The Raiders entered the start of the new league year with numerous positions to address in free agency. With linebacker being the most crucial, Las Vegas has found one at the top of the market who appears to be in their long term plans moving forward.
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock wasted no time once the free-agent tampering window opened, as they singed linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski on day one. As of day two, the Raiders have agreed to sign linebacker Cory Littleton to a three-year, $36 million contract, including a base salary of $11.75 million.
Last week the Raiders released linebacker Tahir Whitehead, clearing about $6 million in cap space. The move was much anticipated and more cap-hit casualties are likely to eventually follow. Overhauling the entire group of linebackers with the idea of bringing in all-new faces via free agency and the draft isn't out of question, meanwhile, the addition of Littleton serves a sizeable need for Paul Gunether's defense.
Littleton, 26, is the perfect prototype for today's day of age sideline-to-sideline linebackers. Last season, he recorded 134 total tackles, four sacks, five quarterback hits, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Not only does Littleton have a knack to sniff out the ball carrier, but he also displays adequate coverage ability with decent speed for a linebacker.
NFL teams are quickly changing the blueprint for linebackers with the attempt of finding those who can cover in space 1-on-1 and Littleton checks that box. Over Littleton's last two seasons, he led all linebackers with 22 pass break-ups.
Littleton is a huge pickup for the Raiders defensive unit who struggled significantly in the second level, but just bringing in one linebacker won't be enough to fill the gaps among their other linebacking needs.
Expect the Raiders to encounter other options at linebacker in free agency along with potential draft prospects in order to find a counterpart alongside Littleton in the middle of the Raiders' defense.
The deal for Littleton was a team-friendly one as well, and they now have two solid linebackers under contract over the last two days. With the signing of Kwiatkoski on Monday, the Raiders are addressing the biggest need they have on the defensive side of the ball, as they finally spend some money on defense.