The Oakland Raiders used multiple first-round picks and two lucrative free agent contracts in an attempt to fortify their secondary over the past few years. However, were it not for a desperation waiver claim last September, the Silver and Black’s back line would be in trouble.
Fortunately, Oakland did claim David Amerson, who has come through consistently in a way Sean Smith, D.J. Hayden and Reggie Nelson have not as Raiders to date.
While the Oakland pass rush again couldn’t make a substantial impact Sunday, Amerson continues to hold down his side of the field. He made an interesting decision this summer to take modest up-front money, avoiding a bet on himself to a degree, and that pay-as-you-go contract looks even better than it did at the time for the Raiders.
Smith and Amerson showed up big against a Titans offense playing most of the game like a novice Madden player who can’t figure out how to switch from the goal-line formation.
But Amerson is signed to a less risky contract and, as the much younger player, profiles as the one the Raiders look like they’re going to be able to count on long-term. The jury’s still out on Smith.
Sunday against the Titans proved interesting for multiple reasons involving the Raiders’ secondary.
The first being Tennessee opted to again challenge Amerson after he enjoyed his finest game last season upon making the trip to Nashville. The Washington Redskins castoff dominated Titans receivers in that rainy November outing, intercepting a pass and breaking up several passes as a constant deterrent.
Amerson didn’t notch any thefts of Marcus Mariota passes this year, but in a game that means more to this Raiders iteration, made sure the second-year quarterback wasn’t going to connect with his receivers for any substantial gains. The fourth-year corner deflected five of the 11 passes that came his way, and aside from a couple of Rishard Matthews curl routes against off coverage inside of 10 yards, Amerson repeated his ’15 effort. He swatted away passes from Matthews, Andre Johnson and Tajae Sharpe, and Mariota did not test him as the Titans mounted their nearly successful final drive.
Pro Football Focus tabbed Amerson as Week 3’s No. 1 overall defender. For a player with his backstory, that’s pretty good.
The other intriguing component of the Raiders’ starting corners winning their matchups throughout came when the Titans continued to use formations straight out of 1975 no matter where they were on the field.
After two weeks of teams spreading out what looked like an incredibly vulnerable Oakland back line, the Titans condensed everything with their exotic smashmouth attack that often put three tight ends on the field. That left either Amerson or Smith to line up over one like a high school corner.
There’s no denying this — and the fact Tennessee deploys Matthews and Sharpe as its top receivers — played a role in the corners’ big day. But with Amerson at this point, his emergence isn’t a fluke anymore.
Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin stumbling out of the blocks has burdened Oakland’s secondary — one that Drew Brees and Matt Ryan torched. That said, the NFC South mainstays mostly aimed at Smith and Hayden, with Amerson — PFF’s No. 1-rated corner after three games — having less strenuous days.
Still just 24, Amerson could well have ridden his 2015 momentum into a potential financial windfall like Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Josh Norman did earlier this year. He would have been an unrestricted free agent in March, but that four-year, $33 million deal ties him to the Raiders at a bargain rate. And those numbers are quite deceiving.
That deal only brings $1.5M more in guaranteed money after this year. The Raiders can keep triggering Amerson’s ensuing years by picking up his option of sorts as the new league years begin. Amerson’s $8.5M 2017 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s still on the roster by the third day of the next league year, and given the way he’s started Year 2 in Oakland, the Raiders would be happy to make that payment.
While Smith forced two turnovers and benefited from a team not targeting him relentlessly, Amerson continued an ascent that has Reggie McKenzie looking smart for his preemptive proposal.
From 2018-20, Amerson — who stands to play the entirety of the contract in his 20s — won’t clear $8M in a season. Considering 20 corners earn that in 2016 and given the cap’s steady escalation, $7.8M in 2020 will be borderline criminal if Amerson stays on this trajectory.
McKenzie green-lit a more player-friendly deal for Smith, who had proven much more. But it’s much harder to see him playing out his four-year deal than it is Amerson, who may be ascending to the role of No. 1 corner in Oakland.
Once the Raiders’ pass rush gets going, this will further enhance Amerson’s capabilities and lessen the burden on Smith. But considering how quarterbacks are treating Smith and Hayden, McKenzie may have made his best defensive fortification maneuver this year in keeping Amerson.
Amerson may have shortchanged himself, but for a waiver claim whom Washington jettisoned after two games last year, maybe he wanted some short-term security.
Nevertheless, Week 3 continued his reign over Tennessee targets and kept a strange career metamorphosis going.