When the Oakland Raiders dived into free agency Wednesday, they splashed into the bargain bin and grabbed a trio of players who were injured in 2012.
It’s for other NFL teams this year to go after the big names and dish out the big contracts. For the Raiders this off-season, every move must be made with an eye on dollars and sense. And by signing players coming off injury seasons, the Raiders are buying low but aiming high.
With so many holes to fill, especially on defense, general manager Reggie McKenzie is looking for top value for less-than top dollar.
McKenzie’s first acquisitions this week were former Browns linebacker Kaluka Maiava, former Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims and former Lions defensive end Jason Hunter, who also previously played for the Packers and Broncos.
In a statement, McKenzie said what would be expected, that, “We’re excited to add three veterans through free agency, helping to create depth and competition on defense.”
He said the Raiders will continue to add free agents as “the opportunity surfaces.”
Maiava, a former standout at USC, is projected to emerge as a starter at linebacker in 2013, probably in the place of departed Philip Wheeler. Hunter could be a situational pass rusher.
It is Sims, however, who might emerge as the biggest piece of the triple signing, and not just because the 6-foot-2, 335-pounder – a former third-round pick out of Auburn in 2008 – is larger than his two new teammates.
Sims, when healthy, has proven he’s an excellent defensive tackle against the run. Though he’s not much of a pass rusher, with just five sacks in 60 games, he’s been a rock against rushing attacks. In 2010, Sims was rated by Pro Football Focus as the best defensive lineman against the rush on the Bengals roster. Sims, with his size and strength, doesn’t make a lot of tackles – in his only full season, 2009, he made 34 in 16 games – but he takes on blockers, clogs the lanes and allows his teammates to get to the ball-carrier. On a Raiders team that gave up big yards on the ground in 2012, Sims could prove to be a very valuable player up front.
Sims’ trouble has been injuries. He played just eight games in 2012 because of a hamstring injury, missed five games in 2011, two in 2010 and five in 2008, his rookie season.
Bill Williamson, who covers the AFC West for ESPN.com, wrote, “Scouts like Sims, who started one game last season and who is injury prone. But he has talent.”
Sims’ signing also was praised by CBS Sports’ Senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco, who wrote: “When he was on the field he was a power player who has his best football in front of him. The Raiders got him on a one-year deal, so he will be motivated. I like this move a lot.”
For the Raiders, getting Sims is a low-risk, high-reward, short-tenure move, the kind McKenzie is forced to make with the team’s salary structure and while he tries to rebuild the franchise through the draft. For now, Sims is a one-year place-holder, but he could be part of the longer-term picture if he can stay healthy.