Updated March 16, 2022 - 3:57 pm
After easing their way into the first two days of free agency, the Raiders got busy on Wednesday as the NFL officially opened its new year.
When the dust settled, the Raiders recreated their defensive front by adding four-time Pro Bowl rush end Chandler Jones on a free agent contract, moved defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for promising young corner Rock Ya-Sin and added Ravens starting corner Anthony Averett, versatile defensive tackle Bilal Nichols, third-down running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Jakob Johnson and wide receiver Mack Hollins on free-agent deals.
The addition of Jones, whose deal is for three years and up to $51 million, creates a monster pass-rush tandem between himself and Maxx Crosby. It likely signals a shift from the 4-3 defensive front the Raiders have utilized over the last four years to more of the 3-4 scheme that new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has used.
— 🦅MaddMaxx🦅 (@CrosbyMaxx) March 16, 2022
Jones has experience playing in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. But last season Jones was the weakside linebacker in the Cardinals’ base 3-4 look, where he is expected to be utilized most often by the Raiders.
A 10-year veteran, Jones rebounded from an injury-shortened season in 2020 to finish with 10.5 sacks last season. Over his last two full seasons — in 2019 and 2021 — he has 29.5 sacks, 52 quarterback hits and 14 forced fumbles.
For his career, Jones has 107.5 sacks — the most in the NFL since he arrived in 2012 — and forced 33 fumbles.
The arrival of Jones — and the apparent change in scheme — also made Ngakoue expendable. The veteran rush end played well last year while leading the team with 10 sacks, but Jones is the superior all-around player and a better fit for the scheme.
The trade to the Colts reunites Ngakoue with former Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who holds the same position there. Meanwhile, it adds a good young corner to the Raiders in Ya-Sin, who is coming off the best season of his three-year career.
Averett was pressed into starting duties last year when Marcus Peters went down with a season-ending injury. The fourth-year corner from Alabama eventually started a career-high 14 games.
Averett could eventually push Trayvon Mullen for a starting job. His one-year deal with the Raiders is expected to pay him $4.5 million.
Nichols, a 25-year-old, 6-4, 300-pound interior lineman, had a career-high 51 tackles last year. He has 11 sacks over his four-year career, all with the Chicago Bears. He has experience at all three defensive line positions in the 3-4 scheme. Nichols’ deal is expected to pay him $11 over two seasons, with $9 million guaranteed.
Also on Wednesday, the Raiders released defensive end Carl Nassib. A free-agent signing in 2020, Nassib never truly emerged for the Raiders and recorded just four sacks over his two seasons in Las Vegas.
Nassib, the first openly gay player in the NFL, is expected to be designated as a post-June 1 release and will ultimately save the Raiders $8 million in cap space once the transaction clears June 2.
The Raiders also released linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. Both players — along with Cory Littleton, who was released six days ago — were the key cogs of a heralded 2020 free-agent class that never panned out as expected.
The Raiders added to their offense by agreeing to terms with Bolden, who has played eight of his nine years in the league with the Patriots. Bolden, who is expected to be the Raiders’ third-down back, has a career 4.7 yards per carry average and 100 receptions for 902 yards.
The signing of Johnson at fullback adds another familiar face from the Patriots to the Raiders’ offense. Both Bolden and Johnson played under new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, the longtime former offensive coordinator in New England.
Johnson’s arrival coincides with former Raiders fullback Alec Ingold agreeing to terms with the Dolphins on a two-year deal.
The Raiders have also signed wide receiver Mack Hollins of the Dolphins. The 6-4, 221-pounder adds depth at wide receiver and special teams. Four of his 14 receptions last season went for touchdowns.
On defense, Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow, who missed all of 2021 with an ankle injury, agreed to a contract with the Bears. The one-year deal could pay him as much as $5 million.
Morrow was coming off a career year in 2020 with 78 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks and was expected to be a key player last year for the Raiders. But he suffered the ankle injury during a joint training camp practice with the Rams and was never able to return to action.
The Raiders also opted against tendering reserve cornerback Keisean Nixon, enabling him to become an unrestricted free agent.