While the Raiders have needs on offense in a league where scoring and wide-open offenses rule the day, Las Vegas needs to invest on defense to be a true contender.
In life, we often receive what we pay for in terms of product value. If you skim on the cost of certain items, expect low quality from those investments. The same concept can apply to NFL free agency. Under head coach Jon Gruden, the Las Vegas Raiders have been modest with their acquisitions on defense.
Gruden is singled out because we know he pulls the strings for the Raiders— Mike Mayock said so after he accepted the Raiders general manager position.
“In all honesty, Jon’s got final say, if it ever comes to that, and I’ve got zero problems with that,” Mayock said to ESPN’s Steve Levy last January.
So, Gruden deserves some of the responsibility for a defense that allowed the most points in franchise history during the 2018 campaign (467) and ranked 24th in the category this past season.
Gruden Talked About Defensive Changes
Following a 42-21 Week 14 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Gruden seemed fed up with the Raiders’ inability to make timely stops, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic:
“You gotta force a three-and-out, and we weren’t able to do that yesterday, from the jump,” Gruden said. “Very, very concerned about it. We’re going to make some changes and get it right.
In the big picture, the Raiders rank 30th in cap dollars spent on defense ($45.3 million), per Spotrac. After blowing off all that steam about defensive changes, Gruden has to put his money where his mouth is.
We’ve got to play better, and we’re going to play better. There will be changes. There will be changes. What happened yesterday will not happen again. I can’t allow it to happen.”
In 2019, the Raiders gave up 40-plus points three times. Although the Titans’ loss seemed like the last straw for Gruden, he had little flexibility to make roster changes in December.
Limited Spending and Inefficiency
The Raiders haven’t invested much in veteran defensive talent since Gruden took over. Linebacker Tahir Whitehead, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and safety Lamarcus Joyner are the most notable names with bigger deals, but only two of them make the list of top-three investments on that side of the ball, per Spotrac.
1. S Lamarcus Joyner, $9.2 million
2. LB Tahir Whitehead, $7.3 million
3. DE Clelin Ferrell, $7.1 million
Ironically, the Raiders have mishandled two of their highest-paid defensive players. The other has functional limitations in pass coverage.
Joyner has performed much better as a safety than a slot cornerback, but the coaching staff insists on using him in the latter position.
Mayock admitted the team put Ferrell in a difficult situation, shifting him inside at the beginning of the year, per Tafur.
“Early in the year, we probably asked him to do too much,” Mayock said about Ferrell. “He had never played inside and he was splitting reps inside and outside.
After London, when he got his weight back up, I thought the season began to build for him. We asked him to play one position and I thought he got better and better each week, and we’re excited about him.”
At linebacker, Whitehead has limited coverage skills. In the modern-day league, a second-level defender who struggles to play in space is a liability.
In the big picture, the Raiders rank 30th in cap dollars spent on defense ($45.3 million), per Spotrac. After blowing off all that steam about defensive changes, Gruden has to put his money where his mouth is. The team will have a projected $57.6 million in cap space this offseason—the eighth-most leaguewide.