The Las Vegas Raiders are expected to be buyers when Free Agency begins next month and the open market could be a good place to find a defensive end.
It's almost March which means NFL Free Agency is just around the corner. The Las Vegas Raiders have a significant amount of cap space to spend on the open market, and opening up the checkbook for a defensive end would make a lot of sense for the team.
In reference to pass rushers, a wise man once said: "It's hard to find a great one." Head coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders know this first hand (obviously) as the Raiders have struggled to get pressure on the quarterback during the coach's tenure. Granted, 2019 was a lot better than 2018 but the team's 32 sacks still ranked in the bottom quarter of the league.
There's plenty of youth and promise along the Silver and Black's defensive line, but adding a veteran edge rusher could expedite the development process. Getting after the quarterback is ever so important in today's NFL, and after seeing a significant uptick in sacks during the 2019 season, the Raiders should be looking to solidify their defensive line this offseason.
here are a few potential free agent targets as the team moves to Las Vegas.
Even with Marcell Dareus out of the picture, it's hard to tell what the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to do with pending free agent, Yannick Ngakoue. According to OverTheCap.com, the Jags only have about $21.5 million dollars in cap space and Ngakoue reportedly is asking for top-dollar for his services.
Sure, the team will likely try to talk him down or apply the franchise tag to him, but the tag will cost about $19.5 million and that wouldn't leave a lot of wiggle room for Jacksonville. Plus, with promising rookie Josh Allen, the front office may not feel too much pressure to keep the four-year veteran around. These next few weeks will give more clarity on Ngakoue's future, but if he's let go, he should be in play for the Raiders.
While he's only eclipsed the double-digit sack mark in a single-season once, the pass rusher has been very productive and consistent throughout his career. Every year he's had at least eight sacks and his 37.5 career sacks and 85 career quarterback hits rank 12th and eighth since 2016. Considering Ngakoue turns 25-years-old next month, he could just be scratching the surface and could have even better years in front of him.
However, there is a bit of an issue with scheme fit when it comes to the edge defender and Las Vegas. He's primarily played as an outside linebacker in the Jaguars' 3-4 defense and isn't very good against the run. Raiders' Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther prefers defensive linemen who stick their hand in the dirt and can hold their own against the ground game.
The concerns about fit with the team and how much money the defensive end will command are legitimate. It's a big risk to take but the organization does have about $50 million to play with and Ngakoue has shown the ability to rush the passer as a true defensive end, so as long as the coaching staff can make his deficiencies as run-defender, he'd be worth the gamble.
Arik Armstead is another player who could become a cap casualty. The 49ers only have about $13 million in cap space so bringing him back would require a handful of roster moves as Armstead is projected to make about $17 million a year per OverTheCap.com. Also, San Francisco already has a plethora of talent along its defensive line, so the organization can afford to let him walk and address other needs on the open market.
At the beginning of his career, the former first-round pick saw his fair share of struggles. He was often injured and he missed a total of 16 games in his first three years. Even when the University of Oregon product was on the field, he wasn't very productive as he never finished a season with more than three sacks and six tackles for loss. However, he turned things around in 2019 with 10 sacks, 11 TFLs, and a top-five Pro Football Focus grade at his position.
Is this past season a fluke for Armstead or a sign of things to come? That will be the biggest question on general manager Mike Mayock's mind in regards to the former Duck. He might be worth the risk though, because he's a great fit for Las Vegas's defense.
The 5-year veteran is the traditional defensive end that Guenther covets. Armstead likes to play with his hand in the ground, can put pressure on the quarterback and hold his own against the run. If the Raiders' decision-makers feel 26-year-old can build on his breakout season, look for him and Maxx Crosby to be staples of the organization for years to come.
The Dallas Cowboys have a real dilemma on their hands when it comes to free agency. Young stars like Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Byron Jones are looking to get paid. Meanwhile, soon-to-be 30-year-old Robert Quinn is looking for a new contract as well.
Jerry Jones and company seem to be prioritizing Prescott and Cooper, which could mean the organization has to decide between Jones and Quinn. I'd argue that the Raiders should be all over whichever player ends up being the fallout, but for the purpose of this article, we'll assume Quinn is the casualty.
Similar to Armstead, the nine-year veteran revived his career this past season. He recorded the most sacks and quarterback pressures of his career since 2013 with 12 and 57, respectively. However, unlike the one-year wonder, the former All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler has a track record of success in the league.
From 2012 to 2014, Quinn racked up an impressive 40 sacks and 71 quarterback hits. The problem is that was six years ago and before this bounce-back season, he only managed 24 sacks and 40 quarterback hits after that three-year stretch. Also, as mentioned above, he's about to reach that magic number of 30.
Nonetheless, Quinn could be a veteran leader for a group that is rather young in Las Vegas. Of course, the question about consistent production will still need to be answered, but new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was clearly effective working with him last season. At a projected $10 million per year, the former Cowboy would certainly be the most economical choice from this list and could be a great mentor for Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.