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OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 09: Perry Riley Jr. #54 of the Oakland Raiders reacts after a play against the San Diego Chargers during their NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on October 9, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

 

The Oakland Raiders are coming off of their most impressive season in the last 14 years, due in no small part to several key pieces of their team. Even so, conversations about the Raiders’ potential surround the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum, in particular on the defense where the team struggled throughout the season against both the pass and the run. Opinions bounce from the strength of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin being able to bring back a mediocre pass rush, to Sean Smith and DJ Hayden, who failed to perform to expectations in the secondary. While Sean Smith remains the premier cornerback in the Raiders secondary, Hayden is no longer their problem, as he was signed by the Detroit Lions during this free agency. Aging linebacker Malcolm Smith also left the team for San Francisco, leaving another slot open to woo someone younger with staying power. Even though the team has been able to shed some dead weight, little discussion is had of how crucial it is to have solid players in every position. With no accounting for that fact, the defense will continue to struggle.

 

One such player has yet to return, and the reasons are unclear. Perry Riley Jr. played middle linebacker for the Raiders last season and was a solid contributor to a defense that struggled in several areas. Despite the 8-year veteran linebacker missing seven regular-season games, he still managed 48 tackles, two forced fumbles and 1 defended pass. He has historically been a force in the middle, with his best year coming in 2012, when he accumulated 129 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, seven passes defended, one fumble and one fumble recovery. Solid numbers. If he’s able to replicate that year after battling some injuries, his presence on the defense will continue to be of value to the Raiders.

 

With no Perry Riley Jr., the Raiders still look pretty sad behind the line. McKenzie and crew likely realize that so it’s baffling that they’re waiting so long to sign him. Barring some crazy salary request from Riley, the Raiders have no excuse for not rounding out their free agency run by a guy who’s proven that he deserves the nod.