Three free agents signed as team rebuilds defense

Published: Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 - 7:55 am

ALAMEDA – The Raiders began shoring up their depleted defense Wednesday by signing free-agent linebacker Kaluka Maiava to a $6 million, three-year contract, as well as defensive tackle Pat Sims and defensive end Jason Hunter.

A day after losing three of the team's most productive defenders from last season when Oakland released defensive back Michael Huff and lost free-agent linebacker Philip Wheeler to Miami and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant to Cleveland, the Raiders started the rebuilding process.

"We're excited to add three veterans through free agency, helping to create depth and competition on defense," general manager Reggie McKenzie said. "We'll continue to add free agents as the opportunity surfaces."

Oakland has only four returning defensive starters under contract in safety Tyvon Branch, linebacker Miles Burris (Granite Bay High School) and defensive linemen Lamarr Houston and Tommy Kelly. But Kelly could still be released as a salary cap casualty this offseason.

Oakland ranked 18th in total defense and 28th in scoring defense last year in coach Dennis Allen's first season in charge but showed signs of improvement late in the year that led to the decision to bring back coordinator Jason Tarver for a second season.

Tarver will have to work quite a few new players into his scheme. All three of the new players signed Wednesday will likely be in the mix for starting jobs, with Maiava expected to replace Wheeler at outside linebacker after Wheeler got a $26 million, five-year deal from Miami, with $13 million guaranteed.

Maiava (5-foot-11 1/2, 229 pounds) started 13 games last season for Cleveland with 30 solo tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes defensed. Maiava played 50 games over four seasons with the Browns after being a fourth-round pick out of USC.

Sims (6-2, 335 pounds) played just eight games last season for Cincinnati after beginning the year on the physically unable to perform list with a hamstring injury. He had 12 solo tackles and one interception as a reserve. He has five sacks in 60 career games.

Hunter (6-4, 275 pounds) spent the past three seasons in Denver, sitting out last year with a triceps injury that shut him down shortly after he worked his way into the starting lineup in training camp. Hunter said he is fully recovered and will be ready to participate in the offseason program when it starts in April.

"I'm a hungry player right now," he said. "I have a lot to prove. My actions are going to show it."

Hunter has 11 sacks, three forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries in 88 career games with Green Bay, Detroit and Denver.

The Raiders also re-signed defensive back Coye Francies to a one-year, $630,000 deal after letting him become a free agent when they didn't tender him a contract. Francies played mostly on special teams in his first season with the Raiders.

The Raiders have let several high-profile players go as McKenzie cleans house. Among those that are gone are two former first-round picks, free safety Huff and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Others free to sign with the highest bidder include veteran defensive tackle Richard Seymour, middle linebacker Omar Gaither, starting right tackle Khalif Barnes and left guard Cooper Carlisle, defensive end Andre Carter, safety Matt Giordano, running back Mike Goodson, wide receiver Derek Hagan, cornerback Joselio Hanson, punter Shane Lechler, quarterback Matt Leinart, tight end Brandon Myers, safety Mike Mitchell, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and cornerback Shawntae Spencer.

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