Linebacker Tahir Whitehead has had an up-and-down couple of seasons with the Raiders since arriving via free agency from the Lions before the 2018 season.
Whitehead, 29, is an eight-year NFL veteran and a tackling machine. In his two seasons with the Raiders, he has a combined 168 tackles, four fumble recoveries, an interception and six passes defensed.
But during that tenure, Whitehead also has been critiqued for his play. Critics argue he’s poor in pass coverage and isn’t a playmaker in terms of sacks or turnovers.
And, as this past season progressed, Whitehead saw less playing time.
So, as the team figures out ways to get better this offseason while also staying under the salary cap, it’s possible the Raiders could release Whitehead.
Whitehead goes into the third and final year of his deal and will make $5.95 million in base salary, a big jump from his first- and second-year salaries of $3.1 million and $2.95 million. Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group wrote this week that by releasing Whitehead, the Raiders could save as much as $6.25 million in salary-cap space.
“Given his reduced role late in the season, the release of … Whitehead seems imminent,” wrote McDonald.
Head coach Jon Gruden has stood up for Whitehead’s play in the past, especially to critics who point out his bad pass-coverage stats. Much of that damage, Gruden has argued, come against quick screens, which are difficult for any linebacker to cover well.
“You know what, he’s been a good linebacker,” Gruden said this season. “He’s been a good nickel linebacker in the league for a long time.”
Still, saving more than $6 million on a player who didn’t play as prominent a role as he did the previous season could be a smart move for the Raiders and allow them to bring in another veteran linebacker with more skills.