The Raiders are still in need of help at safety. And the best one of the entire free agent class is still available.
Reggie Nelson, who intercepted Derek Carr during the season opener against Cincinnati, is perhaps the most valuable defender of the remaining free agents. And the 32-year-old might be one of the biggest values of the entire class at this point.
While pundits put a heavy emphasis on Oakland upgrading their cornerbacks, those who watched the Raiders closely knew that a larger hole was at safety.
And that’s before considering Charles Woodson’s retirement.
When Nate Allen was placed on short-term injured reserve, the team’s lack of depth was made clear. T.J. Carrie was moved over the safety for the interim, a less than natural fit. Taylor Mays was signed, and while the veteran is an above average backup and played admirably at times, the help over the top was lackluster at best.
They have the cash, too, according to Overthecap.com general manager Reggie McKenzie is rolling in about $28 million.
Oakland’s struggles were lessened slightly when Allen returned, but the season could hinge on his health at this point. And that’s not the best situation to be in.
Nelson is up there in age, relative to his counterpart George Iloka or the other top free agent safety to hit the market this season, Tashaun Gipson.
But make no mistake: Nelson turned in career numbers with the Bengals last year, and it looks like there is plenty left in the tank.
Eight picks and 14 passes defensed, with a mediocre pass rush and slightly above average total cornerback play. That was Nelson’s line in 2015.
Compare that to Woodson’s five interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Or Eric Weddle’s six passes defensed and zero interceptions. Or Eric Berry’s 10 passes defensed with two picks.
Berry was franchised, and Weddle is reportedly working on finding the right landing spot. Which doesn’t appear to be Oakland.
And while the fan attention may reside with Weddle’s decision, it should be squarely on Nelson.
Because the drop off in production after Nelson is pronounced. That’s when the names James Ihedigbo and David Bruton begin to receive legitimate interest. Both are younger. Cheaper. Have room for growth.
Both players, though, are significantly lesser. Betting on better production is like betting that the Golden State Warriors lose at home on any given night.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, the Warriors haven’t lost at home since January of 2015, and boast the best home winning streak in NBA history.
It’s like betting against Seattle at home from 2013 or 2014. Not going to happen.
Beyond the numbers, Nelson knows what it takes to succeed in the NFL. What’s more, Nelson was a first round draft pick of the 2007 Jacksonville Jaguars. Coached by none other than Jack Del Rio.
Who better to play for than the head coach who brought you into the league?
Of course there’s room for bitterness, too. Nelson was traded by Jacksonville in 2010 to the Bengals. Del Rio’s final season at the Jaguars’ helm.
It only seems logical that the Raiders make a serious run for Nelson at this point, but in the voice of Yoda: Surprising it would not be, that Oakland add Nelson. And there is no try. There is only do.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.