With the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs and free agency upcoming, plenty of potential future Las Vegas Raiders will be on display.
Unfortunately, the 2019 Oakland Raiders weren't able to get the job done and Raider Nation will have to watch the playoffs without a dog in the fight. However, there is plenty of room for optimism as the team transitions to the Las Vegas Raiders.
A young core kept the team in the postseason discussion all year and adding a few key pieces in the offseason could be enough to get them over the hump. The 2019 draft class showed out on both sides of the ball, and even the rookie brought in as undrafted free agents made their mark in year No. 1 at the NFL level.
There are a handful of upcoming free agents that have already been linked to Las Vegas and some of them will be on display during the Divisional Round. This gives the organization's decision-makers and fans an opportunity to get a head start on the evaluation process.
But the question remains, which specific players should everyone keep an eye on this weekend?
For the better part of the last decade, the Raiders have been looking for someone to take over the middle of their defense. Rolando McClain looked like he might be the answer for the organization, but off-the-field issues prevented that from coming to fruition. Then a handful of free agents walked in and out of the doors but the team was stuck with the same issue.
With how long the problem has persisted, many people feel the upcoming offseason will finally be the year the Silver and Black use a significant amount of capital to address the position. Current Green Bay Packers' linebacker, Blake Martinez figures to be in the mix for general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden.
Martinez certainly can provide run support as he has accumulated 512 total tackles, which ranks second at the position since he entered the league in 2016. Granted, this past year was the worst of his career as he missed 18 tackles, but he still has a solid body of work throughout his four-year career.
While defending the ground game is important, coverage has been the biggest issue that has plagued the Raiders' linebacking core over the years. The Stanford product can help in that regard as well as he allowed 570 receiving yards, a passer rating of 102.1 when targeted, and two touchdowns in 2019. For comparison's sake, Tahir Whitehead gave up 655 yards, a passer rating of 139.4, and six touchdowns.
The chess match between Seattle's quarterback Russell Wilson and Martinez is something Raider fans should certainly keep an eye on. Wilson likes to use his legs in the passing game which can put linebackers in tough spots, so it will be interesting to see how the upcoming free agent fares against one of the league's bests.
Cornerback is another position Las Vegas has struggled to find an adequate solution for in recent years...well I guess technically Oakland has done the searching. While Trayvon Mullen looks like a building block for the future, the organization could still benefit by adding another player on the other side, especially with Daryl Worley's future with the team up in the air.
Even if Worley is re-signed, he became more of a "hybrid" player down the stretch by playing some safety and adding another corner will allow the team to continue to exploit his versatility.
Some Raider fans may remember the name Trae Waynes as he was loosely tied to the organization as a potential draft option five years ago. The Silver and Black would go on to select Amari Cooper that year and the Minnesota Vikings swooped up Waynes before Oakland's next selection.
In Minnesota, the former 11th overall pick never blossomed into an NFL superstar, but he has been a solid contributor by starting every game the last three years as the number two option behind Xavier Rhodes. While this past season wasn't great - 722 yards, five touchdowns, and a passer rating of 108.3 when targeted - Waynes had an impressive 2018 campaign allowing only 441 yards, one touchdown, and a passer rating of 85.5. Given the down year, the cornerback could be a good value buy for the Raiders. It's also worth noting that Guenther is a disciple of Mike Zimmer, the Vikings' head coach, so Waynes wouldn't have too steep of a learning curve in Las Vegas.
San Francisco has a couple impressive wide receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel, so this weekend will be a good case study to see what the cornerback is worth. If Waynes can put together an impressive performance, he may earn some money and catch the eyes of Mayock, Gruden, and Guenther.
Let me preface this section by saying Raider fans do NOT need to root for the Chiefs while keeping an eye on Chris Jones.
Ever since trading Khalil Mack, the organization has struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While this past season was certainly a dramatic improvement from the year before, the coaching staff shouldn't be satisfied by outpacing a historically bad season. Of course, young defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall have shown a lot of promise but neither is on Jones' level.
Since entering the league in 2016, Jones has racked up 33 sacks and 72 quarterback hits which rank third and sixth among defensive tackles, respectively. In comparison, Hurst and Hall have nine career sacks between them in their four combined seasons. The current Chief is only a year older than those two so if Las Vegas does have to sacrifice one of their 2018 draft picks to make room for Jones, the team won't really be losing any young talent.
The Texans interior offensive lineman are fairly week and banged up, so the Silver and Black's brass should get a decent look at what Jones brings to the table on Sunday. Then again, with four and a half sacks, nine QB hits, and six tackles for loss against the Raiders in his career, Gruden and Mayock may have already seen enough to make their decision.