For years the Las Vegas Raiders have been trying to fix their linebacker corps. During the 2020 free agency period, the team handed big contracts to Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Those two were supposed to solidify the position for years but that hasn’t been the case.
Kwiatkowski spent much of the 2021 season injured while Littleton was essentially benched. Denzel Perryman, Divine Deablo and K.J. Wright saw significantly more defensive snaps than Littleton towards the end of the season. Considering there’s no easy way to get out of his contract, Bleacher Report named it the worst contract on the entire team:
This is among the easiest selections on the list. The Cory Littleton signing can officially be declared a flop for the Raiders.
Littleton scored a big payday after his stint with the Los Angeles Rams. The first year was a bit of a disappointment, and the Raiders have restructured his contract twice. The second time saved them around $4 million in 2021, but they’ll feel the effects of it in 2022.
Littleton is set to be a $15.7 million cap hit in 2022 with a $14.0 million dead cap charge. That means he’s nearly guaranteed to be on the roster at least until June 1, when he can be cut with $4.0 million in dead money.
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Could Littleton Be an Asset in New Defensive System?
There was a time when Littleton looked like one of the best linebackers in the NFL when he was with the Los Angeles Rams. He even made a Pro Bowl in 2018. In his last two seasons with the team, he had five interceptions and 7.5 sacks. In his two seasons with the Raiders, he has zero interceptions and 0.5 sacks.
The steep decline in production could have to do with the defensive systems the team has run. Gus Bradley and Paul Guenther run 4-3 base defenses. When Littleton was most effective, he was in the 3-4. The Raiders are undergoing a coaching search right now. If the team hires a name like Jim Harbaugh, it’s possible that he’ll bring along Vic Fangio to run the defense. He’s typically run a 3-4 base defense so perhaps Littleton could find new life with the team in this scenario. Considering releasing him would leave a big dead money hit, it could be smart to try and salvage his career in a new defense. If Bradley is retained, then it would be best for the Raiders to just cut their losses.
Raiders Future Looking Brighter at LB
Though Littleton and Kwiatkoski don’t appear to be working out, the Raiders can take solace in knowing that they may have finally solved their linebacker issue. Perryman was a Pro Bowler this season and is just 29-years-old. He’s under contract for next season and could earn an extension if he continues to play well.
Deablo didn’t come on until later in the year but the rookie showed real upside. He played safety in college so the fact that he adapted to linebacker so quickly could mean that he has a very bright future. The Raiders will need some more young pieces to ensure the future of the position is strong but they have to be feeling good about the pieces they have.