Ultimate guide to Raiders free agent contenders

The Raiders have more roster holes to fill than a rose garden infiltrated by gophers, but have plenty of cash to fill them.

Since settling with quarterback Derek Carr, the puzzle has become relatively simplified. Defensive tackle (tackle, being one of the things the Raiders couldn’t do) could be upgraded, as can middle linebacker.

Oakland wanted Nick Roach to be the signal caller on defense, but after sustaining a severe concussion during the 2014 preseason, it appears that his career may be over.

Wide receiver, tight end, offensive lineman, running back and defensive back all need to be upgraded to stand a chance in the AFC West.

Here’s a breakdown of players who can meet team needs:

Middle Linebacker

Brandon SpikesMason FosterRolando McClain

Brandon Spikes A two-down thumper, Spikes doesn’t carry all the traits desired in a franchise middle linebacker. But he’s a significantly better player than Miles Burris, who replaced Roach in 2014.

Mason Foster Another guy who has potential, but not anything worth drooling over. Foster is young, 25, and could become a big-time steal. But that’s all hypothetical at this point.

Rolando McClain This may be the only time in 2015 that McClain will be linked to the Raiders in free agency by a professional writer. But he’s got the talent. And he owes Oakland a mea culpa.

Defensive Tackle

Ndamukong SuhTerrance KnightonB.J. Raji

Ndamukong Suh This one even my mother knows. Forget about the reputation, Suh is a guy you want on your team.

Terrance Knighton It’s become a foregone conclusion Knighton will be coming to Oakland, especially after he told reporters that he’s following Jack Del Rio anywhere. But would he sign for cheap? Questionable.

B.J. Raji Raji was drafted in large part because Reggie McKenzie thought he was good when he worked for Green Bay. Raji is a premiere run-stuffer, but not a good pass rusher. Given the difficulties versus the run last season, Oakland might benefit from this.

Wide Receiver

Randall CobbJeremy MaclinTorrey SmithMike Wallace

Randall Cobb There’s no certainty that Cobb will even be available by mid-March. But he’s among the best of anyone possibly hitting the market.

Jeremy Maclin After signing a one-year prove-it deal, Maclin posted career numbers. He’s the best free agent wide receiver as talent goes, but his injury history begs questioning. Should he remain healthy, though, a no-doubt game breaker.

Torrey Smith He’s perennially disappointing, but that’s not all on him. He’s only 26, and is polished. Fast and agile, Smith could be one of the best slot receivers in football for years. He just needs the right situation.

*Mike Wallace Not yet a free agent, Wallace’s massive contract with Miami could be restructured. But if not, he’ll likely be cut. Wallace has all the talent in the world, and has enjoyed a solid career. It’s not slowing down as much as many think, either.

Note: Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are not on this list because they will not hit free agency. If they did, they’d dominate this section. But it’s not going to happen.

Tight End

Julius ThomasCharles Clay

Julius Thomas It’s looking as though Thomas will become a free agent, something that seemed unthinkable at the onset of 2014. He’s one of two free agent tight ends who could really open up the Oakland offense in a major way.

Charles Clay The only other free agent tight end with big play potential, Clay boasts some of the best under-the-radar stats in the league. And at 26, it’s likely that his best years are ahead of him.

Center

Rodney Hudson Hudson would be an upgrade over Stefen Wisniewski, and could prove invaluable in the run game. Fans might not know the name, but Hudson is this year’s Alex Mack.

Tackle – Guard

Brian BulagaMike IupatiJoe BarksdaleOrlando Franklin

Brian Bulaga Another former McKenzie draft pick, Bulaga is only 25, and becoming very good. There’s no doubt the Raiders need a long term tackle, whether it be right or left. Why not spend the money?

Mike Iupati Another major upgrade in the trenches, the 27-year-old can bulldoze in the run game, and dance with the likes of J.J. Watt. It would be silly not to make a deep run at the all-pro guard.

Joe Barksdale A young tackle, who has played very well, Barksdale has his best games ahead of him. The 26-year old is an advanced run blocker, and can play on either end of the line.

Orlando Franklin Formerly with Denver, Franklin is another big-time run blocker. Enough said?

Running back

Demarco MurrayC.J. SpillerAhmad Bradshaw

Demarco Murray The Raiders are in no position to not roll the dice here. Murray has tremendous ability, and for this scenario, is worth over-paying for. At least in the short term.

C.J. Spiller It’s hard to define what went wrong with Spiller. He’s lightening quick, and has agility. He’d be cheap, for sure, and has the package to make a big comeback. Whether he will, though, is questionable.

Ahmad Bradshaw Yeah, he’ll probably succumb to injury for a portion of the season. But when he’s healthy, he’s among the best in the league. The Raiders need that.

Cornerback

Darrelle RevisByron MaxwellBuster Skrine

Darrelle Revis Does it get any better? The answer is yes, but the examples are few. Revis is the best old-man in the game right now, and while he’s not his 2011 self, he’s still a top 10 defensive back.

Byron Maxwell Potentially the best overall package corner in free agency, the 27-year-old also benefited from a ferocious Seattle pass rush, which kept him from chasing guys all over the field. Is he as good as his tape? Or just lucky?

Buster Skrine Only 25 years old, Skrine is this author’s favorite defensive back in free agency, even with Revis. Skrine is a little smaller than most receivers, but has mastered his craft and made up for what he lacks.

Other notablesKareem Jackson, Davon House, Brandon Flowers, Walter Thurmond III and Shareece Wright.

Safety

Devin McCourtyRahim MooreMarcus Gilchrist

Devin McCourty — It’s shocking that McCourty hasn’t been extended a proverbial olive branch by New England yet. It’d be shocking if it doesn’t happen. But it’s looking more feasible by the day. McCourty is the best cover safety in the league. And he’s not slowing down.

Rahim Moore — Should McCourty be retained, Moore will become the best safety on the market, and he’s definitely hitting the market. Moore tied for most interceptions in Denver last season, and is only 25. That’s solid.

Marcus Gilchrist — Gilchrist, 26, is a fairly good player. He isn’t the best cover-safety, but is an above average tackler with time to improve. Would be a terrific backup.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.