We are getting down towards the end of our Raiders Roster Review series as we now take a look at the status of the team’s linebackers. And of course, if you’ve missed any pieces in this series, from the offense to special teams to the defensive secondary, you can get caught up on every roster review piece right here. Now let’s take a look at the linebackers.
Starters: Bruce Irvin, Nicholas Morrow
Backups: Marquel Lee, Cory James
Impending Free Agents: NaVorro Bowman, Shilique Calhoun, James Cowser
Bruce Irvin is really more of a defensive end or edge guy than a pure linebacker but he was starting at linebacker last season and the Raiders did use him in space every now and then, so he’s getting included in this section. He’s one of the guys that the team could consider parting ways with because doing so would free up $8.2 million without any cap hit.
But cutting him would also mean creating a new hole in the defensive front seven that the team would need to fill. The end of last season showed what Irvin is capable of and hopefully with a more qualified coaching staff we will see that kind of play from him far more often.
NaVorro Bowman was a starter in the middle for the Raiders and led the team in tackles in every single game he appeared in. Not only is he a better player than anyone else the team has in the middle, he brings leadership to a locker room that is in desperate need of veteran leaders. He is one free agent that the Raiders should strongly consider bringing back.
Nicholas Morrow took over the starting duties once Cory James became injured and he never looked back. If we were naming a rookie of the year for the Raiders this season it would be the undrafted linebacker out of Greenville University. Morrow was a very positive surprise for the Raiders last season and he only got better as the year went on. He’s a guy who could be a starter for this team moving forward, even with a healthy James.
Speaking of Cory James, he’s another nice piece at linebacker who has been undervalued a bit. He continues to improve and before getting injured was playing very well for Oakland. If he is able to return fully from his injury, I’d expect him to play a big role on defense once again in 2018.
Behind these guys, the Raiders don’t have a whole lot of help. Marquel Lee was drafted to be a starter in the middle but looked lost when he was on the field in his rookie season. There’s still hope for him to develop, but he was certainly not a plug and play guy when he came into the league despite the Raiders hoping he would be.
James Cowser is a very good special teams players and a decent rotational guy who can get pressure on the quarterback every now and then. High motor guy that is loved by coaches and fans alike. The Raiders can and should bring him back next year.
And then there’s Shilique Calhoun. Even though he’s an exclusive rights free agent and the Raiders could bring him back on the cheap, he was a failed experiment and a wasted third round pick who won’t be back with the team next season.