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Las Vegas Raiders: Bargain-bin free agents who can immediately help the defense

Moe Moton

After splashy acquisitions last week, the Las Vegas Raiders have gone through the free-agent bargain bin for quality depth and potential competitors for starting roles, which is expected with wideout Davante Adams’ record-setting five-year, $140 million contract on the books and Derek Carr’s extension on the offseason agenda.

General manager Dave Ziegler must use some restraint to fill the remaining holes on the roster before the 2022 draft. Per Over the Cap, the Raiders have $7.4 million in cap space.

While fans hold out hope that the Raiders sign cornerback Stephon Gilmore or safety Tyrann Mathieu to solidify the secondary, the front office may stick to a strict budget and target less prominent players who fit defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s system.

Don’t rule out Gilmore or Mathieu, but we already know they’re upgrades over what the Raiders currently have on the roster, and both defensive backs likely have multiple offers on the table.

Aside from Gilmore and Mathieu, who else should the Raiders target on the market?

With Rock Ya-Sin, Anthony Averett, Darius Phillips and Cre’Von LeBlanc joining the cornerback group, let’s look at a few options at safety to compete with newcomer Duron Harmon, interior defensive linemen and maybe a linebacker even though the team has signed Micah Kiser and Jayon Brown this week.

Damontae Kazee, defensive back

Damontae Kazee would be an ideal fit in Graham’s scheme because he can play the deep safety role and handle slot responsibilities in nickel alignment. Most importantly, the versatile defensive back tracks the ball in coverage, recording 12 interceptions and 17 pass breakups through five seasons.

Kazee bounced back from a shortened 2020 campaign (torn Achilles tendon) with the Atlanta Falcons as primarily a free safety with the Dallas Cowboys last season. Through 17 games, which included 15 starts, he picked off two passes, broke up four in total, forced two fumbles and allowed a 52 percent completion rate as the primary defender in coverage.

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Kyle Van Noy, linebacker

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
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Kyle Van Noy has been cut in each of the last two offseasons, so he may be beyond his days as a primary starter, but he’s a do-it-all linebacker who can support the run, rush the passer and cover the middle of the field.

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In 2021, with the New England Patriots, Van Noy logged 66 tackles, five for loss, five sacks, an interception and a career-high 10 pass breakups. Turning 31 years old Saturday, the Reno, Nevada native can still move well at 6’3″, 250 pounds and provide help on all three downs.

Eddie Goldman, defensive tackle

NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
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As expected, the Raiders beefed up their defensive line. Vernon Butler and Bilal Nichols will likely compete for prominent roles while Kyle Peko provides some depth, but the unit needs more big bodies. In the Chicago Bears’ personnel department, assistant general manager Champ Kelly had a close look at Eddie Goldman (6’3″, 325 lbs) over the past seven years.

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Goldman has performed at a high level, particularly in his 2015 rookie campaign and in 2018 when he routinely stuffed the run and generated some pocket pressure. Over the past two years, his production dropped while playing fewer than 47 percent of the defensive snaps. Perhaps he needs a change of scenery to reinvigorate his play at nose tackle.

Johnathan Hankins, defensive lineman

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
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In 2018, the Raiders signed Johnathan Hankins, who held a steady starting role in the trenches ever since. Often underappreciated, he’s a quality run-stopper with great size (6’3″, 340 lbs) and previous ties to Graham, who served as his position (defensive line) coach through the 2016 season with the New York Giants.

Because of Hankins’ familiarity with Graham, the team may have the big man on a shortlist of bargain-bin targets. In four seasons with the Raiders, Hankins has recorded 172 tackles, 13 for loss and 25 quarterback pressures. He’ll turn 30 years old next week.

Danny Shelton, defensive tackle

NFL: Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars
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Last year, Danny Shelton played under Graham and served in a backup role but still finished the season with 31 tackles while on the field for just 29 percent of the defensive snaps. With a stocky 6’2″, 345-pound frame, he doesn’t have much pass-rushing upside, but the massive interior tackle could keep edge-rushers and off-ball linebackers clean as they move toward the line of scrimmage to make plays.

Most teams won’t hesitate to kick the tires on former first-round picks younger than 30 years old. In 2015, Shelton went 12th overall to the Cleveland Browns and turns 29 years old in August. With 72 starts in seven seasons, he can take on a decent workload playing about 50 percent of the snaps.

Jaquiski Tartt, safety

Jaquiski Tartt has extensive experience at both safety spots, and he’s no stranger to the slot position either. Through seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, the 6’1″, 215-pounder had a fluid role that suggests he can handle multiple responsibilities in Graham’s defense.

Tartt can fill in some gaps for Abram or Moehrig and take on the big nickel role if slot cornerback Nate Hobbs moves to the perimeter in Graham’s scheme. In each of the last three seasons, he’s allowed a completion rate below 58 percent in coverage.

Though Tartt has battled injuries throughout his career, a reduced role as the third safety or nickelback could help him stay on the field for a full season.

Tashaun Gipson, safety

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
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Like Kazee, Tashaun Gipson would allow Graham flexibility in his play-calling because he can line up in different spots on the second and third level of the defense.

Through 10 seasons, Gipson has recorded 57 pass breakups and 27 interceptions, which highlights his ball-tracking skills in off coverage. He’s also able to move downhill and support the run, too. In 2020, with the Chicago Bears, Gipson played 545 snaps at free safety and 426 snaps in the box, per Pro Football Focus. He could interchange roles with Tre’von Moehrig if the coaching staff has strong doubts about Abram.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.