ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Remember when NaVorro Bowman was going to ride in on a Silver and Black horse and save the day for the Raiders?
What about Perry Riley? Nick Roach ring a bell? Then there's Curtis Lofton, Miles Burris, Rolando McClain and, oh yeah, Vontaze Burfict.
Yeah, it's been a while since the Raiders have had a game-changing, playmaking middle linebacker. Like, since 1988. Three-plus decades and two cities ago for the rebranded Las Vegas Raiders was the last time they had an inside linebacker named to the Pro Bowl. A guy by the name of Matt Millen.
But by agreeing to terms with Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, the Raiders have rebuilt their linebacker corps. Especially with the sideline-to-sideline playing Littleton, who agreed to a three-year, $36 million contract, with $22 million guaranteed.
Littleton, who does not turn 27 until Nov. 18, is coming off a career-year with the Los Angeles Rams, as evidenced by how much he filled up the stat sheet -- 134 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, two interceptions.
Pair that with Kwiatkoski -- who agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed after he started a career-high eight games for the Chicago Bears -- and his 76 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, one sack and five stuffs, and, well, you see how much attention the Raiders paid to the position in the first wave of free agency.
As Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said at the combine, the team had to make "intelligent decisions in free agency," and who wouldn't want that, right?
"I've always said free agency is a buyer-beware market," Mayock said. "For the most part, there are reasons guys are in free agency, and you better be surgical, and you better be smart."
Mayock had the scalpel out when he went after Littleton.
Consider: Littleton has six INTs the past three seasons; all Raiders linebackers have five INTs in the past six seasons.
Also, while Raiders linebackers combined for 29 passes defensed the past three years, Littleton has had 26 passes defensed by himself since 2017, the most of any NFL linebacker in that time frame, per Associated Press.
And while covering tight ends has long been an issue for the Raiders, Littleton figures to match up with the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce. As AP noted, in a 2018 game between the Rams and Chiefs, Littleton was matched up on Kelce on 15 pass plays and Kelce was not targeted once on those plays.
If you were to scribble out a starting 11 on defense for the Raiders today, you'd probably have Kwiatkoski donning the green helmet as the defensive playcaller at middle linebacker and Littleton at weakside linebacker. Yes, the Raiders are still looking for a strongside linebacker. While some observers thought the Raiders might try to bring the released Tahir Whitehead back on a more team-friendly contract, he is off to the Carolina Panthers.
In fact, the Raiders did add Carl Nassib, who agreed to a three-year, $25 million deal. He plays the edge in a 4-3 scheme -- which is the Raiders' base defense -- but can play outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Hey, Mayock himself said he might have "made some mistakes" at linebacker last season. What better way to atone now, then?
Is that a Silver and Black horse galloping down the Las Vegas Strip toward Allegiant Stadium? The Raiders certainly hope so, with Littleton riding high.