The Raiders have some big decisions to make over the next few weeks about whether to re-sign key performers who are entering free agency.
Will they keep left tackle Donald Penn? It may be the biggest question. Will they retain punter Marquette King? There seems little doubt.
But there are other role players who are pending unrestricted free agents that may be attractive to keep – players who didn’t come into the league with much acclaim. Players such as backup defensive end Denico Autry.
Autry, a 6-foot-5, 273-pounder, was signed by general manager Reggie McKenzie as an undrafted free agent from Mississippi State in May of 2014.
He played in 10 games in 2014 and was in on 13 tackles. In 2015, he played a much bigger role, appearing in 14 games and starting eight following the injury to veteran Justin Tuck. He made a big statement, coming up with three sacks and was in on 22 tackles, including one for a safety, while also batting down three passes.
With the retirement of Tuck and some uncertainty about Mario Edwards Jr.’s health, it seems likely that McKenzie will want to retain Autry if the price is right. Autry has proven he can put pressure on quarterbacks. In two years at Mississippi State, he had six sacks and three forced fumbles, along with 73 tackles.
Autry, 25, certainly shouldn’t be expensive – although he should get a raise. He made $510,000 in 2015 after a first-season deal for $247,058, according to Spotrac.com.
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio became a fan of Autry’s after seeing what he could do in a larger role.
“Denico was not a surprise,” he told reporters this past season. “He was a guy that when we came into camp it was hopeful that he would compete and do the things he’s been able to do. He flashed occasionally on tape from last year. He’s a big, athletic guy and he’s got a great work ethic. He’s a young man that’s really worked hard and embraced all the different challenges that we’ve thrown at him and he’s done a nice job.”
Plus, as Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in December, Autry wants to stay in silver and black. Tweeted Tafur: “Autry has proved to the rest of the NFL he can play. Plans to re-sign with #Raiders. What about testing his market value? ‘I don’t care about that.’ ”