Fans of the Las Vegas Raiders have seen some big moves this free agency period but there are smaller moves that should help the team. New general manager Dave Ziegler exercised patience at the start of free agency but was able to fill a big need.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that the Raiders have signed defensive tackle Bilal Nichols to a two-year contract worth $11 million.
This was the first multi-year contract Ziegler has given to a free agent since taking over the Raiders so he must be high on Nichols. The former Chicago Bears fifth-round pick carved out a prominent role on the team over the years. He started 49 games over the last four seasons on a defense that’s consistently one of the better groups in the league. Raiders assistant general manager Champ Kelly was with the Bears during Nichols’ entire tenure with the team so there’s a lot of familiarity there.
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Nichols More of a Pass Rusher Than a Run Stuffer
Nichols primarily played nose tackle in a 3-4 base defense with the Bears but also played a bit of defensive end. He’s got some versatility, which is never a bad thing. The most appealing aspect of Nichols is his ability as a pass rusher.
He has 8.0 sacks combined over the last two seasons, which is solid considering he mostly rushes from the interior. He’s only 25-years-old and has room to grow as a run defender. He’ll be an important player to watch this offseason as he’s likely going to be a starting defensive lineman considering the Raiders gave him $11 million over two years.
Are Raiders Planning to Use More 3-4 Defense?
The signing of Nichols certainly adds to the idea that the Raiders will be playing more 3-4 packages on defense. That would certainly be a big change as the team has played a 4-3 over the last several years. However, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham doesn’t want his defense to be put in a box.
“The game is sub-defense. Period, point blank,” Graham said recently. “Whether it’s 11-personnel that we’re seeing from teams or the 12-personnel that plays like 11-personnel and the way we combat that a lot of time is playing sub-defense. So, when I say sub-defense, now you’re getting into the 4-2-5 world of it. Whatever the spacing is – four-down, five-down, three-down – however the spacing is, you’re really dealing in a world of five DB’s on the field at once. And four bigger bodies with two linebackers.
“So, to me the 4-3/3-4 discussions is almost like it’s antiquated, to be honest with you. What you’re talking about sub-defense do you have guys that can rush the passer? Yes. Do you have guys that can stop the run? Yes. Do you have guys that can cover, that have shown they can cover in the past? Yes. So, those are the three major things I’m looking for aside from tackling, so, yeah, I’m good with that.”
Based on Graham’s latest comments and past comments, he’ll do whatever he thinks is best for the defense. If that means being in a 3-4 base defense more often, that’s what he’ll do. That said, it’s a not huge deal as most teams run a nickel base a lot of the time.