The Oakland Raiders signed Tyvon Branch to a 4-year contract extension five days ago. This benefits the team in two ways. First, they lock up one of the up-and-coming Strong Safeties in the NFL for a deal that in all reality, is very team-friendly. Secondly, if I am understanding the details of the contract correctly, Tyvon’s cap hit for the year will be $2.4 million dollars. That is $3.7 million dollars less than the franchise tender he was signed to previously. Before Branch’s contract extension, the Raiders had $1.34 million dollars in cap space. The Raiders approximately have $4.5 million dollars in cap space now. That’s enough money to sign rookies Tony Bergstrom and Juron Criner to long-term deals, it also frees up the money to sign 1 to 3 players . Here are 5 free agents I think would provide upgrades on the Raiders roster.
Aubrayo Franklin, Defensive Tackle
Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, and Desmond Bryant are quality Defensive Tackles, but they are not Nose Tackle material. Aubrayo Franklin had a breakout year in 2010 with the San Francisco 49ers. After the 2010 season, he signed a one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints. During his 2011-2012 season with the Saints, he didn’t have much success. He struggled to make an impact while on field and the Saints opted not to re-sign him once he played out the duration of his contract. I believe the Saints used Aubrayo Franklin incorrectly. Gregg Williams tried to use Aubrayo Franklin as a pass-rusher in his defense more than he should have. Franklin’s strong suit is stopping the run. I think it would pay huge dividends. The Raiders could use him as the Nose Tackle in Jason Tarver’s 3-4 sets, and he could take Tommy Kelly’s spot on run-downs . It would give the Raiders the force they need to stop the run in the middle of the D-line.
E.J. Henderson, Middle Linebacker
With Rolando McClain’s poor play and legal situation, it’s important we get get a veteran presence at Middle Linebacker. I do like Travis Goethel, but it remains to be seen if he is fully recovered from his torn ACL from last preseason. Also, it would allow Goethel to move over to Outside Linebacker, providing much needed depth at Outside Linebacker. Knockout two birds with one stone. E.J. Henderson isn’t the same player he was 4-years ago, but he’s still a solid player. It’s highly unlikely Rolando McClain will be suspended this year (seeing his trial isn’t for another year), but if Rolando crashes and burns like he did last year we will need a veteran ‘backer to take his spot in the defense.
Deon Grant, Strong Safety
A backup at Strong Safety isn’t the biggest need on the Raiders’ roster, but it wouldn’t hurt to get a proven veteran behind Tyvon Branch. According to Michael Huff, the Raiders have a “real” defense now. By “real” I am assuming that he means that the Raiders will not run exclusive man-to-man coverage schemes with a single-high Safety. Unless Mike Mitchell can adapt quickly, he isn’t a good fit in the new defense. He can occasionally lock-down a Tight End playing man-to-man, but that is the extent of his game. I used to be a big fan of Mike Mitchell, I got caught up in the hype after he shutdown Jermichael Finley last year. Deon Grant is a 12-year veteran. He had a great year last year playing in sub packages and backing-up Kenny Philips. He is still serviceable in coverage and is a solid run defender. He is also a good blitzer for a Safety, which will prove to be useful in Jason Tarver’s sub packages.
James Hall, Defensive End
James Hall isn’t the youngest player in the world, but he’s still a serviceable pass rusher. Matt Shaugnessy is a solid pass-rusher at the Right End spot, but Lamarr Houston isn’t great at rushing the Quarterback. He isn’t horrible, he gets some pressures and pushes the pocket, but he doesn’t finish the deal with the sack. James Hall wouldn’t be the starter, but he could come in on third down and rush the Quarterback. He would provide some nice depth at Defensive End. He was able to get 6 Sacks last year splitting time with Robert Quinn. His signing would help keep Shaugnessy and Houston fresh (James Hall can play on the left or right side). We could sign Hall for a veteran minimum contract and it wouldn’t be a huge risk. If it looks like he isn’t able to perform at a decent level anymore, we can cut him.
Keyaron Fox, Middle Linebacker/Special Teams
Keyaron Fox is a relatively unheard of player. He is a passable reserve Middle Linebacker, which the Raiders have a need for. He isn’t a bad ‘backer, just relatively unspectacular. His main value, in my opinion, is his special teams coverage. The Raiders’ punt and kickoff coverage has been terrible for the past 3 seasons. When you have a Kicker like Sebastian Janikowski and a Punter like Shane Lechler, teams offenses should start their drive in their own 20 yard-line 85% of the time. That didn’t happen because the coverage teams have been bested constantly. Last season the Oakland Raiders were 26th in the league in opponent’s kickoff return average at 25.7 yards per return. The Raiders were dead last in opponents punt return yardage at 13.3 yards per return. Keyaron Fox was the Special Teams captain on the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2009 through 2010. I think he could be the leader the coverage teams need. He showed last year in Washington he is still an excellent Special Teams player. Not the most sexy name on the market, but I think Keyaron Fox would prove to be more useful than James Farrior.
These are all players I feel could really help boost depth on the Oakland Raiders’ roster. They should all be relatively cheap as well. If their monetary demands are too high for the time being, we can wait until training camp starts. By then, they should be more willing to play for the veteran minimum.
Agree? Disagree? Please leave a comment below telling me why, or why you don’t agree with me. If you disagree with me, feel free to post the names of some free agents you believe should be on the Raiders’ radar on the section below.