NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2022 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 16 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official now. The first round of the 2022 NFL draft begins April 28 on ESPN.
With NFL free agency beginning, the Raiders have specific needs at cornerback, receiver, offensive line and backup quarterback. And with a new regime of general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, the Silver and Black suddenly have a certain Patriot Way about them.
The Raiders and Jones have agreed to terms on a reported three-year deal worth more than $51 million.
What it means: The Raiders pair a proven pass-rusher in the two-time first-team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler in Jones with an up-and-coming edge rusher and foundation piece in Maxx Crosby, who just signed a $95 million extension. They also traded defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin in a separate deal. With a QB-rich AFC West — Russell Wilson is now in Denver (Jones has sacked Wilson 16.5 times in his career) along with Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City and Justin Herbert with the Los Angeles Chargers — pass-rushers are at a premium in the division. And the Raiders adding a guy with 107.5 career sacks in 10 seasons can only help.
What’s the risk: Jones is 32 and has already played in 139 games in his career. Five of his 10.5 sacks last year came in the season opener and he only had 2.5 combined sacks in the Cardinals’ last six games. How much does he have left in the tank? Of course, there is a New England connection with the Raiders’ new regime and Jones having spent the first four seasons of his career with the Patriots, so there is familiarity. He skipped OTAs and minicamp last offseason after not getting a contract extension, so we will see how happy he is with a new team and new deal.
The Raiders and Averett have agreed to terms on a 1-year, $4.5 million contract, per profootballnetwork.com.
What it means: Depth, competition and experience for the Raiders at a prime position of need. Averett is coming off a season in which he started a career-best 14 games for the Ravens and picked off the first three passes of his career while playing 90% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps. He should compete with Rock Ya-Sin for a starting gig opposite Trayvon Mullen Jr., who might also have to fight for his job after playing in just five games last season. Add backup Darius Phillips and slot corner Nate Hobbs and Las Vegas has revamped its cornerback corps, seemingly for the better.
What’s the risk: Averett, 27, reverts to playing like a backup — he had started just seven of his previous 30 games — as does Ya-Sin while Mullen can’t get right and the Raiders’ cornerback makeover is an exercise in futility. Yeah, that Damon Arnette pick would still haunt the Raiders. Not saying that’s going to happen at all, but you asked about risk, right? Averett seems to be ascending, and with the money Las Vegas is paying him and giving up pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue for Ya-Sin, the Raiders believe they have improved at cornerback. Stay tuned.
The Raiders and Nichols agreed to terms on a two-year contract worth $11 million, with $9 million guaranteed, a source confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: With so many of their own defensive tackles also free agents, the Raiders got a plug-and-play interior defensive lineman who has experience not only in a 3-4 scheme but as a nose tackle in said alignment. Yes, new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has said the 3-4 vs. 4-3 conversation is outdated, but he has primarily leaned on 3-4 tendencies and the 6-foot-3, 302-pound Nichols can occupy gaps. Nichols, a fifth-round draft pick of the Bears out of Delaware in 2018, has started 49 of 60 career games, including 15 of 17 last season, and has 11 sacks and 31 QB hits. He should be a Day 1 starter for the Raiders’ new regime.
What’s the risk: Standing pat. As noted earlier, the Raiders have five — FIVE! — defensive tackles who are UFAs in starters Johnathan Hankins and Quinton Jefferson, backups Solomon Thomas and Darius Philon and even Gerald McCoy, who was lost for the year in the season opener to a knee injury. So, yeah, Las Vegas needs bodies at the position, and bad. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus had Nichols as one of its most overrated free-agent interior defensive linemen. Still, Nichols’ contract is not outrageous and gives the Raiders flexibility to make more moves here. They need to.
The Raiders and Hollins have agreed to terms on a one-year deal, though financials have not yet been revealed.
What it means: With Zay Jones off to Jacksonville, the Raiders find a potential No. 3 receiver and remain on the hunt for a true No. 1. The only established wideouts on the roster are (checks notes) Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards and … that’s it. Hollins may not excite many fans — he started 5 of 38 games in two years with the Dolphins — but he is a worker who averaged 15.9 yards per catch on his 14 receptions last season and scored four touchdowns. Solid, but not spectacular.
What’s the risk: None, really, so long as not a lot is expected of him. And that’s no dig. Hollins is the guy who caught the 34-yard prayer from Ryan Fitzpatrick, with Arden Key tugging at his facemask, late to set the Dolphins up for an improbable win at Las Vegas in 2020. Grit your teeth, Raider Nation.
Darius Phillips, cornerback
The Raiders and Phillips agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth $2.25 million, a source told ESPN.
What it means: Not exactly the splashiest of signings, but a needed one for depth and, well, special teams. Sure, the Raiders had been linked to front-line corners such as J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore so to first reach an agreement with Phillips, who last started a game in 2020 and went on IR with a shoulder injury after 12 games last season, seems like a meh moment for the Raiders’ new regime. But Phillips was more of a returner in 2021, averaging 21.1 yards on eight kickoff returns and 7.1 yards on 25 punt returns. And he should take over punt return duties from receiver Hunter Renfrow, who caught 103 passes for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
What’s the risk: Phillips’ shoulder is not healed and he is unable to lift the punt return burden from Pro Bowl slot man Renfrow, who needs to stay healthy himself. Plus, if Phillips is starting at corner opposite Trayvon Mullen Jr., that means the Raiders swung and missed at getting an established cornerback in free agency. Still, Phillips did pick off a career-best four passes in eight games, with one start, in 2019 for the Bengals, who drafted him in the fourth round out of Western Michigan in 2018. So he has a nose for the ball.
The Raiders and Johnson have agreed to terms on a 1-year contract, his agent tells ESPN.
What it means: Familiarity breeds … content? Welcome in, then, the first former Patriots offensive player to jump ship from New England to Las Vegas. And who said coach Josh McDaniels never used a fullback as New England’s playcaller? True, he has yet to record an NFL carry after three years in the league, but Johnson has caught 13 passes for 83 yards and a TD in his career. The days of the fullback-inspired ‘Spider 2 Y Banana’ are a relic of Raiders past, but McDaniels should be able to utilize Johnson in his, ahem, content of plays, right?
What’s the risk: McDaniels let fan favorite and team captain Alec Ingold, who tore an ACL last season, walk in free agency and he signed with Miami, so unless Johnson is better than Ingold, there remains a risk of side-eyes galore. As mentioned above, Johnson’s next rushing attempt will be his first, so keep that in mind if and when that happens and the ball security that could come from it. At least Johnson is known for his pass blocking.