The Oakland Raiders entered the offseason with lingering questions at the middle linebacker position. After initial contract discussions with midseason acquisition NaVorro Bowman stalled, the organization turned its attention elsewhere on the free agent market.
The Raiders, seeking a veteran presence, opted to bring in longtime Kansas City Chiefs middle linebacker Derrick Johnson on a one-year deal.
The 35-year-old, after 13 seasons with the rival Chiefs, switched sides in the rivalry and now looks to extend his career with only the second team he’s ever known.
Johnson has already impressed the Raiders with his skills and demeanor early on. That was particularly evident in minicamp last month, where he planted the seeds in taking on a significant leadership role this season.
To no surprise, Johnson’s early impact has drawn rave reviews from his teammates and head coach Jon Gruden, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic:
The Raiders have been really excited about the former Chiefs linebacker, with Gruden saying Johnson already has a good command of the defense.
That Gruden is already confident in Johnson’s knowledge of the playbook speaks volumes about his work ethic and desire to improve in the twilight years of his career.
The Raiders head coach views Johnson as a “big-time addition” to the team and is especially excited for the expertise he offers to a youthful, promising linebackers group that includes second-year players Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow.
Despite the wear-and-tear and mileage on his legs, Johnson has shown no signs of slowing down in the pass coverage department. He led all NFL linebackers last season in yards allowed per cover snap (0.41), besting the likes of Reuben Foster, Eric Kendricks and Demario Davis.
Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowler, recorded 71 tackles and seven passes defended in 15 starts for the Chiefs last season. He also manned the middle of Kansas City’s defense in the AFC Wild Card Game, where he accumulated eight tackles and one sack in a loss to the Tennessee Titans.