There is a lot of buzz surrounding the Oakland Raiders this off-season after finally managing to lure Jon Gruden back to the Silver and Black. Gruden was known for setting up a prolific offense helmed by quarterback Rich Gannon and Hall of Fame wide receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. He comes in for his second stint with established offensive tools in quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper. Then he even has Michael Crabtree and Marshawn Lynch should he chose to keep them around.
Ramping Up the Oakland Raiders Pass Rush Prowess This Off-Season
On the defensive side, however, Gruden has his work cut out for him. Sure, the Raiders have one superstar in Khalil Mack, but aside from that, there are no big names to back him up. Bruce Irvin is above average, but he could also be on the chopping block as Gruden and new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther reform the team in their image.
Oakland really needs help with pass rushers. As a team, the Raiders only had 31 sacks, which was tied for 24th in the league. Mack had 10.5 of these sacks, about a third of the team’s total. Irvin was second with eight, and Denico Autry was the only other one on the team with a mentionable sack total, with five.
Autry is a free agent, so if he walks, and Irvin is cut, the Raiders will be in serious trouble with pass rushers. They will undoubtedly look to address this in the draft, but it would not be smart to rely on unproven names to get them through the season. The market is extremely thin this year, but there are a few names that would make sense for Oakland to go after.
Cream of the Crop
The dream situation would be to snag Ezekiel Ansah of the Detroit Lions. Ansah is coming off a season where he piled up 12 sacks, good for eighth best in the league. Having Ansah line up opposite to Mack would give offensive linemen nightmares weeks before they even faced each other.
Unfortunately, signing him will likely just stay a dream. Ansah is projected to demand a contract in the area of $13.2 million a year. With Mack set to get paid as well, it’s hard to imagine that the Raiders rostering the salaries of two top pass rushers. Still, it could happen if the Raiders really do make some cuts.
If the Oakland does release Irvin, they’d save over $8 million next year. Fellow defensive mate Sean Smith has a similar salary and seems destined to get the boot. This would save the team over $16 million, and leave no dead money. This is more than enough to front the bill for Ansah. Then, aside from Mack, most of their other defensive players are fresh into their rookie contracts.
All this considered, the possibility of Ansah is more possible than many realize.
Makes the Most Sense
A move that would not shake things up, but could be the most logical for the Raiders would be to go after defensive tackle Dontari Poe. At first, this might not seem like it would amp up the Silver and Black pass rush much, but actually makes sense in the big picture.
First off, Poe comes at a pretty affordable price compared to other free agents. His calculated market value is only around $5.7 million a year. This would make it a lot easier to keep some of their better pass rushers from last year like Autry and Irvin around. He is also the type of player that makes others around him look better.
Poe only has one season in his six-year career where he had more than five sacks. In fact, he only has five total over the past three years. But even though he doesn’t rack up a lot of sacks, he still gets to the quarterback. Poe had 36 total quarterback pressures last season, which is great for a nose tackle.
This will only help the players around him improve their sack numbers. As quarterbacks try to escape Poe’s presence up the middle, they will run right into players like Mack. The Raiders would be wise to try to sign him.
Lamarr Houston could be the under the radar free agent signing for the Silver and Black this off-season. He actually started his career as a defensive end for Oakland, recording 16 sacks in his first four seasons with them.
He signed with the Chicago Bears in 2014, playing three seasons with them. His time with them was mostly marred by injuries. He infamously tore his ACL celebrating a sack in 2014. Then, he switched to outside linebacker the next season, achieving a career high eight sacks. The next season in 2016, he tore his ACL again in week two.
Houston was released a few days after his second ACL injury. He ended up signing with the Houston Texans, but was released and picked back up by the Bears. In his return, he ended up recording four sacks after appearing in five games. Should the Raiders try to pursue him, he would come cheap, He would also be versatile, since he can play either defensive end, or outside linebacker.
If he still has some gas left in the tank, Oakland should give him in a look in such a thin market for pass rushers this year.