The Raiders are expected to be active when the NFL’s free-agency period opens Thursday afternoon.
Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie has indicated he particularly is interested in strengthening the interior of his defense — at tackle and inside linebacker — and getting more stout against the run while also providing more interior pass-rush pressure.
And while there’s been a lot of speculation that McKenzie may have a focus on New England Patriots' inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower as No. 1 on his wish list, some other, lower-priced interior linebackers may also fit the Raiders’ needs. In fact, with much lower price tags, they could be an even better fit.
Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report wrote Wednesday that because the Raiders need to use much of their money under the salary cap to provide new deals to stars Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, the Raiders may reach into “the free-agent bargain bin” to address their defensive needs.
Moton lists inside linebackers Kevin Minter of Arizona, Zach Brown of Buffalo and Keenan Robinson of the New York Giants as more affordable options than Hightower. Each could provide excellent value. Minter, he wrote, is an excellent coverage linebacker who would upgrade the Raiders’ defense against tight ends, a weak spot the past couple of seasons. He’s still just 26 and is ranked as the league’s 25th best inside linebacker by the analytic website Pro Football Focus. Buffalo’s Brown is ranked 17th among inside linebackers and may be an even better coverage linebacker than Minter, Moton wrote. He had four sacks, four passes defensed and one interception in 2016. The Bills signed him to a one-year deal for 2016 at just $1.2 million, so he could be very affordable. New York’s Robinson isn’t great against the run, but is also solid in pass coverage, Moton wrote.
Kevin Saito of Golden Gate Sports also pointed to Buffalo’s Brown as a possible McKenzie signing. Brown is coming off a Pro Bowl season for the Bills in which he was in on 149 tackles. Brown was expected to be a backup in 2016, but jumped into the starting lineup because of an injury and exceeded all expectations. With Oakland, he could continue to thrive, especially if the team upgrades in front of him at defensive tackle in the draft.
“Though most see Hightower as Oakland’s Plan A heading into free agency, perhaps the smarter play is to target Zach Brown instead,” wrote Saito.