Before the free-agency frenzy starts next week, players currently on rosters may get a head start on a search for new beginnings or choose to rework their contracts to stay onboard.
The Las Vegas Raiders have a handful of cut-worthy deals on the books, which may force the front office’s hand to make tough decisions. In the next several days, general manager Dave Ziegler may do some financial bookkeeping to clear some cap space.
Two key starters on defense lost their jobs this past season — both play the same position. With little return on high-priced acquisitions expected to hold prominent roles, Vegas may initiate significant turnover for a particular group as new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham takes over for Gus Bradley.
Offensively, the Raiders have serviceable players who haven’t performed at a level commensurate to their salaries. They need upgrades on the front line and at the skill positions.
We raised the alert for five players who may have to restructure their contracts or lose a roster spot in the coming weeks.
Nick Kwiatkoski – $8.25 million cap number
- Cap number: $8.25 million
- Pre-June 1 savings: $3.24 million
- Post-June 1 savings: $7 million
Under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, Nick Kwiatkoski manned the middle of the defense as a starter for 12 contests. Bradley took over the play-caller job and elevated one of his former players from the Los Angeles Chargers in Denzel Perryman, whom Vegas acquired from the Carolina Panthers the last offseason.
To make a long story short, Kwiatkoski didn’t regain his first-string role. He suited up for eight outings as a backup and played zero defensive snaps after Week 7. Meanwhile, Perryman had his first Pro Bowl campaign.
Don’t expect Graham to reverse the pecking order. With the New York Giants, he had a tackle machine in linebacker Blake Martinez, and Perryman, who recorded 154 tackles this past year can fill that downhill role with his instincts and short-area quickness in the box.
Whether the front office releases Kwiatkoski, restructures his deal, or surprisingly finds a trade partner for him, he’s not going to remain on the 2022 roster with an $8.25 million cap hit in a backup position.
Denzelle Good – $4.18 million cap number
- Cap number: $4.18 million
- Pre-June 1 savings: $4.18 million
- Post-June 1 savings: $4.18 million
While some fans believe Denzelle Good could become a stop-gap option at right guard or right tackle, he’s not an untouchable asset on the roster with mediocre play mostly at the interior spots.
Good isn’t someone who’s made a significant difference on the ground. Keep in mind, the Raiders’ rushing attack started to underperform in the second half of the 2020 campaign. He had a part in those disappointing outings down the stretch. Furthermore, in that year, he allowed the second-most quarterback pressures (29) (per Pro Football Focus) which isn’t a good sign for a guard.
Now coming off a torn ACL in his age-31 season, Good seems like a strong candidate to become a cap casualty. The front office may add a veteran in his prime to this group. Stay on the lookout for Ted Karras, who’s played five seasons with the New England Patriots and has experience at center and both guard positions.
Carl Nassib – $9.65 million cap number
- Cap number: $9.65 million
- Pre-June 1 savings: $3.04 million
- Post-June 1 savings: $8 million
In two seasons, Carl Nassib has made plays but just not enough to justify his three-year, $25 million deal. He’s recorded 49 tackles, eight for loss, four sacks, 21 quarterback pressures, five pass breakups, and an interception through 27 games.
Nassib’s defensive snap count dropped from 48 percent in 2020 to 29 percent for the 2021 term. Yet, he’ll have the sixth-highest cap hit on the team in 2022.
Based on Nassib’s production, he’s on a bad contract, and the Raiders have already restructured his deal twice over the last offseason. Even if he holds on to a roster spot, the front office will likely rework the numbers on its financial commitment to him. As a backup, the 28-year-old may not be on firm ground with his current salary.
Cory Littleton – $15.77 million cap number
- Cap number: $15.77 million
- Pre-June 1 savings: $1.76 million
- Post-June 1 savings: $11.75 million
Cory Littleton lists further down on the mentions of potential cuts and restructures because Graham may attempt to salvage the Pro Bowl linebacker’s tenure with the Silver and Black. Graham cannot bring defensive tackle Aaron Donald from Los Angeles to Vegas to pair him with Littleton again, but bigger bodies on the front line could help free the latter to make more plays.
Secondly, based on Graham’s history with the Giants, he’ll probably implement more blitzes in the game plan, which bodes well for Littleton, who has the speed to bust through the line untouched and take down the quarterback. He recorded 7.5 sacks and 15 quarterback pressures between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
On the flip side, the Raiders may decide to go in a cost-effective direction and place Littleton on the trade block or designate him as a post-June 1 cut and save approximately $11.75 million. The team can use that to bolster quarterback Derek Carr’s 2022 salary on an extension. Remember, clubs cannot use the money saved on post-June 1 cuts until June 2.
As for Littleton, he lost his starting job to rookie third-rounder Divine Deablo down the stretch this past season, which says a lot about how far the sixth-year veteran has fallen from his 2018 Pro Bowl campaign.
Running back Kenyan Drake
- Cap number: $8.25 million
- Pre-June 1 savings: $2.75 million
- Post-June 1 savings: $2.75 million
Former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden didn’t have a consistent plan for Kenyan Drake. While he had his issues in pass-blocking, allowing three quarterback pressures (per Pro Football Focus), the dual-threat running back had a stretch of decent games, logging at least 73 scrimmage yards in three consecutive outings between Weeks 6 and 9 after Gruden stepped down because of an email scandal.
Between Weeks 10 and 12, Drake went back to an afterthought under offensive coordinator Greg Olson and fractured his ankle in Week 13.
The previous regime left little wiggle room with Drake’s contract. He signed a two-year, $11 million deal that’s guaranteed for injury with $8.5 million fully guaranteed at the signing. If he’s on the roster on the third day of the 2022 league year (March 18), the Raiders must pay the remaining $2.5 million.
Sure, the Raiders can sign a running back in free agency or add one on Day 3 of the draft to replace Drake in the RB2 role and still save a little bit of money, but his contract carries $5.5 million in dead cap unless Vegas finds a team to acquire him via trade, which is highly unlikely.
Perhaps Ziegler decides to clench his teeth and pay the bill for Drake this year, and McDaniels uses him as a 1B option to running back Josh Jacobs, or they try to rework his contract to bring his $8.25 million cap number down.
Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.