Oakland Raiders Remain Team on the Rise with Shrewd Reggie Nelson Signing

For the better part of the past 15 years, the Oakland Raiders have been an NFL punchline. "Commitment to Excellence" gave way to a "Commitment to Excrement" for a team that was once one of the most feared in the AFC.

Well, now the laughter is coming from Oakland instead of at it. The team showed real signs of improvement during the 2015 season, and after a productive free-agency period, the Raiders prepare for the 2016 draft poised as genuine contenders in the AFC West for the first time in a long time.

The latest move came Wednesday. As ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted, the Raiders agreed to terms on a two-year deal with veteran safety Reggie Nelson, who made the Pro Bowl in 2015 after tying for the NFL lead with eight interceptions:

The 32-year-old Nelson, a first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007, spent the last six seasons in Cincinnati. Nelson made 77 tackles in 2015 to go with those eight picks, grading out 13th at his position, per Pro Football Focus.

Nelson was both durable (10th in snaps played among safeties) and effective for the Bengals last year. He'll provide a much-needed boost for the back end of an Oakland defense left thin by Charles Woodson's retirement.

It's a move that made a lot of sense for the Raiders and one that continues an aggressive free-agency period for general manager Reggie McKenzie.

After eschewing big free-agent spending early in his Oakland tenure (partly because of the onerous contracts prior missteps saddled him with), McKenzie has gotten after it this spring. On offense, McKenzie shelled out big money to woo guard Kelechi Osemele away from the Baltimore Ravens.

However, it's the team's 22nd-ranked defense from a season ago that got the real overhaul. Nelson may have been the latest signing, but he was far from the first.

The Raiders signed cornerback Sean Smith to help bolster a secondary that ...

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