Did The Oakland Raiders Improve Their Defense In Free Agency?


Dec 22, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck (91) against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders free agency session has been roller coaster ride for the team, much like their regular season. The free agency period started out poorly for General Manager Reggie McKenzie, but recent signings of veteran free agents have added some much needed talent to the defense. With nearly $60 million in cap space, fixing the league’s worst ranked defense over the course of the second half was priority number one. Did McKenzie truly improve the Raiders’ defense with the players that he was able to bring into the fold so far?

Players Added:
1. Justin Tuck, DE (2 years, $11 million) –
Tuck is the biggest name that McKenzie has been able to lock up. At 30 years old, Tuck is still a relatively productive player, as he graded out as a relatively solid defensive end. He finished in the top-10 in sacks with 11. However, he only combined for nine sacks over the previous two season. A decline in his pass rush productivity is expected, as he is getting on the other side of 30, but he should have a couple more season of solid productivity in him.

The one area that Tuck is still among the elite is as a run defender. He was the eighth best run defender among 4-3 defensive ends, with 63 total tackles and 15 tackles for a loss. Run defending is a skill that declines much slower.

Tuck also brings an air of legitimacy to this team, as big name players are more likely to join teams with players of their caliber. He also brings a winning pedigree with him, which should be a major boon to McKenzie’s attempt to build a winning culture. He has also said he will be a recruiter for the Raiders, as well.

2. LaMarr Woodley, DE (2 years, $12 million) –
Much like the Tuck signing, bringing in LaMarr Woodley provides the team with another proven pass rusher with a winning pedigree. Woodley still has some upside, despite a decline in his statistical output. He has just 18 sacks in the last three seasons combined, while have 35 sacks combined over the three previous seasons. A lot of that has been his inability to stay healthy recent with 14 games missed over the last three seasons.

Despite the drop in sacks, Woodley is still one of the most productive pass rushers in the league. He ranked fourth among all 3-4 outside linebackers in Pro Football Focus’s pass rush productivity. He seems like the perfect player to place opposite of the newly signed Justin Tuck.

3. Antonio Smith, DT (2 years, $9 million) –
Smith might be one of the more underrated signings for McKenzie. Smith is a top tier pass rusher at the defensive tackle position. He has averaged 48 quarterback disruptions over the last several seasons and would give the Raiders a threat to create pressure from the interior. He has 27 sacks in five seasons with Houston. He fits the current plan that the Raiders’ front-office is attempting to implement, which is a defensive front predicated on getting after the quarterback.

While he is dynamite at creating pressure, defending the run is totally different story. Smith runs hot and cold as a run defender, which could make him a role player in the Raiders’ defense and limit his snaps with poor run defense.

4. Tarell Brown, CB (1 year, $3.5 million) –
Brown could end up being the best value signing for the Raiders this offseason. He has been one of the more underrated defensive backs over the last few seasons. He was the fourth best corner in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. His play suffered from injuries last season, but he was still an above average corner that will be a consistent performer in the secondary. He is a solid run defender on the outside and a pretty solid tackler with 40 plus tackles over the last three seasons.

He will bring an excellent veteran presence for D.J. Hayden and the other young members of the secondary. Also, Brown being on a one-year “prove it” deal should bring out high quality play each and every week.

The first couple of days were kinda rough with the Saffold deal situation being the disaster that it was and the overpay for Austin Howard. The next few deals were much better, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There are still plenty of spots that they could look to fill throughout the offseason, mainly nose tackle, free safety, slot corner, and depth for all three levels.

Reggie McKenzie filled a lot of holes along the defensive line, while giving it a pass rushing dimension they have not had in several years. He also found a solid veteran presence to slot into his secondary along his young players. He also did not break the bank for these players, they are signed to short two year deals that are worth $6 million per year or less.

A strong draft with a one or two impact free agents could help turn around this defense in a short time, which could be a strength instead of a weakness for once. Overall, McKenzie has made up for the few blunders he made early on and improved his team on paper, which should have Raiders looking to the draft with some hope.