Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was proud of the progress his team made in 2016. Gaining a playoff berth and compiling a 12-4 regular-season record was no small task for a franchise that hadn’t been to the postseason since 2002.
But because he is who he is, McKenzie quickly turned his attention from 2016 to 2017 after the playoff loss in Houston. He knows the defense must improve if the Raiders are to get back to the playoffs and advance to a Super Bowl.
“We’re just going to have to improve in every area,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out the players, number one. We’re going to have some free agents and we’re going to have to overcome some injuries that we had late, but we should be OK with that.
“We feel like, each level, we need improvement. That’s D-line, linebackers and the DBs. We need to get better at all levels, we really do.”
Many Raiders observers believe the team’s focus should be on improving the interior of the defensive line and interior linebacker play.
Head coach Jack Del Rio suggested the defense needs to get more impact from its interior linemen.
“I didn’t feel like we got enough inside push,” said Del Rio. “That’s going to be an area for sure that we’re going to have to be better and do better.”
In many mock drafts, the Raiders are linked to Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell with the 24th overall pick. Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley also is seen as a possible selection at that spot.
Or, the Raiders could do what they’ve done in recent years and invest in a proven veteran free agent, just as they did with guard Kelechi Osemele in the 2016 offseason. The Raiders gave Osemele a whopping contract, but he paid huge dividends.
One such possible target is Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Should the Panthers allow Short to become a free agent, the Raiders could be ready to give him a huge contract. Short is ranked by the analytic website Pro Football Focus as the No. 3 interior defensive lineman in the NFL, and this past season had 55 tackles, six sacks, a forced fumble and three batted-down passes. In 2015, he had a career-high 11 sacks and three forced fumbles.
At just 28, Short (6-foot-3, 299 pounds) is in the prime of his career. He made just over $1 million this past season, but to keep him, the Panthers may have to use the franchise tag, which could cost them more than $13 million per season. If the Panthers decide to let him go, their loss could be the Raiders’ gain – and give them a huge boost defensively.
It might be a long shot, but if Short were to become available, McKenzie would figure to be an ardent suitor.