Even with plenty of money to spend during 2017 NFL Free Agency, the Oakland Raiders would be wise to target some cheaper, underrated talent this offseason.
Every year during the lead-up to NFL Free Agency, there’s tons of talk about which teams will sign the big names expected to be available like I did back in December. However, it’s not often there’s much conversation around the under-the-radar players. That’s what I’m here to do—highlight some other options for Oakland outside of the flashy names and overpriced stars.
We have to keep in mind that an NFL team isn’t made up of 53 first-round picks. Instead, it’s largely made up of role players and unheralded talents. The Raiders already have the stars in place heading into 2017. What they need to do is add more of those underrated starters and role players who can make a noticeable impact on occasion.
So who might those players be? There are plenty of intriguing options who will soon be available when the new league begins. It’s up to the Raiders to pinpoint them and get them under contract before the 2017 season.
With that in mind, here’s my look at five underrated free agents the Raiders could target when March rolls around.
At some point this offseason, the Raiders need to find some more talent at offensive tackle. Menelik Watson is headed for free agency, Austin Howard always seems to be hurt, and Donald Penn is getting up there in age. More options are needed along the Oakland front five.
If they’d like to add an experienced backup to the mix, Mike Remmers could find his way onto their radar. It’s not like there are a ton of noteworthy offensive tackles scheduled to be available in 2017 anyway.
Remmers bounced around early in his career, but has spent the last two seasons as the Panthers’ starting right tackle. While he’s never going to be a Pro Bowler or even a standout, he’s proven more than capable of holding his own in the NFL. I mean, he was part of the Carolina front five that made it to the Super Bowl a season ago.
Is Remmers good enough to allow the Raiders to move on from Howard? Maybe, but there’s no guarantee. What he does bring to the table is someone who’s been there before—he can step in and play if needed while providing an insurance policy similar to the way Watson did in 2016. What’s even better is he’d likely come relatively cheap. That’ll allow the Raiders to spend their significant cap space elsewhere.
By now, most folks who follow the Raiders have come to the conclusion the team needs help at cornerback. Oakland’s two starters are excellent, but the depth is miserable heading into 2017. Signing a player such as Marcus Cooper, though, would be a welcomed boost for this secondary.
They’re expected to let D.J. Hayden walk this offseason, which would leave them with T.J. Carrie and not much else behind starters Sean Smith and David Amerson. The rest of the cornerbacks on the roster are too young and inexperienced to be relied upon right now.
Cooper would bring significant experience and playmaking ability to the table, though. The former seventh-round pick has been a pleasant (albeit inconsistent) surprise through four seasons. While he does struggle at times in coverage, he makes up for it with big plays and a physical presence in the run game.
The Raiders can’t afford to ignore their lackluster cornerback depth chart this offseason. While Cooper wouldn’t exactly be a splash signing, he’d be a solid subpackage cornerback Oakland can rely on to create turnovers and play the run well. The Raiders couldn’t ask for much more out of a seemingly insignificant signing.
They can’t all be stars. Every NFL team has to have those role players—the guys who do the dirty work and get no credit while the big names soak in the spotlight. That’s exactly who Russell Shepard is.
During his four NFL seasons, Shepard has never been a star or even a standout starter. However, what he has been for the Buccaneers is a dependable special teamer and capable contributor in the passing game. He’s nothing special, but he’s a hard worker who leads by example.
With the Raiders’ depth chart at wide receiver a bit muddled, they could afford to sign an experienced backup or two. Shepard is the opposite of an exciting free agent addition, but he’d certainly be able to make an impact for the Silver and Black.
This past season, he was a solid low-volume complement to Mike Evans in the Tampa Bay passing game. Shepard started four games, hauled in 23 passes and found the end zone twice. On top of being a capable pass catcher, he also showed well as a tenacious run blocker and earned his stripes on special teams as well.
I admit signing Shepard wouldn’t create a lot of buzz among Raiders fans. However, his versatility and reliability would make him a welcomed addition to this top-heavy receiving corps.
It amazes me that people still haven’t realized the type of impact Karl Klug can have. The Titans’ rotational defensive tackle has provided an unmistakable presence for years, yet continues to fly under the radar as a talent worth taking seriously.
That could be a blessing in disguise for the Raiders. They could use some underrated additions to the roster this offseason, and Klug could absolutely be one of them. That is, unless they’re scared off by the torn Achilles he suffered at the end of the 2016 campaign.
The main reason I believe Klug could be a fit is he provides an outstanding interior pass rush. While his sack totals have fluctuated during his six-year NFL career, not many will deny he’s capable of consistently collapsing the pocket. Just ask Pro Football Focus, which graded him out as the league’s 12th-best interior pass rusher in 2016, despite having only 1.5 sacks.
It’s clear he can make a difference, even in Oakland. There’s some reason for concern considering he’d be making the switch from a 3-4 defensive end to a 4-3 three-technique, but I’m confident he’s got the skills to make a seamless transition.
It won’t be easy luring him away from the Titans this offseason. However, for the right price, I’m sure the Raiders could convince him to leave Nashville and head west.
Honestly, I wouldn’t get my hopes too high on this one. Chances are the 49ers do whatever they need to do to bring back one of the few bright spots on their defense this past season. However, if Gerald Hodges reaches the open market, the Raiders need to be interested.
Hodges enjoyed a bit of a breakout season in 2016, earning one of the starting inside linebacker jobs and never looking back. He went on to shine for the 49ers, showing well as a run defender and cover man while racking up 83 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. So why wouldn’t the Raiders at least consider signing him if he’s available?
Three of Oakland’s inside linebackers are scheduled to hit the open market this offseason. Even if that wasn’t the case, the Raiders could use an upgrade over Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley Jr. in the middle of their 4-3 defense. I’d like to see them address the position (which I believe is their top need) during the draft, but finding an experienced option may be the safer bet.
Hodges has 26 career starts under his belt, and proved in 2016 that he’s capable of leading an NFL defense. Imagine what he could do when surrounded by superstars like Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
Like Klug, I don’t think it’ll be easy to pry him away from the 49ers. However, escaping the train wreck that San Francisco has been may give him enough motivation to move on. The opportunity is there for him to assert himself as a long-term starter with the Raiders.