For the first time in this decade, the Oakland Raiders have won in the free agency. In past few years the Raiders have been respectable players in free agency, but this is the first year they won outright. Up until very recently, Oakland was known as a place where players’ careers would go to die.
Top tier free agents never had Oakland on their wish list of destinations and second tier free agents only signed if the Raiders were offering completely inflated contracts. Oh how things have changed. The franchise has completely turned around its fortunes through quality drafts, top to bottom, and a couple home run picks. Franchise cornerstones such as Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper have made the Oakland Raiders a much more attractive destination for free agents. Couple that with the Oakland Raiders management of cap space and smart contracts, and the team had more than enough money to sign some real impact players this year.
They signed three of the top 15 free agents to team friendly, front-loaded deals, and re-signed a few of their own important players. The new faces on the team are Offensive Lineman Kelechi Osemele, pass rusher Bruce Irvin, and cornerback Sean Smith. Not only are these players some of the best free agents at their positions this year, but they are perfect scheme fits for what the Raiders are trying to do.
Kelechi Osemele is a mauling run blocker who Mike Tice says finishes blocks as well as anyone he has ever seen. The Raiders offensive line was poor in the run game last year, and this former Ravens player should really add some punch to the rushing attack. He is also very versatile with the ability to play tackle in need be, one of the reasons he was so highly coveted.
With Penn re-signed as well, the Oakland Raiders have one of the top offensive lines in all of football. Penn, Jackson, Hudson, Osemele, and either Howard or Watson make up the line from left to right. Once they gel, look out.
Bruce Irvin is another versatile player who fits exactly what the Raiders are looking for. In the Seahawks defense, Irvin was a do it all linebacker who stopped the run, played back in coverage and rushed the passer. In Oakland, he will be asked to do what he loves to do most, rush the quarterback.
Irvin believes that he can reach his full potential as a player by having more rushing opportunities. With such incredible athleticism and versatility, having a player like Irvin on the opposite side of linebacker Khalil Mack will give opposing offenses nightmares. Aldon Smith will likely be back with the Raiders late in the season, and because of Irvin’s ability to drop into coverage, they will both be able to play on the field together with Mack. Throw in Mario Edwards Jr who came on strong as a rookie last year and this pass rush and defensive front seven will be deadly.
Sean Smith gives the Raiders exactly the type of corner they like. A tall, long physical corner who can press at the line of scrimmage and is solid in man to man coverage. He will pair with David Amerson, Pro Football Focus’ most improved player of the year, and give the Raiders a pair of big physical corners. With the pass rush that’s coming together, the cornerbacks should have a great year in the Raiders Defensive system. Sean Smith has allowed a completion percentage under sixty percent for six years straight. No other corner in the league has been that consistent with denying receivers the football.
The Oakland Raiders still have a few holes on the roster, particularly at inside backer and safety. But with the upcoming draft around the corner and the rest of free agency to find bargain pick ups, they will have an opportunity to improve further. In regards to early free agency impact players, the Raiders won out.
This is a young team on the rise with plenty of talent through out the organization. Free agents have recognized this and it is showing in quality players choosing to sign with Oakland. Raiders fans should be one of the most optimistic fan bases for years to come.