ALAMEDA (AP) — After long being an afterthought in free agency, the Oakland Raiders have become a prime destination.
The Raiders used their ample salary cap room and core of promising young players to attract three coveted free agents in the opening days of the new league year.
Oakland signed cornerback Sean Smith to a four-year, $40 million contract Thursday, adding him to a free-agent group that already included top offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and linebacker Bruce Irvin.
“They have a bunch of young talent who are ready to take that next step,” Smith said.
“The coaching staff is amazing. You couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff. I just felt like with a few more pieces this team is ready to contend for real.”
Smith followed Osemele, who signed a five-year deal worth up to $60 million and Irvin, who got a reported $39 million for four seasons, as general manager Reggie McKenzie hopes he has added the final pieces to end Oakland’s 13-year playoff drought.
With Super Bowl champion Denver decimated by free agent departures this week, the new Raiders believe they are ready to contend in the AFC West.
“We definitely have more than enough pieces where they can be no more excuses as far as there being a gap,” Osemele said. “We definitely have what we need. We just need to put it together, build the chemistry and execute on Sundays.”
After winning just 11 games in McKenzie’s first three seasons, Oakland won seven games last season in the first season under coach Jack Del Rio as quarterback Derek Carr, pass rusher Khalil Mack and receiver Amari Cooper emerged as foundation pieces for the long-struggling organization.
McKenzie set out to fill those final holes this offseason, with cornerback perhaps the top need. Oakland targeted Smith from the start and won a heated competition for his services.
Smith has allowed opponents to catch fewer than 60 percent of passes for all seven of his NFL seasons and gives the Raiders the starter they needed alongside David Amerson.
The secondary was a glaring weakness for the Raiders last season as they struggled to find competent cornerbacks.
They allowed 258.8 net yards passing per game last year when Amerson was the only consistent player at cornerback after being picked up on waivers from Washington early in the season.
Former first-round pick DJ Hayden lost his starting job and former starter TJ Carrie split time between safety and cornerback.
Smith has been one of the league’s better cover cornerbacks since entering the league as a second-round pick out of Utah in 2009. He has started 100 games in seven seasons with Miami and Kansas City and has 10 interceptions and 80 passes defensed.
He also has done a good job limiting catches, allowing completions on just 52.7 percent of passes in his direction last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That was the second-best mark of his career.
The Raiders came into free agency with more than $60 million in salary cap room and big holes to fill on the offensive line, pass rusher and secondary.
They have quickly filled several of those with their early deals and now can focus on finding a safety to replace the retired Charles Woodson, another offensive lineman if left tackle Donald Penn leaves, a running back to pair with 1,000-yard back Latavius Murray and an inside linebacker.
One target could be former San Diego safety Eric Weddle. Irvin has taken to Twitter to recruit Weddle and Smith has called his former college teammate at Utah to try to sell him on coming to Oakland.
“If we were to add Eric Weddle, this could be really special,” Smith said.
Osemele, who played both guard and tackle, said the Raiders have not told him where he will be used in Oakland.
That determination probably won’t come until the start of the offseason program when the Raiders have a better idea of who else they have in the mix on the offensive line.
“I’ve played both positions,” Osemele said. “I think I can play both at a considerably high level. I’m comfortable with either. Whatever position I have to play to help us win games is where I’ll be at.”
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Date: 3/10/2016 9:09 PM
Slug: BC-FBN--Raiders-Free Agency,3rd Ld-Writethru
Headline: Raiders reach 4-year, $40 million deal with CB Sean Smith
Byline: JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
Copyright Holder: AP
Priority: r (4)
Dateline: ALAMEDA, Calif.
Editors’ Note: Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.
Word Count: 738
File Name (Transref): k5319 NY164-0109161216 NY165-0109161712 NY163-1115151505
Editorial Type: Lead
AP Category: s
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