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Cornerback has been a blind spot for Raiders’ McKenzie

ALAMEDA — What in the name of Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes is going on?
The Raiders released Sean Smith as expected Monday, a day after the 49ers snapped up Richard Sherman, a player who was reportedly told by general manager Reggie McKenzie his team wouldn’t be in the running for financial reasons.
The Raiders have a rich cornerback history dating back to Hall of Famer Willie Brown, but since McKenzie came aboard in 2012, it’s been pretty much a wasteland when it comes to acquiring talent — hence the yearly problem the team has with receivers running free in the secondary.
Smith was let go two years into a contract that had a maximum value of $38 million. David Amerson, a waiver claim got off to a terrific start, earned a contract extension and then tailed off considerably in terms of quality o play and health, was also let go.
So the Raiders are in the market for a corner and will likely sign one or two. In light of Sherman telling Monday Morning Quarterback’s Peter King that McKenzie said the Raiders wouldn’t have the money to compete, it remains to be seen if they were saving some of that cash for the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson.
Agents were able to begin negotiations with teams Monday, but no players can be signed until Wednesday at the start of the new league year.

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Twice a franchise player, Johnson was considered a possibility for both the Raiders and 49ers. The 49ers, by the way, have so much cap room it’d be possible to get Johnson even with Sherman aboard.
Signing corners can be a tricky business, particularly with veterans. The Smith-Amerson pairing was the fourth time McKenzie attempted to get starting corners that way, having also signed former 49ers Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers (2014), Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins (2013) and Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer (2012).
What McKenzie desperately needs is for Gareon Conley, a first-round pick last year, to step in and be a difference-maker after losing his rookie season to a shin injury. Conley was McKenzie’s second attempt at securing a corner in the first round of the draft, having spent the No. 12 pick in 2013 on DJ Hayden.
For an example of how much difference adding two standout corners can make, look no further than Jon Gruden’s rookie year as coach of the Raiders in 2018.
The Raiders were coming off a 4-12 season under Joe Bugel, with a horrific defense that finished last against both the run and the pass.
When Gruden took over, Al Davis and the Raiders’ personnel department made two moves that were huge in turning around the franchise — acquiring veteran Eric Allen by trade from the New Orleans Saints, and then drafting Charles Woodson No. 4 overall.
The moves helped transform the defense, and were huge in building a team which eventually ascended to a division title in 2000.
While Gruden was in Tampa, the Bucs drafted a cornerback in the first round just once — taking Aqib Talib of Kansas at No. 20 in the first round. The future chain-snatcher had four interceptions as a rookie — not to mention some behavioral issues Gruden had to deal with — but remains a productive NFL player who will join the Los Angeles Rams this season.
Below is a look at the cornerbacks brought into the organization since McKenzie has been in control:
2017: Gareon Conley (1st round, No. 24 overall): Like having an extra first-round pick. Anything less than a step-in-and-start season will be a disappointment after a shin injury derailed Conley’s rookie season.
2016: Sean Smith (UFA): Had the only two interceptions for Raiders cornerbacks but consistently struggled with faster receivers. Reports of one-year jail term as the result of a plea bargain in an assault case could mean the end of his career.
2015: David Amerson (waiver claim): After being cut by Jay Gruden in Washington, Amerson initially was a revelation, giving the Raiders their best cornerback play since Asomugha was going to Pro Bowls. He could not maintain that level of play and last year missed nine games due to injury.
2015: Dexter McDonald (7th round, 242 overall): Started six times in 2017 but in no way seized the moment and established himself as a starter. Has one year remaining on his contract.
2014: Tarell Brown (UFA): To his credit, managed to make 14 starts for the Raiders but missed the last two games with with a foot injury that ended his career the following season in New England. Had played seven seasons with the 49ers.
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2014: Carlos Rogers (UFA): Came to the Raiders after some good years with the 49ers, but clearly nearing the end at age 33. Rogers appeared in seven games and hasn’t played since.

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2014: TJ Carrie (7th round, 219 overall): Was the Raiders best cornerback overall in 2017 (despite zero interceptions) and is poised to see what that gets him on the open market. Not out of the question he could return.
2014: Keith McGill (4th round, 116 overall): Drafted as a tall corner, McGill was later moved to safety. He’s an unrestricted free agent whose primary role when healthy has been on special teams.
2013: Tracv Porter (UFA): Former Super Bowl hero with the Saints joined the Raiders at age 28, started all 16 games and intercepted two passes. Raiders made no effort to bring Porter back.
2013: Mike Jenkins (UFA): After five seasons with Dallas, Jenkins joined the Raiders at age 28, started 15 games with a pair of interceptions and was gone the next season for Tampa Bay.
2013: DJ Hayden (1st round, 12 overall): Despite a near-fatal college injury (a ruptured vein leading to his heart) Hayden’s quickness and footwork caught McKenzie’s eye. The GM even said he would have taken Hayden at No. 3 (the Raiders traded back to No. 12). He had four injury-plagued, penalty-plagued seasons before joining the Detroit Lions last season.
2012: Pat Lee (UFA): After three seasons as a developmental player with the Packers, McKenzie imported Lee to the Raiders when he had the chance. He played in eight games with seven starts but was off to Detroit the following year.
2012: Ron Bartell (UFA): Had a productive run with the Rams, but played in just two games in two seasons with the Rams and Detroit Lions in 2010 and 2011 because of injury. He opened on injured reserve for the Raiders with broken shoulder blade, was eventually activated but let go after six games.
2012: Shawntae Spencer (UFA): After falling out of favor with Jim Harbaugh’s staff with the, Spencer signed with the Raiders four days after he was released. He played in two games before fracturing a foot and went on injured reserve.

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