Raiders Team Captain Defender Is Unlikely to Return, per Insider

jon gruden vontaze burfict

Getty Jon Gruden with Vontaze Burfict.

As the Las Vegas Raiders enter a pivotal offseason, it’s paramount that they fix the linebacker position. It’s almost comical how ineffective the team has been in trying to address the position. Considering Paul Guenther was a linebacker coach before he became a defensive coordinator, you’d think that he would have been able to get more production from his guys, but that wasn’t the case.

The Raiders need to stop putting a bandaid on the issue and completely overhaul the position. One player who is a likely casualty is team captain Tahir Whitehead, according to The Athletic’s Vic Tafur:

“It doesn’t appear that team captain Tahir Whitehead will return. He just didn’t make a lot of plays and the Raiders can save $6.25 million against the salary cap by cutting him.”

Whitehead is a tackling machine and always has been. Unfortunately, he doesn’t provide much coverage against opposing tight ends. That will likely be his kiss of death. The Raiders like him and he’s a good run stopper, but they have the likes of Hunter Henry and Travis Kelce in their division. The team needs to cover tight ends and Whitehead isn’t going to be able to help much in that regard. Based on what Tafur wrote, it looks like his fate is all but sealed.

Will Anybody Be Back?

Whitehead was far from the Raiders’ only problem at linebacker in 2019. No one in the group stuck out as better than the others. Will Compton came in later in the season and played well. It’s very possible the Raiders bring him back, but the intent won’t be for him to start Week 1. That leaves Nicholas Morrow and Vontaze Burfict, who could both be in trouble, per Tafur:

“Nicholas Morrow started eight games last season and is also a free agent. He was inherited from the previous regime and probably too small for the current staff’s liking. Vontaze Burfict started four games before he was suspended for the rest of the season because of a dirty hit (it wasn’t that bad of a hit; the ban was more of a lifetime achievement award). The Raiders liked him a lot, but it seems unwise to bring him back knowing that the league office alarms go off every time he makes a tackle.”

Morrow hasn’t made many plays of note throughout his career so it wouldn’t be very surprising if the Raiders moved on. Burfict provides a more interesting problem. The team clearly likes him and thought he would be a difference-maker in 2019. However, the problems with the NFL can’t be understated. He’s likely one ugly hit away from a lifetime ban. Las Vegas can’t rely on a player who could easily disappear from the lineup.

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Will Raiders Address Need in Draft or Free Agency?

If the Raiders are serious about fixing their defense, they need to invest heavily at linebacker. That means using top draft picks and/or spending big money. Luckily for the team, there are really strong options in free agency or the draft. The Raiders should take a serious look at trying to sign either Cory Littleton or Joe Schobert. Both players have been to the Pro Bowl and can cover tight ends.

If Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock decide they’d rather save their money, they could look to the draft. Isaiah Simmons is easily the best linebacker prospect this year, but he’s unlikely to make it to number 12. That could mean Las Vegas goes after either Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray. Neither prospect is perfect, but they are both athletic linebackers who can play well in pass coverage.

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