The Raiders added one offensive lineman in free agency. The pickup of Eric Kush, who can play guard or center, was primarily about adding quality depth rather than filling a starting spot.
Their lack of activity is a clear sign that the Raiders are content with their starting unit, a level of satisfaction that should be reflected in this month’s NFL draft. Aside from adding a developmental player on the second or third day, the Raiders probably will stand pat with their starters on the offensive line.
It’s a group that, when fully healthy, was as effective as any other in the NFL last season, the result of resources directed to that position in salary and draft capital the past few years.
The key component has been the addition of tackle Trent Brown through free agency last year. The Raiders devoted four years and $66 million to Brown, with $36.75 million fully guaranteed. His $16.5 million annual average salary is the second highest among offensive linemen behind Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson.
Brown was expected to have a robust market coming off the breakthrough season he had with the New England Patriots in 2018. But there were raised eyebrows when the Raiders poured that much money into him. There were even more when they decided to use him at right tackle and stick with Kolton Miller, their 2018 first-round pick, at left tackle.
Given the money invested and how Brown was coming off a solid season protecting Tom Brady’s backside, it was assumed the Raiders would put their big-money player at left tackle and move Miller to right tackle.
That was not the case, however. And looking back almost a year later, they were wise to stick to the plan.
While Brown had experience playing left and right tackle — and excelling at both spots — the Raiders’ coaching staff determined Miller, drafted 15th overall in 2018 out of UCLA, was simply more effective and comfortable at left tackle. So they decided to rely on Brown’s versatility and experience by playing him on the right side.
The Raiders also were wise to add veteran guard Richie Incognito and pair him with Miller on the left side, giving Miller an experienced player to learn from.
Combine that with veteran center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and Brown to the right of the Miller/Incognito tandem, and the Raiders were as talented and strong as they have been on the offensive line in years.
By the end of the season, and despite a bevy of injuries that cost Incognito four games, Brown and Jackson five games each and Hudson one game, the Raiders trimmed their sacks allowed from 52 in 2018 to 29 in 2019 to improve from 27th in the NFL to eighth. The Raiders also averaged 118.3 yards rushing per game, 13th best in the league.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders had the 15th-best offensive line in the league — that factors in the 15 starts they lost among their first-team unit — so there is reason to think their ranking would have been much higher with a healthier unit.
Pro Football Focus also deemed the Incognito/Hudson interior tandem the best in the NFL in pass protection. According to PFF, Hudson allowed just three pressures in 509 pass-blocking snaps, and Incognito allowed only nine pressures in 414 snaps. And only two of those pressures resulted in a sack or quarterback hit.
The injuries enabled the Raiders to develop depth, with a number of reserves seeing action.
Denzelle Good, in particular, responded to an increased workload and earned a one-year contract extension. Good played a career-high 16 games and made five starts, three at right guard and two at left guard.
The Raiders also made a move to retain key reserve David Sharpe, a restricted free agent, or be compensated for his departure by tendering him at his original draft-round level. As a result, if a team should sign Sharpe, the Raiders would get a fourth-round pick in return.
More likely, it means Sharpe will return to the Raiders in 2020 at a salary of $2.133 million. Sharpe played in nine games last season, making two starts for Brown at right tackle and delivering solid performances.
Should Sharpe return, it will put third-year tackle Brandon Parker on notice. Parker made three starts as Brown’s replacement late last season but struggled in all three games. As a result, he was benched in favor of Sharpe.
The Raiders also are bringing back veteran guard Jordan Devey. He started the Raiders’ first four games last season — two at left guard, two at right guard — before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury.
The addition of Kush, who has played 49 games in his six-year career at both guard spots and center, and the emergence of Good give the Raiders’ roster flexibility. Jackson, who is under contract through the 2022 season, has been mentioned as a trade possibility. He is slated to make $9.350 million in 2020.
The Raiders also have center Erik Magnuson and interior linemen Andre James under contract for 2020. Both will vie for reserve spots.