NFL teams
Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer 44d

Las Vegas Raiders free-agency overview: Revamping defense should be priority

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The Las Vegas Raiders enter 2021 NFL free agency coming off an 8-8 season in 2020 and have 19 unrestricted free agents. Of course, a million times of course, the Raiders should focus their attention on improving the defense as the offense has shown itself capable of being elite. But that doesn't mean Las Vegas should totally ignore concerns at receiver and on the offensive line.

Still, trying to find that elusive game-changing edge rusher while shoring up a young and riddled secondary should be priorities. Here's what to expect from the Raiders when the NFL offseason hits high gear with the start of free agency on March 17:

QUARTERBACK

Under contract: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman, Kyle Sloter

UFA: None

Game plan: The Raiders need to move either Carr ($22.125 million cap number) or Mariota (11.35 million) ... and Mariota is the likely candidate. But if someone blows their doors off with an offer for Carr, and the Raiders deem it an upgrade, don't be surprised to see him shipped. Carr is not the problem, but is he the answer? And if you have to ask that question, then you probably have a problem.

RUNNING BACK

Under contract: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, Alec Ingold

UFA: Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick

Game plan: Jacobs is coming off a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons to begin his NFL career but could use a change-of-pace, bruising-type back. Think Tyrone Wheatley to Napoleon Kaufman, or Wheatley to Charlie Garner. Booker was used in that role at times last season, so keep an eye on Las Vegas possibly trying to re-sign him.

TIGHT END

Under contract: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Nick Bowers

UFA: Derek Carrier, Nick O'Leary

Game plan: Waller is a rising star and already one of the best at his position in the league while Moreau, coming off a torn ACL, was eased back last year with Jason Witten in the fold. Witten, though, has retired, so those reps should go back to Moreau. Carrier re-signing would not a surprise either, for continuity at the position.

WIDE RECEIVER

Under contract: Henry Ruggs III, Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, Keelan Doss, Marcell Ateman, Trey Quinn

UFA: Zay Jones, Nelson Agholor

Game plan: The Raiders have already cut Tyrell Williams, freeing up cap space to perhaps make a run at Agholor, who was the Raiders' most productive wideout while playing on a one-year, prove-it contract. In any event, with such a young WR corps, expect the Raiders to add a veteran to the mix in free agency.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Under contract: Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Trent Brown, Brandon Parker, John Simpson, Andre James, Erik Magnuson, Jaryd Jones-Smith, Kamaal Seymour

UFA: Denzelle Good, Sam Young

Game plan: There are better odds of the Raiders re-signing Good than cutting ties with Brown, who has played 10-plus snaps in just 14 of 32 games since signing that massive four-year, $66 million free-agent contract in 2019. Because when Brown is healthy, both physically and mentally, he is the best right tackle in the league. Keep an eye on Incognito, who is coming off a torn Achilles' and will be 38 in July.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Under contract: Maxx Crosby, Maurice Hurst, Clelin Ferrell,, Arden Key, Carl Nassib, David Irving, Gerri Green, Niles Scott

UFA: Takkarist McKinley, Vic Beasley, Chris Smith, Maliek Collins, Johnathan Hankins

Game plan: Gruden was right -- elite pass-rushers don't just grow on trees. Yeah, he said it after trading away a holding out Khalil Mack, but Gruden wasn't lying. The Raiders desperately need another edge rusher and might use the draft to add numbers. An interior pocket mover should be targeted in free agency and Jurrell Casey might garner some interest should Las Vegas move on from Hankins. Collins, called the key to the defense last season by Gruden, was a disappointment. Vickers is an exclusive-rights free agent.

LINEBACKER

Under contract: Nick Kwiatkoski, Cory Littleton, Tanner Muse, Javin White, Asmar Bilal, James Onwualu

UFA: Nicholas Morrow, Raekwon McMillan, Kyle Wilber

Game plan: Despite the big-splash acquisitions of Littleton and Kwiatkoski, the Raiders' best linebacker last season was the undersized Morrow. Las Vegas would be wise to retain him as new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley rebuilds the defense and, perhaps, gets Littleton up and running. A rejuvenated Littleton and a re-signed Morrow should be an improvement for this unit.

CORNERBACK

Under contract: Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Isaiah Johnson, Amik Robertson, Keisean Nixon, Kemah Siverand

UFA: Nevin Lawson, Daryl Worley

Game plan: Mullen was solid when on the field, though he got nicked up a bit in games, while Arnette has to stop leading with his head on tackles. There is talent here, but it is young, has to be focused and stay on the field. A veteran presence is needed in the secondary and Richard Sherman would seemingly fit that bill.

SAFETY

Under contract: Lamarcus Joyner, Johnathan Abram, Jeff Heath, Rashaan Gaulden

UFA: Erik Harris

Game plan: Joyner, who has a $9.95 million cap number but no dead money, is a popular cut candidate. And yet ... as noted earlier, the secondary needs an alpha presence to reign in and mentor the likes of Abram. Would Sherman not only rejoin Bradley, but consider a switch to free safety? Leavitt is an exclusive-rights free agent.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Under contract: Dominik Eberle (PK), AJ Cole (P), Liam McCullough (LS)

UFA: None

Game plan: Cole, Daniel Carlson and Trent Sieg hope to become this Raiders generation's version of Sebastian Janikowski, Shane Lechler and Jon Condo. Carlson and Sieg are both restricted free agents.

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