The Cleveland Browns recently waived three-time Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner, so should the Oakland Raiders swoop up the 10 year veteran?
Whitner made a name for himself as a big-hitter for the San Francisco 49ers during their playoff runs from 2011-13. Cleveland signed him to a four-year, $24 million deal in 2014 Free Agency. The team cut him late in Free Agency this year as they attempt to get younger under new head coach Hue Jackson.
Whitner last made the Pro Bowl in 2014. However, his statistics have declined in recent years. The 30-year-old strong safety only registered one interception in 30 games with the Browns. He did get one-and-a-half sacks and a forced fumble, as well as 58 tackles in 2015. Whitner also missed two games with a concussion last season.
Whitner started 14 games for a defense that ranked as the 29th most efficient in the league, according to Football Outsiders. In 2015, Whitner graded out as the No. 24-ranked safety according to Pro Football Focus. Rotoworld also charts his performance above an average safety.
For the Raiders, Whitner would provide a position upgrade. Currently, Oakland only has two players signed at the safety position. They might look into converting T.J. Carrie or Keith McGill into a safety. However, Nate Allen and Brynden Trawick are the only players at the position. Head coach Jack Del Rio even admitted the team needs bodies at the position. Whitner would bring depth and leadership to the team with a hole at safety.
The good news is Whitner is familiar with the Bay Area after playing three seasons with the 49ers. He should also be cheap considering the Browns owe him $4.5 million in dead money.
Oakland showed some initial interest in veteran safety Eric Weddle and a couple of Arizona Cardinals free agent safeties, including Tony Jefferson. Yet the team has not shown interest in Reggie Nelson, who lead the league in interceptions last year. The lack of interest in Nelson could come from his days playing under current Del Rio with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Either way, the Raiders seem willing to pass on the free agent safety market. The organization probably prefers adding to the safety position via the NFL Draft.
That said, Whitner could mentor any safety the Raiders draft. Presuming the team grabs one in the middle rounds, Whitner should still beat out a middle round pick and Nate Allen for starting strong safety duties.
Otherwise, the team could start Whitner at strong safety and move rangy Nate Allen to free safety for a formidable duo on the back-end. They can also use Whitner as a third safety in a hybrid role to spell a corner or linebacker, like the Arizona Cardinals consistently do. Short-term, Whitner gives them depth and versatility at the safety position like when Charles Woodson was there.
Speaking of Woodson, the future Hall of Famer leaves a big leadership hole on the Raiders defense. The oldest Raider defender is 28, so signing Whitner gives them more wisdom on the defensive end.
Ultimately, the Raiders should consider signing Whitner. His big-hitting reputation fits the physical defensive culture Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. are building in Oakland. Whitner also brings the swagger needed for the Raiders defense that emulates the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks thanks to Del Rio and Norton Jr.’s roots with those organizations.
Unfortunately, Oakland may pass on him as the team shows a new trend of signing players under 30.
Still, adding Whitner to a free agency class that includes Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin and Kelechi Osemele would make the Raiders a force in the AFC West. Oakland also has more than $20 million in cap space to make the late addition of Whitner happen.
Do you think Donte Whitner should join the Silver and Black?