Past overspending kept Las Vegas Raiders honest in free agency
With the salary cap situation across the NFL, the Las Vegas Raiders weren’t able to splurge on free agents, and it was for the best.
Over the past few seasons, the Las Vegas Raiders have been a team determined to win the offseason with large and overpriced contracts. However, given the cap flattening, and poor past decision, the Raiders were forced to make smarter moves money-wise.
After spending the third-most money in 2020, according to Spotrac ($129 mil), the Raiders dropped ten spots to 13th in 2021. And despite one glaring signing, the team added decent depth and a few players who could help the Raiders in clear areas of need if they hit.
So let’s take a bird’s eye view of the moves and what it means—starting with what they did on the defensive line.
Raiders bolstered the defensive line
Las Vegas brought in Yannick Ngakoue, Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson, and resigned Johnathan Hankins. Ngakoue is the apparent headliner because he is one of the best in the league when it comes to sacking the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Ngakoue ranked in the 74th percentile of all pass-rushers in true pass situations.
The Raiders have been so inept in pressuring the quarterback that getting a guy like Ngakoue should immediately upgrade. He isn’t a perfect player, but the team needs sacks, and he provides that at a relatively high level.
It’s hard to see Thomas or Jefferson becoming anything more than depth pieces, but Thomas has the high draft pedigree, so maybe something could materialize. The defense still needs a lot of work, but that could come down to the Raiders being much better at evaluating prospects in the draft. And again, crazy money was not spent to bring these guys in.
The fire sale on the offensive line is of hot discussion, but there really were no additions in terms of free agents. However, Richie Incognito’s re-signing suddenly became very important with the need for some veteran leadership in what is a complete overhaul.
Perhaps the best move on offense came at the wide receiver position with John Brown, who signed a one-year deal for 3.75 million. The Raiders got a ton of value back from taking a chance on Nelson Agholor last season, and it ended up being their best move of 2020.
The same could happen with Brown, who, when on the field, is a dynamic field stretcher and can be more reliable in that area as Henry Ruggs continues to develop. As an outside receiver, John Brown generated a passer rating of 122.8, while in Buffalo, which ranked 10th amongst all qualified receivers.
As good as the Brown signing is, the opposite can be said for the Kenyan Drake signing, in my opinion. Drake is a talented player but spending decent money on a backup running back provides multiple issues. First, if you’re looking to lighten Josh Jacobs’ workload and have them split carries, then you probably shouldn’t have taken him in the first round as your quote on quote “workhorse back.”
They did not pay Drake backup money, so the Raiders said something without actually saying it when it comes to their running game.
Secondly, if Raiders are looking to use Drake in this joker role on offense, they will need to explain what they see in Drake that makes them think he is a fit for that. Drake is coming from an Arizona offense that certainly would have used him as a playmaker if they deemed him fit for the role.
However, he only had 25 catches for 137 yards. This seems like more wishful thinking from Gruden, but I’ll gladly be wrong.
Overall the Raiders made some smaller moves that could bring some good value for the 2021 season. Even a questionable signing like Drake could pay dividends in terms of field production. This was a much more competent free agency in terms of signing players for Las Vegas. Don’t love every move, but we won’t be looking up in a few years wondering why they spend so much money on them. Now they just need to put it all together with a good draft.