The best teams are never built through free agency — it’s an NFL adage that has long been proven true. For the Oakland Raiders? Well, they’re not necessarily trying to become the best overnight — but they are trying to get better.
And if that was Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock’s mission? Well, mission accomplished.
When you look back at the flurry of activity the Raiders have had over the past month (they made 26 moves in 27 days), it appears as if there was a pretty distinct “Phase One” and “Phase Two” of free agency for the silver and black.
Phase One was concerned with adding high-end talent — the type of guys who should be serious contributors for a number of years to come. The headliners of this group were Antonio Brown, Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams.
But while this first wave of moves will get the biggest headlines, I would argue that it’s actually the second wave of signings that are more integral to the 2019 Raiders. Why? Because Mayock inherited a roster completely devoid of depth.
Yes, the Raiders were desperate for some Pro Bowl level players, but they were almost more desperate for a roster stacked with guys who are simply “NFL level players”. You can’t win football games over the course of a season on the backs of 5-6 players, rather you’re dependent on a group of 35-40 guys week-in-and-week-out in order to weather injuries and steady the ship over the long run.
In the second wave of free agency the Raiders signed a number of guys to one-year deals designed to fill out the roster and prepare them for whatever happens in the draft. Here are the guys I’m talking about in chronological order of signing…
JJ Nelson (3/15)
The Raiders signed Nelson to a 1-year, $1 million contract to further their makeover of the wide receiver room. Nelson should compete for the No. 3 receiver job. In four seasons with the Cardinals, Nelson posted 81 catches for over 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns. The truth is, Nelson is an upside play — can Jon Gruden and Co. unlock the potential of the speedy Nelson? It’s a cheap, worthwhile flier.
Josh Mauro (3/15)
Mauro was an undrafted free agent out of Stanford in 2014 and has since developed himself into a solid NFL contributor. Mauro isn’t the sexy defensive end signing Raider fans were hoping for — but he’s a younger version of Frostee Rucker — an end who is stout against the run (but who won’t offer much of a pass rush). If all goes well in the draft, Mauro will be a great depth piece along the defensive front for Paul Guenther this fall. (He signed for 1 year and $1.4 million)
Vontaze Burfict (3/19)
I’m not sure I’ve ever been more torn about a Raider signing. As a fan of Pac-12 Football, I’ve long despised Burfict’s dirty style of play — something that led to him being undrafted and has since cost him plenty of money (and games). That said, how angry could I really be when the Raiders finally addressed their glaring need at linebacker? Honestly, have the Raiders even had a competent linebacker since Kirk Morrison played last in 2009? The best part is Burfict is signed for one year at just $2 million (plus incentives).
Nevin Lawson (3/20)
Not a name many folks are probably familiar with, but Lawson is a big add for a defensive backfield desperate for help. For the first time in a while, the Raiders entered the off-season with a somewhat respectable set of corners (Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley) — but they were still in need of some depth, which Lawson provides. He has started 45 games for Detroit over the past three seasons, spending much of his time in the slot — which means he should see plenty of the field in 2019. His contract was for one-year and $3.05 million.
Mike Glennon (3/22)
For one year and $1.95 million, I’ll take it. Last year the Raiders gave up legitimate draft capital in order to add A.J. McCarron as a backup — but it’s hard to imagine Glennon is a huge downgrade from that. And at least this time he didn’t cost a draft pick. Ideally, Glennon doesn’t ever see the field — but let’s not forget that he’s just a couple of years removed from signing a three-year contract worth more than $40 million.
Landry Jones (3/26)
Unlike Glennon, Jones isn’t guaranteed of all that much after signing with the Raiders. For one-year and $800k, Jones is simply a camp arm with an opportunity to compete with Glennon and Nathan Peterman (as well as whatever quarterback they’re sure to draft) for a spot with the team come fall.
Isaiah Crowell (3/28)
Desperate for some talent at running back (and with Doug Martin apparently asking for too much money), the Raiders added Crowell just last week. Crowell doesn’t figure to be an all-pro level guy, but — again — he adds depth and experience to a position group seriously in need of both. Crowell signed a one-year deal for $2.5 million.
Brandon Marshall (3/28)
Probably my favorite signing of the bunch was this one. Not only does Marshall figure to give the Raiders two competent linebackers come Week 1 (along with Burfict), but he also comes highly motivated for two reasons: first, to prove his old team (Denver) wrong about cutting him — but also because the Las Vegas native is surely eager to earn a second year with the Raiders. The 29-year-old signed a one-year, $4.1 million deal.
Luke Willson (3/29)
By all accounts, Willson is a younger version of Lee Smith — a block-first tight end (who is familiar with offensive line coach Tom Cable from his days in Seattle), but with more upside as a pass-catcher. As it stands, the Raiders lack excitement at tight end after the departure of Jared Cook, but Willson should have a chance to prove he belongs this summer. His contract details have yet to be released, but I’d be shocked if he’s making over $1 million.
Ryan Grant (4/3)
Grant is another wide receiver that the Raiders added to the mix after a solid season with the Indianapolis Colts. His experience and the fact that he will only be relied upon as a third or fourth receiver makes him a perfect fit for the Raiders. The terms of his contract were also not released, but it is also likely a one-year deal.