If you thought the Oakland Raiders were finished adding over-the-hill linebackers after signing Derrick Johnson, you might be incorrect.
Incredibly, somehow, Jon Gruden might have his eyes on another aging linebacker to try to prop up his defense for next season.
Oakland’s next target is former Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing. He isn’t quite as old as Johnson, but at 31 he’s starting to get long in the tooth for a player who depends on his speed to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield. The fact that he only managed to start five games for the Texans last season should also be a warning sign for the Raiders’ front office.
Last year it wasn’t injuries that sidelined Cushing, it was his second suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. That, combined with his lengthy injury history have depressed his free agency market quite a bit.
Right now, the reports only claim that Cushing in scheduled to visit the Raiders. No one has come out and said a signing is imminent as of yet. However, Jon Gruden isn’t the sort of coach to waste time working out players he isn’t interested in acquiring. If Cushing has a solid workout with Oakland you can expect a deal to get done very quickly.
If Cushing does end up with the Raiders, expect him to compete with Cory James for the starting spot at weakside linebacker in Gruden’s defense. Cushing doesn’t have the size to set the edge, but he can still use his speed to chase down plays from behind. The question is, how much longer can the Raiders really count on Cushing to be productive?
At best, signing the former USC defender is a one-year stopgap for Gruden. He should be taking a much more progressive approach to retooling his defense. The easiest solution would have been for the Raiders to draft an outside linebacker capable of growing into the role. Instead, Gruden chose only to draft inside linebacker Azeem Victor in the sixth round to help the group as a whole.
Cushing may be able to produce at an average level for the Raiders this season but that isn’t worth much to Oakland in the long run. Instead of signing aging linebackers, Gruden should be mining the free agency market for young players with upside. It’s exactly the wrong way for Gruden and company to try to rebuild this Raiders franchise.