, and Del Rio is known for being creative with the types of players he uses at this spot – not necessarily your traditional Mike backer. Miles Burris – who played much of the year at the position and did so very poorly – is still on the roster and maybe Del Rio and Norton think they can do something with him. Sio Moore is going to miss a significant portion of the offseason while recovering from hip surgery, so it’s unlikely they try to move him over.

There are a couple of players in the draft who could fill this need, but it’s highly likely the Raiders will look to the free agency class to at least put a serviceable player in the position while a rookie is developed, if not outright a long-term starter for the spot altogether. Here are a few names that stand out:

Nate Irving: Irving, entering his fifth year as a pro, was Jack Del Rio’s day one starter as the middle linebacker in Denver last season, and started the first eight games of the year before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. Irving, who has started a total of twelve games in the NFL, is an aggressive run-stuffing middle linebacker who can attack the gap, stack, shed and make the tackle. He knows Del Rio, and knows Del Rio’s system, and is young enough (he turns 27 in July) to develop into a good long-term starter at the position.

Mason Foster: Another four-year veteran, Foster is similar to Irving in build, but plays the position differently than the aggressive, attacking Irving. Foster is a capable run-stuffer who can mix it up on the inside, but also has a good skill set and speed as a cover middle linebacker. Foster has started almost every game he was available for in his four years in Tampa, and may want to stay with Lovie Smith, especially coming off a season in which he missed six game with an injury. But he’s still un-signed, and if he goes to free agency, the Raiders may want to make a run at him.

Live Feed

Brandon Marshall, Mason Foster among linebackers who could help Chiefs
Brandon Marshall, Mason Foster among linebackers who could help Chiefs /

Arrowhead Addict

  • Denver Broncos: Linebackers the team could trade for or sign Predominantly Orange
  • Redskins training camp roster projection after cutting Mason Foster, signing Corey Robinson Riggo's Rag
  • Redskins HC Jay Gruden responds candidly to release of Mason Foster Riggo's Rag
  • Green Bay Packers should consider signing ILB Mason Foster Dairyland Express
  • Five questions the Redskins must start to answer during training camp Riggo's Rag
  • David Harris: Harris, who is 31, is the elder statesman of the free agent linebacker class. The big, surprisingly quick Harris has been Rex Ryan’s middle linebacker for years in New York, and may want to follow Ryan to Buffalo, though Buffalo may not be willing to pay him as well as other teams. Harris is a smart, physical, experienced middle linebacker who still appears to have gas in the tank, and who may be the perfect fit for the Raiders if they decide to draft someone like Denzel Perryman or Eric Kendricks.

    Malcolm Smith: Malcolm Smith is not really a middle linebacker. He mostly played the Will spot for Seattle, a spot that Sio Moore seems firmly entrenched in for the Raiders. Despite being the Super Bowl MVP less than 13 months ago, Smith was always a backup in Seattle, a positional player who was generally used in passing situations as a coverage specialist. At 6’0″ and 226 pounds, Smith isn’t even as big as Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, but Smith is incredibly fast for a linebacker (he was timed at 4.44 seconds in the 40) and has good coverage skills. Smith has also been with Ken Norton almost nonstop since he arrived at USC, and it stands to reason Smith may want to follow his former position coach to the Raiders. Smith could be useful in a situational role for the Raiders, and could add good depth to a position group that needs it.

    Next: FA Watch List: Safeties