To compete in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders will need to take some big steps in 2014 to challenge the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, each coming off playoff appearances.
Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie needed a big offseason to make it happen. Now, after appearing to trip and fall in the first days of the free-agent signing period, McKenzie appears to have recovered his stride.
Today the Raiders look much stronger than they were a week ago – especially on defense. And in their division, where they will have to contain strong quarterbacks in every game, a stronger defense will be the foundation for what the Raiders and McKenzie hope to do in 2014.
* The Raiders needed a stronger pass rush and brought in defensive ends Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith.
* They needed a solid cornerback and brought in former 49er Tarell Brown, who’s been a starter on San Francisco’s teams that have gone to three straight NFC Championship Games.
The Raiders still have more salary-cap room to play with, and more pieces to add on the defensive line and secondary, but it’s now obvious that McKenzie has been focusing on two areas to build on through free agency: the defense as a whole, and the offensive line.
The Raiders ranked 23rd overall in the NFL in total defense in 2013, giving up an average of 333.8 yards per game and were particularly vulnerable to the pass, ranking 24th in the league (208.8 yards per game).
The additions of Tuck, Woodley and Smith could go a long way toward making the Raiders a much better pass-rushing team and taking the pressure off the secondary.
Woodley, the 29-year-old former Steelers standout, could be a wild-card addition for the Raiders. Though he’s been troubled by injuries over the past few seasons, Woodley has 57 career sacks and has played for a Super Bowl champion. In Pittsburgh, he played left outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, but will now apparently be a defensive end in the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme, something he says he’s comfortable doing.
Scott Brown, who covers the Steelers for ESPN.com, wrote this week that Woodley, in fact, might thrive in a new environment and new role, with something to prove.
“The move might help him regain some of his pass-rushing mojo as Woodley won’t drop into coverage nearly as often as he did with the Steelers,” wrote Brown. “I like the signing for the Raiders, epecially if Woodley prepares and plays as if a fire has been lit under him. Did complacency set in afer he signed the six-year, $61.5 million deal in 2011? It sure seems that way, and maybe getting released is what Woodley needed to get his career back on track.”
If so, the Raiders defense will reap the rewards. And it appears McKenzie is far from done when it comes to adding even more talent around Woodley and the other defenders for 2014.