Raiders don't have a heavyweight QB like their AFC West rivals. So they're loading up to pulverize them instead

Outside of the Atlanta Falcons and their deal for Kirk Cousins, no team made a bigger splash on the first day of NFL free agency than the Las Vegas Raiders.

They came out of nowhere on Monday to agree to a four-year, $110 million deal with former Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins to add some serious power and production to their defensive line. With Wilkins in the fold, the Raiders finally have a real running mate for superstar edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who has carried an unimaginable load for them over the past few years.

The Raiders still have a long way to go before they can reliably compete for the AFC West crown, but Wilkins and Crosby give them a formidable duo that will help them at least battle with the back-to-back Super Bowl champion Chiefs and a Chargers team that’s now led by Jim Harbaugh.

Christian Wilkins wrapping up quarterbacks could become a familiar sight in Las Vegas. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Christian Wilkins wrapping up quarterbacks could become a familiar sight in Las Vegas. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The Raiders don’t have a franchise quarterback. Aidan O’Connell, a fourth-round pick in 2023, will compete with the newly signed Gardner Minshew for the starting quarterback gig, barring a selection of a quarterback in the first round of the draft. That’s not exactly the firepower that the Chiefs and Chargers have with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, respectively. With the 13th overall pick, it’s unlikely the Raiders will be able to get a quarterback to challenge those guys barring a trade up (and even that's unlikely in a year like this), so they have to find other ways to build up their team. Signing Wilkins to this deal is a way to start trending toward being a team that can compete with the heavyweight quarterbacks in the division.

Wilkins isn’t quite a Chris Jones-level player, but the Raiders don’t have to look too far to see how a monster in the middle can change the math for an entire defense. A player like Wilkins makes everyone’s job easier because he can command the attention in the middle that frees up other players to cause chaos. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Wilkins finished with 18 double-team pressures last season, fifth-most among defensive tackles, while Raiders defensive tackles combined for 15 double team pressures, which was fourth-fewest in the league. That’s a great piece to add for a defense that was performing like one of the better units in the league after new head coach Antonio Pierce was put in place as the interim coach halfway through last season.

Las Vegas also has a wild card on its roster that could make the Wilkins-Crosby duo pop next season — or even be the third guy they need to take over and really become a disruptive defensive line. Last year, the Raiders spent a top-10 draft pick on Texas Tech defensive lineman Tyree Wilson, who still has the upside to be a tremendous player who can fill a bunch of roles. This is how some great defensive lines have been constructed — a true winner off the edge (Crosby), a disruptive player on the interior (Wilkins) and someone who has the body type and athleticism (Wilson) to play inside or out. The Raiders' defensive line is slowly building out into something dangerous.

Wilkins, Crosby and Wilson could be a fantastic trio in Las Vegas this season. At the very least there is now a dynamic duo that can take over games.

The Raiders still face an uphill battle toward winning their division and making the playoffs, but it’s good to see them not back down and tank like it might be tempting to do given their spot in roster-building no man’s land.

How their quarterback situation shakes out will go a long way toward determining their success this season, but on Monday, they added an interesting cornerstone to build their franchise around in Wilkins for the next few years.