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The Las Vegas Raiders are a team with championship aspirations. While they’re entering a new era with general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, they’re also coming off a playoff campaign and a win-now trade to acquire wideout Davante Adams.
Adams, who played college ball with quarterback Derek Carr at Fresno State, instantly makes the Raiders offense better. However, getting him cost Las Vegas first- and second-round picks in this year’s draft. The Raiders still made six selections over draft weekend, but only one of them (third-round pick Dylan Parham) came before Day 3.
The Raiders still have a few needs worth addressing, and they should dive back into the free-agent pool before training camp. They only have $5.6 million in cap space remaining, though, so they’ll need to consider budget options and/or find a way to create more cap room.
With this in mind, let’s examine three available veterans who would make sense for Las Vegas after the draft.
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Coming off two injury-hampered seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, right tackle Bryan Bulaga should be available at a reasonable price. While the 33-year-old only appeared in 11 games over the past two seasons, he was a reliable starter for the Green Bay Packers before that.
Bulaga started 30 games for the Packers in 2018 and 2019.
The Raiders could add Bulaga as insurance for right tackle Brandon Parker and 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood, who was a disaster in his rookie season. The former Alabama tackle was moved to guard, where he struggled. He was responsible for 14 penalties and eight sacks allowed in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus.
After missing all but one game with back and groin injuries last season, Bulaga would have to clear medical checks for this move to make sense, but Las Vegas should be eager to expand its line depth beyond the drafting of interior lineman Parham. Last year’s line allowed 40 sacks and paved the way for a rushing attack that ranked just 27th in yards per carry.
If Bulaga is healthy, he’s exactly the sort of depth addition Las Vegas should prioritize.
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McDaniels came to Las Vegas after a second stint with the New England Patriots, and it wasn’t a surprise to see him bring in former Patriots like Duron Harmon and Brandon Bolden.
Las Vegas should eye another former Patriot in linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The 32-year-old is a versatile defender who can fill a variety of roles in coordinator Patrick Graham’s defense. He was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and finished last season with 64 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one pass defended and one tackle for loss after opting out of the 2020 season.
Adding Hightower could help bolster a run defense that ranked 19th in yards allowed last season, and Las Vegas didn’t add a linebacker in the draft.
The former New England captain might return to the Patriots this season or could call it a career, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, and he isn’t expected to sign anywhere right away.
“Hightower is still figuring out what he wants to do. If he wants to keep playing, he doesn’t need spring ball anyway. Could take a while longer,” Howe tweeted.
McDaniels should swoop in and make a pitch to try landing Hightower before camp.
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Las Vegas was fairly solid against the pass last season, ranking 13th in yards allowed and eighth in yards per attempt surrendered. However, it never hurts to have cornerback depth. While the Raiders did trade for Rock Ya-Sin, they didn’t draft a defensive back.
Chris Harris Jr. could provide Las Vegas with valuable depth, likely at a team-friendly price. His age (32) should limit his market value, and Harris is coming off a series of one- and two-year deals with the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.
Make no mistake, though, Harris is still a capable pass defender. Last season, he tallied 37 tackles, six passes defended and an interception last season.
Harris’ vast experience in the AFC West could also be invaluable to the Raiders. He spent nine years in Denver and two in Los Angeles. This means he’s logged plenty of reps against divisional receivers and quarterbacks in their home stadiums.
Assuming they can make it work financially, the Raiders should convince Harris to make the short trek from L.A. to Vegas.