Cornerback Aqib Talib, if he goes into free agency, might be of interest to the Raiders. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
In 2012, the Oakland Raiders allowed an average of 27.7 points per game, the fifth-worst scoring defense in the NFL, and allowed 5.7 yards per play, 10th-worst in the league.
There’s no question that one of general manager Reggie McKenzie’s primary goals this offseason is to bring in more talent to give head coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver a better chance defensively in 2013.
After the season, McKenzie said he was encouraged by the way the Oakland defense improved over the final quarter of the schedule, but he knows the team’s success rests largely on its defense.
“We just have to continue to improve and upgrade what we need to and we’ll get better,” he told the Bay Area media in mid-January.
There are countless ways to improve the defense, but this week, ESPN’s AFC West blogger Bill Williamson proposed this scenario for a two-pronged fix.
In his post on “Dream free-agent pairings” in the division, he suggested that Patriots free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib would be the perfect addition.
“He is troubled, but he is talented,” Williamson wrote of Talib. “We saw the impact Talib had in New England (this past season). … Cornerback is Oakland’s greatest need. Getting Talib in free agency … and a pass rusher with the No. 3 overall pick would go a long way to fix this defense.”
Williamson notes, however, that affording Talib would be the problem (if the Patriots choose not to sign him). The Raiders are over the salary cap and face plenty of offseason questions about how best to re-sign their own key free agents (while also restructuring deals of players under contract to free more cap space).
Yet if the Raiders can add a solid cornerback, move Michael Huff back to safety and get a strong pass rusher with their first-round pick, it would be a huge step toward a better defense in 2013.
Williamson’s assessment matches the opinion of Dan Hanzus of NFL,com, who this week wrote: “The Raiders have serious issues with their pass rush (31st in sacks), in the secondary (no true No. 1 cornerback) and at wide receiver (no 1,000-yard producer since 2005). This is a very deep draft class at defensive line, which should mean good news on one of those fronts.”
Even if the Raiders choose to trade down out of the No. 3 position to pick up additional picks, they would still be able to pick up defensive line help deeper in the first round.
Talib, of course, isn't the only free-agent option at cornerback. Other top-flight corners -- such as Brent Grimes of Atlanta and Chris Houston of Detroit -- could be available.
But Talib presents an interesting option. According to reports out of New England, the Patriots loved the way he played after coming over from Tampa Bay last season, but have concerns about off-the-field issues (including a suspension for violating the NFL rule on performance-enhancing substances) and his work ethic. Yet once he joined the team in a November deal, the Patriots defense improved significantly. Talib this past season made $1.825 million, but stands to make much more if he hits the free-agent market.
Talib told NFL.com recently that he’d like to stay in New England, but isn’t certain how his situation will be resolved. Of the Patriots’ three key free agents this offseason – Talib, wideout Wes Welker and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer – ESPN Boston writer Field Yates wrote this week that Talib is the best bet to depart via free agency.
If that’s the case, the Raiders may be interested – if the price is right.