The Las Vegas Raiders have shaken up their cornerback department while saving cap space in the process. So what alternative plans could be in the works with free agency approaching?
The Raiders’ cornerback play last season was very much an up-and-down campaign. After allowing 263.3 passing yards per game, perhaps the idea of exploring other defensive back options isn’t that far-fetched.
On Monday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Raiders are releasing veteran slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. His salary was set at $11.2 million and came with a $2.5 million dead cap hit, so the Raiders will save $8.7 million by parting ways with one of their high-priced free agent additions from the 2019 offseason.
Meanwhile, the Raiders also hosted cornerback A.J. Bouye for a visit on Monday, according to Mike Klis of 9News. Bouye, 29, has put together seasons in the past that present an argument for being one of the better cornerbacks in the league but did play just seven games last season as injuries often sidelined him.
With Joyner being released, the move indicates they presumably have plans to pursue a slot cornerback in free agency.
On Tuesday, Rapoport reported the Raiders are trading offensive tackle Trent Brown to the Patriots in exchange for a pick swap in 2022. Brown, Joyner, plus the expected departures of guards Richie Incognito and Gabe Jackson put the Raiders on the books for about $153 million. Las Vegas still has other avenues they can peruse to cut down their salary cap, but as they sit one week away from free agency, they have a projected $27 million in cap space.
Adding Bouye to the mix would provide an immediate upgrade to the Raiders’ young core of cornerbacks. While he’s an outside cornerback and wouldn’t fill the shoes of the Raiders’ hole at nickelback, Bouye’s veteran presence and man coverage ability would serve two crucial factors that the Raiders defense could certainly use.
Nonetheless, slot cornerback would still be an area of need if the Raiders were to sign Bouye or not. Newly hired defensive coordinator Gus Bradley used nickel 65.2% of the time last season as a member of the Chargers so anchoring that position will be instrumental for the defense Las Vegas is preparing to implement.
Free agent slot cornerback options the Raiders may want to take a look at include the likes of Desmond King and Mike Hilton.
King already has familiarity with Bradley and his Cover 3 defensive scheme during their time together with the Chargers. King was named an All-Pro in 2018 but has declined since then. He still remains worthy of a valuable starter who’s shown the wherewithal of being able to play safety in addition to slot cornerback.
In 2020, King improved his play in comparison to the year prior by lowering his completion percentage allowed, yards per target, yards per completion and passer rating in coverage. If he can steadily tap back into his 2018 form, he would provide a difference-maker against slot receivers, protecting the middle of the field. That fits a need for the Raiders.
As for Hilton, he enters free agency after coming off a career-high three interceptions. Over four seasons, Hilton has consistently shown the capability to consistently take the ball away from his opposition, hauling in seven interceptions and three forced fumbles since 2017.
As a member of the Steelers, he’s made the case for being one of the better slot cornerbacks in the NFL while also aiding adequate support against the run.
With the Raiders shuffling contracts on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, a flurry of moves in free agency may be on the horizon at the start of the new league year.