The Oakland Raiders didn’t have a choice. With the spending floor forcing them to dish out some large contracts this offseason, the Raiders knew they’ve have to chase some top-tier free agents. And on the first day of the new league year, Oakland smartly did exactly that by adding Pro Bowl-caliber impact players on both sides of the ball.
To be clear, Oakland was already a pretty good football team with a solid foundation. Derek Carr, Latavius Murray and Amari Cooper make up one hell of an offensive trio. They’ll build around those guys on offense. Ditto for Khalil Mack on defense.
After winning four or fewer games in three straight seasons, they took a big step forward with a seven-win 2015 campaign and were likely to move into playoff contention regardless of what happened this offseason. Now, a team that holds two of the top 45 picks in the 2016 draft has added arguably the best offensive lineman and arguably the best pass rusher available in free agency.
And the key to both signings was versatility.
Not only could new front-seven defender Bruce Irvin — who signed a four-year, $37 million contract with $19 million guaranteed on Wednesday — excel as an edge-rusher, but the former first-round pick can defend the run and the pass as an outside linebacker. They can move him all over the place and shift his assignments and responsibilities, which gives them a chance to let Mack — a first-team All-Pro at the age of 24 — do his thing.
Meanwhile, Kelechi Osemele — who signed a five-year, $58.5 million deal — has been dominant as both a guard and tackle. He’s got the speed and strength to hold it down on the blind side edge and the size to rock out at left or right guard. The 26-year-old put together Pro Bowl-caliber seasons for the Ravens in 2014 and 2015, and he should only get better with more stability in Oakland.
The Raiders averaged just 3.9 yards per carry on the ground last season and were graded 19th by Football Outsiders in terms of run blocking. The pass protection was strong, but you can never have too many good blockers with a young quarterback, and Donald Penn and J’Marcus Webb are both free agents.
Despite a losing record, the Raiders were analytically strong in 2015. With so many weapons, Pro Football Focus graded them as the ninth-best team in football and Football Outsiders ranked them 14th. With Irvin and Osemele joining the fray and the rest of the AFC West in various degrees of disarray, it looks like it could be time for Oakland to make a run at its first playoff appearance since 2002.