For most of the off-season, fans have been screaming for the Oakland Raiders to re-sign inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. There has been a dearth of talent at the linebacker position for a while, and Bowman’s surprise signing during the season last year provided a spark and a ton of much-needed leadership at the position.
It looks like Bowman’s time in the Silver and Black will be short-lived though, as Oakland announced their signing of former Kansas City Chief Derrick Johnson. The announcement was met with confusion and even anger from some. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to accept that Johnson is the man that the Raiders wanted all along.
Derrick Johnson is a Better Fit for the Oakland Raiders Over NaVorro Bowman
Let’s just get cost out of the way early. Obviously, Johnson is 35 and in the twilight of his career. The Raiders locked him up on a one-year, $3 million deal. This is the same amount that Oakland inked Bowman to last season, but he didn’t get there until six games in. Bowman is probably looking for at least double that in order to cash in one last time.
Oakland is pretty cash-strapped, so every penny counts. Prior to Johnson’s signing, the Raiders had just over $6 million in cap space. Not exactly much to play with. They probably couldn’t even pay Bowman if they wanted to.
Coverage Linebacker vs. Run Stopper
The two linebackers are very different from each other. Bowman is better at stopping the run, but Johnson is better in coverage.
In fact, Johnson led all linebackers in coverage last season allowing only .41 yards per coverage snap. Bowman, on the other hand, allowed .91 yards per coverage snap, more than double that of Johnson’s.
The Raiders have desperately needed a cover linebacker for years. Their entire secondary gets a lot of flak for getting burned consistently, but their biggest weakness in coverage has been against tight ends. Linebackers are usually responsible for covering tight ends.
To see just how bad things are there, we look to the fantasy football realm. In 2017, the Raiders gave up the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends. Fantasy players who didn’t have a consistent, every week tight end would usually just pick up whoever was on the waiver wire.
It became laughable. Obviously, the new coaching staff wanted to fix that. Johnson will be the man to do just that.
Under new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, the Raiders are looking to move from primarily a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. This will flip Oakland to playing with mostly four linebackers on the field to only three. They’ll add one more defensive lineman to form a stout front four.
With more men on the front to plug up the run and rush the quarterback, linebackers will be counted on to cover the middle of the field.
One of the main reasons Bowman was let go from the San Francisco 49ers was this same shift. Prior to 2017, Bowman spent his entire career in a 4-3 base. He excelled in plugging up the run and getting pressure on quarterbacks on blitzes. As seen above, he wasn’t always the best in coverage.
New Faces in Town
Some might question the trade-off between the importance of a coverage linebacker vs. run-stopping linebacker. Bowman definitely is better in the trenches than Johnson is. Still, the Raiders have already offset Bowman’s loss in that regard.
In the draft, they completely revamped their defensive line. They added huge bodies in the center in Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall. Arden Key could turn into a great pass-rushing option on the edge. They already had Eddie Vanderdoes, who was a third-round pick in last year’s draft, and Justin Ellis. Don’t forget about Khalil Mack, and Bruce Irvin, who is also expected to see a lot of time at defensive end.
The coaching staff came into the season with a vision to revamp the Raiders underperforming defense. Their vision is coming into focus with Johnson’s signing. Fans of the Silver and Black need to embrace this new look and admit that Bowman is not going to fit into that vision.