The Las Vegas Raiders have already handed out some notable contract extensions this offseason but haven’t made any big roster cuts. That changed on Monday as they announced that they’re cutting ties with starting linebacker and team captain Tahir Whitehead.
Whitehead has been a strong veteran presence for the team and is an excellent man off the field. Unfortunately, he played a big role in the Raiders’ defensive struggles on the field. He’s a tackling machine, but he’s not equipped to handle modern NFL tight ends. The move will save the team roughly $6.25 million in cap space, which could signal that they are about to make a big move at linebacker.
Raiders Linebacker Corps Should Look Very Different in 2020
The release of Whitehead is only the first domino to fall in the Raiders’ likely plan to completely overhaul the linebacker corps. He was the only notable player who still had a contract for 2020, so it remains to be seen if they will bring any incumbents back.
It seems unlikely as Nicholas Morrow has failed to stand out and Vontaze Burfict is too volatile to trust on the defense. Will Compton is one guy who could stick around as he played well towards the end of the year. If the Raiders brought him back, it probably wouldn’t be for a starting role as he’s better suited as a depth option.
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Best Linebacker Targets for Raiders This Offseason
By releasing Whitehead, the Raiders pretty much guarantee that they’re planning to address the position early in free agency and/or the draft. Luckily, there are a number of good options who should be available for them.
The prize of free agency at linebacker would be Rams’ Cory Littleton. He’s been a stud for Los Angeles since coming into the league as an undrafted free agent. The biggest reason the Raiders need to target him in free agency is his ability to cover tight ends. The team has to deal with Travis Kelce and Hunter Henry twice a year each, so they need someone who can put up a fight. That’s not even mentioning Noah Fant with the Denver Broncos, who could still develop into a stud.
If the Raiders find Littleton to be too expensive, they could make a run at Joe Schobert. The Cleveland Browns have no intention of bringing him back, so he’ll be playing for a new team in 2020. Similar to Littleton, he’s strong in pass defense, but should be a bit cheaper. He’d definitely be an immediate upgrade over what the Raiders had last season.
Las Vegas has an incredibly young defense, so they could want to keep the youth movement going. They could skip out on the high priced free agents this year and address the position in the draft. Unfortunately, Isaiah Simmons won’t fall to them. Their best bet is to target Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma or Patrick Queen out of LSU. Both men are freak athletes who should excel in pass coverage. The Raiders should be able to get either one with their second first-round pick.