The past two offseasons, the Raiders have leaned toward signing offensive talent during free agency. But 2020 is a new year, and the Silver and Black are prioritizing the defensive side of the ball, which must have defensive coordinator Paul Guenther grinning like a kid in a candy store.
Over the first few days of free agency, General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden have acquired a handful of players who should thrive in Guenther's 4-3 scheme, including a pair of young linebackers who will take control of the system. Guenther is having his prayers answered this offseason, but so is recently hired defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
On February 5, the Silver and Black made their deal with Marinelli official, deciding to part ways with Brentson Buckner — who did an admirable job in his first year, but when you can get a pass-rush mastermind like Marinelli you have to.
Marinelli's coaching style demands relentless hustle, no excuses, and a constant pursuit of the quarterback; all of which should help Maxx Crosby flourish; however, during the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Mayock wasn't shy about trying to light a fire under some of Crosby's teammates.
"We got a new defensive line coach coming in and trust me, Rod Marinelli doesn't put up with anything but 100 percent hustle," Mayock said pointedly. "Nothing but. So, I think all the defensive linemen are going to have a challenge this year. Every single one of them."
Mayock, Gruden, Guenther, and Marinelli want players who love the game of football and bring it on every snap. So, after signing linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, who did the Raiders' front office target? A pair of ruthless pass rushers.
First, the team signed defensive lineman Maliek Collins, a 24-year-old run-stopper, weighing in at 284 pounds, he utilizes his size to gain leverage at the line of scrimmage and raw athleticism to blow by slower interior guards. Run-stopping has been an issue for Guenther's unit the last two seasons, but if you watch Collins' tape he should help with that in a big way. According to Pro Football Focus, Maliek had 48 quarterback pressures last season, which would've led the Raiders' defense. He's also added seven sacks over the last two years.
Tuesday, during a conference call with the media, Mayock touched on the addition of Collins.
"Collins, Rod [Marinelli] coached him last year and jumped up on the table in support of what this kid can be," he said.
There's no need to rehash the team's sack woes from two seasons ago, and while the numbers improved statistically, the Raiders are hoping to develop a more-improved inside pass rush in 2020. The signing of Collins is a great first step and do you know what I like the most? He's young.
In addition to Collins, the Raiders signed 26-year-old defensive end Carl Nassib, who's coming off back-to-back seasons in Tampa Bay with six sacks. Nassib's signing probably means veteran defensive end Benson Mayowa won't return to the team; although, I've been wrong many times before. Nassib has never eclipsed six-and-a-half sacks in a season, but Mayock and Gruden felt comfortable enough to extend a three-year deal his way, per NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport.
"Carl Nassib plays just like [Clelin] Ferrell and [Maxx] Crosby," Mayock added. "He's 6'6", 275 pounds, will get off the ball with three long, powerful, tough defensive ends, and he'll fit right in."
The Raiders wasted no time bolstering the defense in free agency and I feel their work is far from over. With two first-round picks and three third-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, there's plenty of reason to believe they add more foundational pieces. What Mayock and Gruden have been able to accomplish in one year of working together has been impressive.
Take a look at photos of new Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib in action. During his four-year career with the Buccaneers and Browns, Nassib has totaled 115 tackles, 40 quarterback hits, and 3 forced fumbles.