The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl champions, which means one thing: the Las Vegas Raiders had better improve. It’s one thing to be an AFC team that knows the road to the Super Bowl will go through Patrick Mahomes for the next decade (at least), but imagine knowing the road to the playoffs goes through Kansas City? And that you have to play him twice a year for the next decade?
Now with reality fully in mind, it’s time to turn our attention to how the Raiders can aim to improve themselves between now and Week 1. First on our agenda is a look at who the Raiders employed last season but whose contracts are currently up. At the moment, the Raiders have unique access to negotiate contracts with these people before free agency begins in the middle of March.
The good news is that it’s clear that the Raiders have already prioritized a few of these guys, re-signing a few of their top free agents already.
The initial signing was a controversial one, but his play this season was excellent — only to be matched by a flawless track record off the field. As a result, he was rewarded with a two-year, $14 million contract extension and should continue to anchor one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Just a couple of weeks after signing their starting guard, the Raiders made sure to lock up their top backup. Good has been an admirable backup since joining the team in 2018 and so going into free agency with a third guard locked up should make addressing other needs even easier.
Lawson came over from Detroit on a one-year deal last season and clearly did enough to impress defensive coordinator Paul Guenther as the Raiders added a year on to his contract in January. With Trayvon Mullen, Isaiah Johnson and Keisean Nixon all coming off their first season in the league, Lawson should add some experience to a room that needs it.
While Josh Jacobs emerged as one of the best all-around running backs in football this season, Richard quietly emerged as one of the best pass-catching backs as well. Last season he caught 36 of 43 passes thrown his way while amassing just under 500 total yards from scrimmage. The numbers, however, don’t do his play justice as his ability to secure first downs in the two-minute drill was arguably the difference between winning and losing a couple of games this season.
Now that Incognito, Good, Lawson and Richard are locked up, who are the other guys from 2019 that might be worth re-signing? Here are a few names to keep an eye on:
After serving a four-game suspension to begin the 2018 season, Worley offered solid productivity for the Raiders over the 24 starts he gave the Raiders (15 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, 91 tackles). He isn’t an elite corner, but he’s definitely a serviceable one. I’m curious if his pending free agency has more to do with his desire to test the market or the Raiders’ desire to look elsewhere. Either way, you could do a lot worse than Worley at corner.
The Raiders gave Jordan a shot at the end of last season and he flashed the type of athleticism that made him a top-five pick coming out of Oregon. Of course, his entire career has been hampered by off-the-field issues, so the biggest question mark for him is whether or not he can keep his mind right. If he can, I think this is a no-brainer signing for the Raiders as they are desperate for difference makers along the defensive line.
With Richard back in the fold, Washington’s future with the organization seems bleak. It always seemed odd to keep two guys around with similar builds, despite the fact that they play very different styles of football — but I wouldn’t say this relationship is dead. If Washington doesn’t get starter money somewhere else, maybe everyone will opt for prioritizing familiarity?
The most intriguing name on the list is the former first-round pick whose career has been trending upward ever since a disappointing rookie season. The problem? The new Raider staff has never seemed to fall in love with Joseph. The guy is a good football player, but probably shouldn’t be a starter. My guess is he explores his options and circles back should nothing materialize. By all accounts, he is a great team leader and an important member of the locker room.
We all know how bad the Raiders’ linebackers have been, so it’s no surprise that when a guy flashes even average play at the position, fans get excited. Compton came in at the end of the season and played with good energy while appearing to be a competent NFL linebacker. He’s probably not a first-choice starter, but given the lack of options he had last season, I’d love to see him back as a backup.
Restricted Free Agents
Beyond the four mentioned above, the Raiders also have exclusive rights to guys like Nathan Peterman, Keelan Doss and Daniel Carlson (there are more, but those are the only three I can see being real contributors next season). Peterman has been a pet project of Gruden’s, and I can’t see him giving up now unless he really doesn’t like what he sees. With no backup quarterback currently on the roster, expect Peterman and Deshone Kizer to be in competition for the spot.
Doss should be back if only because he was an expensive rookie to keep around despite a lack of production. As for Carlson, he seemed to have locked down a spot with the Raiders long term before a late-season slump hit. He’ll be back next season, but probably in more of a competition than he’d like.