It’s early in the offseason but the Las Vegas Raiders are completely revamping the defense. The team signed star pass rusher Chandler Jones and traded Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts. They also released Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski and Carl Nassib while losing Brandon Facyson. New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is a much different coach than Gus Bradley and that’s showing early on.
One of the defensive players who would’ve been worth bringing back was cornerback Casey Hayward. The two-time Pro Bowler put together an excellent season with the Raiders and finished the season as Pro Football Focus‘ 12th highest-rated cornerback. With major changes on the defense, Hayward has decided to go elsewhere. The cornerback is signing a two-year, $11 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
The Falcons are a surprise landing spot for Hayward, who figured to either stay in Las Vegas or join Bradley in Indianapolis. However, it makes sense for the cornerback as he’s from Perry, Georiga, which is about two hours away from Atlanta. This will be the closest Hayward will be playing to his hometown since high school.
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Raiders Were ‘in the Mix’ to Sign Hayward
The Raiders haven’t shown much interest in bringing back free agent defenders from last season but Hayward was different. He’s mostly been one of the better zone cornerbacks in the NFL for years but Graham could’ve certainly figured out a way to use him. He proved last year that he had plenty left in the tank and was a leader for a young secondary.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Raiders were “heavily in the mix” to re-sign him.
Re-signing Hayward would’ve been a big move for the team to pull off. The AFC West is loaded with elite quarterbacks and offensive weapons. Having a shutdown cornerback would’ve gone a long way in helping Jones and Maxx Crosby get to the quarterback.
Is Stephon Gilmore Still an Option?
When free agency opened up and the Raiders lost out on cornerback J.C. Jackson, it looked like they were close to cutting a deal with Stephon Gilmore. The former Defensive Player of the Year is 31-years-old but can still be an impact player on any defense. Plus, his familiarity with the type of defense Graham runs would make for an easy transaction.
Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the Raiders “were in the thick of things” with Gilmore on Monday. A few days later and the cornerback has still not signed anywhere.
Vic Tafur of The Athletic later reported that Gilmore was looking for a contract in the $13 to $14 million a year range. The Raiders clearly weren’t willing to pay that much for an aging cornerback coming off an injury-plagued season. It appears that there aren’t any teams out there willing to pay that price. The Raiders should still strongly consider the cornerback as he’s a great fit. If the asking price goes down to closer to $10 million a year, there’s a chance Gilmore will be wearing silver and black next season.
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