Oakland Raiders 2015 Free Agency Watch List: Defense

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Nov 23, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell (41) defends against Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd (15) at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


If any position group is filled with potential for the Raiders, it’s the cornerback position. The Raiders have four young corners under contract for 2015: 2013 first round draft pick DJ Hayden, 2014 fourth rounder Keith McGill, 2014 seventh rounder TJ Carrie, and 2013 undrafted free agent Chance Casey. They also have two young corners who are restricted free agents in Chimdi Chekwa and Neiko Thorpe, both of whom could be easily retained. And while every member of this group has shown some talent and at least three (Hayden, Carrie, McGill) could develop into full-time starters, they’re still all very unproven.

Last year, Reggie McKenzie brought Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers in to be his starting cornerbacks, but it’s likely that neither will be kept on the roster for 2015. With a good young group of corners developing and a new defensive philosophy being installed by Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr., McKenzie may go out in free agency and bring in a player who can be a definite starter immediately, a quality player who can shore up one side of the field while Hayden, Carrie and McGill audition for the job on the other side, as well as the nickel/slot corner role. Here are some possible names:

Byron Maxwell: Maxwell is probably the top corner of this free agency class, at least in terms of name recognition. A member of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, he is likely not going to be retained by Seattle for 2015 and beyond as the “other guy” at corner opposite Richard Sherman. Maxwell is a 6’1″, 200+ pound corner with great speed who has the size and physicality to play press with the experience and instincts to be a deep zone defender and the coverage skills to be a man-on-man cover corner. He is familiar with Ken Norton, and will understand the concepts that Norton brings with him from Seattle, but has the physical ability to do anything that a corner in a Jack Del Rio defense is asked to do, as well.

Brandon Flowers: the long-time Chief spent 2014 on a one-year deal with the Chargers and performed well, likely making himself some money for 2015. At 29 years old, Flowers has been an NFL cornerback for seven seasons, and is only two years removed from a Pro Bowl season in 2013. He is somewhat undersized for a Reggie McKenzie cornerback, but has a solid resume (20 career INT’s, 101 career starts), is coming off a strong season, and has plenty of experience.

Rashean Mathis: the 34 year old Mathis – who will be 35 when the season starts – is in the twilight of his career, but is coming off a very solid season in which he started all sixteen games at corner for the Lions. Mathis and Raider head coach Jack Del Rio go back a long way, as Del Rio was Mathis’ first NFL head coach in Jacksonville, and the two were together in Jacksonville for nine years. Though the two did have a great deal of tension when Mathis skipped OTA’s in 2010, he may be willing to sign with the Raiders for another go-around with his old head coach. Mathis is a taller corner who of course knows Del Rio’s system and is a fit for any sort of Ken Norton/Pete Carroll style cover scheme as well.

Tramon Williams: the long-time Packer is very familiar with Raider GM Reggie McKenzie, and McKenzie has raided the Green Bay pantry twice already in free agency, grabbing James Jones and CJ Wilson. At 31 years old – set to be 32 by the start of next year – Williams is old in NFL years, especially for a cornerback. Williams, a nine year vet, was a Pro Bowler back in 2010, the year the Packers won the Super Bowl. He has only missed one game in his entire career, and played the cornerback position at a high level last year in Green Bay. Like Mathis, he could be a capable veteran place-holder while the younger players are still figuring it all out.