There are few players in NFL history who garner more respect than Raiders legend Howie Long.
For 13 years, Long lined up on the Raiders' defensive line and totaled 84 sacks, 10 fumble recoveries, and two interceptions over 151 starts — if anyone knows his stuff it's him. Following the 2018 season, the former defensive end, and now-analyst, knew the Silver and Black needed to improve in the trenches, but he was curious to see what recently hired General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden would do to resolve the problem in their first draft together.
"Well, I think there were a lot of things that had to get done," Long said. "I think you had to revamp a lot of positions, particularly on defense. I think the choices they made in the draft and free agency have paid off."
What he saw impressed him.
The Raiders improved defensively for myriad reasons, but most notably it was because of Clelin Ferrell who was selected with the No. 4 overall pick and Maxx Crosby who was taken No. 106 overall — the latter who was a hell of a steal in the fourth round. With those two anchoring the edge, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's unit took a major step forward as the rookie duo played with tenacity and fire, which stood out in the eyes of Long.
"Well, Crosby is an interesting guy," the NFL Hall of Famer started. "I said, golly, I think it was week four or week five… Crosby to me — I think he was a fourth rounder — he reminds me a lot of Jared Allen. He's like a big kind of flamingo with long arms, and I think he does what you want to see Ferrell do more of, which is just letting it loose. Instead of trying to be perfect, just cut it loose."
As Ferrell and Crosby became more comfortable with the speed and talent level on the professional stage, their game improved drastically. One of the things Coach Gruden emphasized all season was Crosby's effort and how Ferrell was constantly impacting plays even if they didn't show up in the stat sheet, but Long wants to see more; however, he wants to remind people that you have to give players time to develop as they acclimate to the NFL.
"It's a difficult transition [from college to the pros] and one of the things that's always been in my mind a hallmark of the organization is patience with young players, and that's hard to have," he said. "We're in an attention deficit society and we want it now. We want our second-round picks and our first-round picks to be great right now, but if that were the case when I got drafted we'd be in trouble. I think as an organization I think they're ready to take a step forward."
There were a lot of distractions in 2019, and mixed with the rookie learning curve, Long was encouraged by the level of play he saw from Crosby and Ferrell. Going forward, he's confident the Raiders are on the right track, and that the team will be able to complement the duo of "Salt 'N Pepa" with more talent in free agency.
"I think transitioning to Las Vegas with the cap room they have, and the picks, I think they're excited about the prospect of fielding a very good team and being better down the stretch," Long explained. "One thing they discovered over the last four, five weeks of the season is the depth. The really good teams have great depth and they don't have that right now."
There's nearly three months between now and the 2020 NFL Draft, but there's a lot to get excited about in free agency.