Raiders options for round 2 of free agency

Since Reggie McKenzie took over as Raiders personnel manager, the team has done some solid things after the “frenzy” wave of free agency.

There was the signing of tackle Donald Penn, who still remains a viable candidate to return. Defensive end Justin Tuck came around a few days after several teams burned their resources.

Tarrell Brown was another guy who played an important role for the team when he signed in 2014.

March of 2015 was different, though, with nine players signed to deals within hours of the opening bell. And now that Oakland has fewer needs, and a promising roster, the team could be entering a terrific period.

Time to slow play those suited connectors with straight flush possibilities.

Here’s a look at some players who could make an impact, and at very cap friendly prices, once week two begins.

Defensive back

Cornerback Marcus Cooper has been nothing short of up and down. A day three pick of the 49ers in 2013, he was released during his rookie year, and later signed by Kansas City.

Cooper logged three picks and 21 passes defensed in his rookie season, and in only six starts. But hasn’t started a game since, which is reflected in his stat sheet.

It’s tough not to look at the situation and wonder what the hell went wrong. Surely there was a place to earn reps. Did he say some things that didn’t help his cause? Was it that he was injured just enough to where he couldn’t be effective? Was his rookie season just a fluke?

While the term “fluke” is silly to use, there’s certainly some reason that Cooper never got another nod. But it doesn’t have to be a good one. This is a player who probably won’t cost much, and has the potential to make a nice impact.

Cornerback Josh Robinson doesn’t seem likely to return to Minnesota. And while he didn’t excel with the Vikings, he’s shown improvement every year. Make no mistake: this is a not a guy any team would sign as an upgrade. But he’s depth, and given his improvement over the last two years, could breakout given the right opportunity.

He ran a 4.33 40 yard dash at the combine, and was among the best defenders when it came to twitchy workouts. He’s just not a guy who has shown a knack for man coverage. Used the right way, this is a player who could be very good.

Safety Reggie Nelson is perhaps the most shocking name to not be heard thus far in all of free agency. He earned the fourth best coverage grade of any safety during 2015, per Pro Football Focus, and seems to have a lot left.

After all, Pro Football Focus graded Charles Woodson as the best coverage safety last season, and he was the oldest defensive back in the league.

Nelson could add that same veteran savvy, with the ability to tackle well, and maybe even be a player coach to Oakland’s Keith McGill, who I have always viewed as a potential top flight safety.

Offensive tackle

Incumbent starter Donald Penn is still the favorite to line up on the left side of Oakland’s offensive front this season.

He’s exceptional in several ways, and is worth more to Oakland than any other team. His experience with quarterback Derek Carr is important. They know how one-another moves with certain pressures, and Penn has an internal clock which tells him when the ball is going to be thrown.

But there’s always the chance he doesn’t return, as unlikely as it seems now, the situation does feel familiar to how the Raiders lost Jared Veldheer.

Left tackle Kelvin Beachum tore up his knee this last offseason, and anything like that is hard to come back from. Just ask Eugene Monroe.

But Beachum is young, and is about as good of a tackle as you can find on this market. The Raiders will naturally have a shot to draft a tackle, but known commodities are usually better.

Swing tackle Byron Bell has played through stormy weather since signing as an undrafted free agent with Tennessee. With no quarterback that teams respect, and no top running back talent, Bell is tough to scrutinize.

Pro Football Focus grades will lead a horse to drink contaminated water. Bell’s grades are poor, but do not reflect constant pressures and a total lack of offensive support.

I like this guy, but it’s important to note that nobody truly knows what they’re getting. Not a soul.

Running back

Arian Foster and Alfred Morris, because what have you got to lose here? Both come with clear downsides, Foster’s extreme usage and injury history, and Morris’ value as a one trick pony.

And while I always liked Helu more than Morris in Washington, I’ve heard from various football people throughout the league that I am well into the minority there. So maybe I’m wrong.

And Maybe the Raiders should kick the tires on these two horses as complimentary backs to Latavius Murray. At worst, both are quality backups.


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.