Oakland Raiders

Why the Raiders must focus on defense in free agency

Free agent DE Greg Hardy has 26 sacks over the last two seasons.

Free agent DE Greg Hardy has 26 sacks over the last two seasons.

The Raiders will enter the 2014 offseason without a clear starter at quarterback, running back, at least two offensive line positions or a true No. 1 wide receiver. But even with all of those questions that need to be answered on offense, general manager Reggie McKenzie would be wise to focus his attention on the defensive side of the ball first and foremost.

When you look at the key positions of need on offense, only one player truly stands out. In NFL.com’s list of the top 25 free agents, Jimmy Graham holds the top spot … and he isn’t coming to Oakland. The rest of the list includes only five other offensive players: three left tackles — Branden Albert (7), Eugene Monroe (11), and the Raiders’ own Jared Veldheer (15) — a center (Alex Mack, ranked 18th) and one wide receiver (Eric Decker, 19th).

The same, however, cannot be said of the defensive side of the ball.

The cornerback market is flush, with seven players in NFL.com’s top 25, and there are a lot of quality defensive ends available as well (including Lamarr Houston, who’s listed at No. 9 overall). Plus, unlike on offense where individuals tend to shine more often, it is much easier for a defense to be greater than the sum of its parts than it is for an offense.

The Raiders have the opportunity to build the foundation for a dominant defense in free agency and do so without too much concern for making mistakes. There are a lot of quality players who may not be cheap, but who won’t be a huge risk either.

In addition, if McKenzie is able to make some big signings on defense it will minimize the need to score big in the draft, something McKenzie has had problems with in his first two chances. If McKenzie tries to play it safe and not spend too much in free agency while relying on guys taken in the draft, the Raiders could find themselves in a world of hurt.

You have to work with what has been given to you and that is what McKenzie has been doing by fixing the Raiders’ cap problems. But with the current state of the free agency market, McKenzie would be well served to go against how things were traditionally done in Green Bay and spend more freely — on the defensive side, anyway.

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