Raiders sign WR Jordy Nelson, release Michael Crabtree
ALAMEDA, Calif. — As soon as Jordy Nelson was released by the Green Bay Packers, the Oakland Raiders put on a full-court press to acquire the former Pro Bowler.
His former position coach and coordinator in Green Bay, Edgar Bennett, and new Raiders coach Jon Gruden immediately called to bring him out for a free-agent visit. Quarterback Derek Carr picked him up at the airport and gave him a tour of the Bay Area.
Then the Raiders offered a two-year deal worth a reported $15 million that persuaded him to cancel his other scheduled visits and sign with Oakland.
“The plan was to make some other trips, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Nelson said Thursday. “You get to place and you enjoy it and they enjoy it. Obviously, there’s a financial part of that. One thing I didn’t want to do is fly around the country just because. I didn’t want to waste my time or anyone else’s time.”
The Raiders wasted little time Thursday attempting to rebuild under their first-year coach, releasing receiver Michael Crabtree to make room for Nelson; signing safety Marcus Gilchrist, linebacker Tahir Whitehead, running back Doug Martin and fullback Keith Smith; and finalizing deals with blocking tight ends Derek Carrier and Lee Smith that had been agreed to earlier in the week.
But the most high-profile move came at receiver, where Nelson hopes to bounce back from a down season and help Carr and the Raiders get back to the high level they produced at in 2016.
The 32-year-old Nelson struggled last season with 53 catches for 482 yards and six TDs, recording a career-low 9.1 yards per reception as Aaron Rodgers missed more than half the year with injuries.
“I can make plays,” Nelson said. “I look forward to just getting out, getting in rhythm with Derek and start forming that chemistry with him that I’ve had with Aaron for the last 10 years. Continue to build off that. Just see what happens. Go out there and play my role in this offense. Make the plays that are available.”
Nelson had made the Pro Bowl in 2014 and won AP Comeback Player of the Year in 2016 when he led the league with 14 touchdown catches a year after missing the entire season with a right knee injury.
Nelson had four 1,000-yard seasons in Green Bay, including 1,519 yards on 98 catches in 2014. In 136 career games, he has 550 catches for 7,848 yards and 69 TDs.
Crabtree had a $7.7 million cap hit for this season but there is no dead money with his release. The 30-year-old Crabtree had 232 catches for 2,543 yards and 25 touchdowns in three seasons with the Raiders.
The other big moves came on defense where Oakland added two potential starters to fill holes at safety and linebacker.
Whitehead joins the Raiders after spending his first six seasons with Lions. He has 378 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, four interceptions and 18 passes defensed in 93 career games.
Gilchrist has played seven seasons with the Chargers, Jets and Houston. He has 11 interceptions, 33 passes defensed, four sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He will likely step in as a starter alongside Karl Joseph.
Martin, who grew up in nearby Stockton, is a two-time Pro Bowler but averaged just 2.9 yards per carry the past two seasons, the lowest for any back in the league. That was part of what led to his release by the Buccaneers last month.
He joins a running back room that is currently led by Marshawn Lynch, along with youngsters DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.
“I have been the lead back for most of my career, but what enticed me in coming here is the potential for this team,” Martin said. “We have Gruden coming. The front line and just being home. I was born here. This is my homecoming. Those are the things that enticed me on signing here.”
The 29-year-old Martin rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie in 2012, including 251 in a win at Oakland. He also ran for 1,402 yards in 2015 but has failed to reach 500 yards in any of his other four seasons as he was hampered by injuries and a suspension for performance-enhancing substances.
Keith Smith gives the Raiders another fullback along with Jamize Olawale. Smith, a converted linebacker, played only sparingly on offense with the Cowboys but was an important part of the special teams under coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who now holds the same job with the Raiders.
Carrier has 36 catches for 327 yards and one TD in 50 games in his career. He caught eight passes for 71 yards last season with the Rams.
Lee Smith joined Oakland originally as a free agent in 2015 and has been a strong run blocker in his three years with the team. He played 35 games, missing most of the 2016 season with a leg injury. He has 26 catches for 175 and one touchdown with the Raiders.