Offseason In Review: Oakland Raiders

Last offseason, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie put his team under major reconstruction to try and turn the tide. Things didn’t exactly work out as planned. The Raiders got off to an 0-4 start that had players speaking out off the record and some, like veteran Charles Woodson, speaking out on the record. After the Raiders endured a grueling flight across the pond only to get blown out by the Dolphins, head coach Dennis Allen was shown the door. Eventually, Allen’s gig was handed over to his former second in command, Tony Sparano. Sparano got more out of his players, but only got 3 wins out of his 9 at the helm, leading the team to turn things over to Jack Del Rio after the season.

Things seemed bleak for the Raiders last year, but the club installed a new regime and entered the offseason with enough financial flexibility to make notable changes.

Notable signings:

The Raiders missed out on a few of their top targets in the early wave of free agency, but the team did add two solid defenders to its roster on March 11th with the additions of defensive tackle Dan Williams and linebacker Curtis Lofton. The 27-year-old Williams, who ranked as the No. 33 free agent on PFR’s Top 50 list, has started 40 games in his five-year career, all with the Cardinals, who selected him in the first round of the 2010 draft. Williams was also linked to the Lions, Giants, and Washington at different points before hooking on with Oakland.

Lofton, 28, was one of the most dependable and durable pieces on the Saints’ defense in recent years, starting all 48 regular season contests for the team since arriving in New Orleans in 2012. In 2014, he racked up 145 tackles to go along with a forced fumble. However, while his stats looked solid on the surface, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as a bottom-five inside linebacker, out of 60 qualified players. Money was tight for New Orleans and Lofton no longer looked like he was worth his salary, so the Saints cut him loose in March, setting him up for his new deal with Oakland.

The Raiders already had a solid center in Stefen Wisniewski, but team brass decided to let him go elsewhere and get what they perceived to be an upgrade at the position. Before the official start of free agency, the Raiders and Hudson shook hands on a five-year, $44.5MM contract, making him the highest paid center in the league. Hudson, a former second-round pick, was the Chiefs’ full-time starter at center for the last two seasons. In 2014, Hudson ranked as the third-best center in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), grading as an above-average run blocker and pass blocker — he even led all centers in PFF’s screen-blocking grade.

The Raiders cut Tyvon Branch loose over the winter and they were in need of a replacement in March. To fill Branch’s shoes, Oakland signed former Eagles safety Nate Allen. Allen, 27, started 15 games for the Eagles last season at safety, racking up 62 tackles, four interceptions, three fumble recoveries, five pass deflections, and a sack. Allen had a pretty solid year in 2014, finishing out with a 3.9 overall grade according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), good for 28th out of 87 qualified safeties.

Former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith is also in Oakland to join Khalil Mack and Sio Moore on the Raiders’ second level. Most known for his game-breaking interception of Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII last February, Smith was not a regular starter with the Seahawks. A 2011 seventh-round pick, Smith started five games last year and played just 286 snaps, receiving a poor assessment from Pro Football Focus in the process (subscription required). Smith did grade far better in 2013, however, in more than 600 snaps.

Coming into free agency, the Raiders were widely expected to sign tight end Jermaine Gresham. Instead, they inked a TE who is known more for his blocking prowess than his hands in Lee Smith. Smith, 27, spent his previous four years in Buffalo.

Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson, 28, accrued 23 tackles and two sacks in 16 games (seven starts) with the Raiders last season and Oakland brought him back on a deal that should keep him there through the 2016 season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Wilson 27th out of 57 qualifying 4-3 defensive ends for his work, and he recently drew interest from the Seahawks.

Christian Ponder has never lived up to the hype that was around him as a former No. 12 overall pick and, in all likelihood, he probably never will. Still, the Raiders have reason to believe that he can serve as a capable backup to young star Derek Carr. Ponder, 27, started 36 games during his four years with the Vikings, though he was essentially the team’s No. 3 signal-caller in 2014, behind Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel on the depth chart.

Charles Woodson, 38, was pretty unhappy in Oakland last year and he made it known to anyone who would listen. Still, he must be pretty optimistic about what the future holds after signing a new deal in late January. Woodson signed a one-year, $3.5MM contract with the Raiders last March and started all 16 games for the club, grabbing four interceptions to go along with a career-high 111 tackles. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) didn’t love his performance, ranking him 68th out of 87 qualified safeties, due in part to the 355 yards after catch he allowed, a figure that was highest among safeties.

The wide receiver market for Michael Crabtree wasn’t quite as robust as he had imagined it would be. After demanding $9MM per season, Crabtree’s price tag came way down until he signed a one-year deal worth $3MM with another $2MM possible through incentives. The early buzz on Crabtree in camp is strong and Oakland execs can already envision the ex-49ers notable cashing in next spring. Crabtree caught 68 passes for 698 yards last season as he drifted down Colin Kaepernick‘s receiving hierarchy. But he’s shown the capability of being a go-to receiver as recently as 2012, when he piled up 1,105 receiving yards and scored a career-high nine touchdowns. The 6-foot-2 former top-10 pick in 2009 tore his Achilles the following spring, limiting him to five regular-season games in 2013.

Roy Helu, 26, rushed for only 216 yards in Washington last year, but was a focal point of the club’s passing attack, catching 42 balls for nearly 500 yards. He drew interest from several teams around the league, many of whom presumably wanted him to a fill their third-down back role. The Patriots and Jets both pursued Helu, as did the Giants before signing Shane Vereen.

The Raiders added another noteworthy name at running back when they inked the much-maligned Trent Richardson. T-Rich, who wowed evaluators years ago with his power and Herculean bench press, has yet to do much of anything at the NFL level. The halfback was selected third overall in the 2012 draft by the Browns, but lasted just over a year in Cleveland, having been dealt to the Colts for a first-round pick early in the 2013 campaign. Richardson was underwhelming, to say the least, during his time in Indianapolis, recording 977 yards and six touchdowns on 316 rushing attempts across two seasons, while adding 55 receptions for 494 yards and a TD in 29 games (20 starts). During his time wearing blue and white, the Alabama product averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.

Notable losses:

Darren McFadden began the year as the No. 2 back behind Maurice Jones-Drew, starting 12 games and gaining 534 yards on 155 carries. However, they eventually gave the bulk of the work to Latavius Murray and he will be the focal point of their running game going forward. McFadden, 27, was selected fourth overall by the Raiders back in 2008 and although his career has been underwhelming to date, he’ll look to turn things around now in Dallas. Outside of a 2010 campaign in which he posted 1,157 rushing yards and added another 507 yards through the air, McFadden has never been able to stay healthy and put it all together for a full season. 2014 was the first year in which he played all 16 games for Oakland, but he was underwhelming, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, his third straight season with a mark of 3.4 or lower.

Speaking of MJD, many expected that he would be back in Oakland following the hire of Del Rio, but that was not the case. Days before the start of free agency, the diminutive tailback announced his retirement from the NFL. Although he played his final year in Oakland, most of Jones-Drew’s nine-year career was spent in Jacksonville with the Jaguars, and he left the game as the franchise’s second-leading rusher, behind Fred Taylor.

Tyvon Branch was with the Raiders for seven seasons, although the strong safety missed all but five games in the past two years with injuries after starting all 62 of a possible 64 games in the previous four years. He carried by far the highest cap number on the Raiders’ roster at $9.7MM this season, likely leading to his venture onto the free agent market.

After using their top draft choice on a wide receiver, the Raiders showed veteran James Jones the door in early May. Jones, 31, signed a three-year contract with the Raiders last winter, but that $10MM deal didn’t include any guaranteed money beyond the 2014 season, so the club can get out of it without taking on any dead money. Jones had been set to earn a $2.95MM base salary in 2015, with various other cap charges taking his total hit up to $3.433MM.

The Raiders were long expected to part ways with quarterback Matt Schaub, so his mid-March release didn’t come as a tremendous surprise. Schaub, 33, was acquired by the Raiders in a trade with the Texans last offseason, but lost out on the starting quarterback job to Carr, and served as the No. 2 option in Oakland. The addition of Ponder earlier in the month meant that the writing was on the wall for the ex-Texans QB.

Antonio Smith, 33, spent five years with the Cardinals and then five years with the Texans before signing a two-year pact with the Raiders last March. In March of 2015, Oakland opted to release him. That deal was worth $9MM, but didn’t include a signing bonus, so the Raiders cleared his entire $4MM cap hit from their books by cutting him. Smith is now with the Broncos and his situation has been clouded by off-the-field trouble.

2014 was something of a lost season for LaMarr Woodley, who spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Steelers. After playing strictly as an outside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme, Woodley moved to defensive end in Oakland’s 4-3 look, and didn’t adjust particularly well, ranking 44th out of 59 qualified 4-3 DEs per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Michigan alum played in just six games before tearing his biceps and missing the remainder of the season. He was released on March 5th.

The Raiders allowed Tarell Brown to him the open market and didn’t make much of an effort to re-sign him. Eventually, Brown found a home with the Patriots in late July when he inked a modest one-year, $1.5MM deal. Having started 14 games for the Raiders in 2014, Brown logged exactly 1,000 snaps for the team before he was shut down with a foot injury. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown’s -4.6 grade placed him 75th out of 108 qualified cornerbacks, though he only allowed one passing touchdown on 67 passes thrown into his coverage.

Denarius Moore, 26, showed some promise during his first three seasons with the Raiders, averaging about 43 receptions, 685 yards, and six touchdowns per season in spite of inconsistent quarterback play. However, he had a poor 2014 campaign, as Andre Holmes took on a bigger role in Oakland’s offense and James Jones entered the mix. Moore caught just 12 balls for 115 yards and no TDs, and missed the final few weeks of the season with knee and ankle issues.

After spending two seasons with the Raiders, veteran defensive tackle Pat Sims returned to the Bengals, the team with which he spent the first five years of his NFL career. The big defensive lineman left for Oakland after the 2012 season, and spent the last two seasons with the Raiders, starting 18 of the 32 games he played for the club. With seven career sacks, Sims doesn’t get to the quarterback too often, but he’s very solid against the run.

Stefen Wisniewski spent his entire four-year career with the Raiders before signing with the Jaguars this offseason. The Penn State product missed only three games in those four seasons, and he managed to play 16 games in 2014 in spite of a torn labrum. The injury resulted in Wisniewski undergoing surgery this offseason, and it also provided a possible explanation for the player remaining unsigned for so long.


  • Acquired a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 124), a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 161; OLBNeiron Ball), and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 242; CB Dexter McDonald) from the Panthers in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 102; T Daryl Williams).
  • Acquired a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 128; G Jon Feliciano) and a seventh-round pick (No. 218; T Anthony Morris) from the Buccaneers in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 124; LB Kwon Alexander).

Draft picks:

  • 1-4: Amari Cooper, WR (Alabama): Signed
  • 2-35: Mario Edwards, DL (Florida State): Signed
  • 3-68: Clive Walford, TE (Miami): Signed
  • 4-128: Jon Feliciano, G (Miami): Signed
  • 5-140: Ben Heeney, ILB (Kansas): Signed
  • 5-161: Neiron Ball, OLB (Florida): Signed
  • 6-179: Max Valles, DE/LB (Virginia): Signed
  • 7-218: Anthony Morris, T (Tennessee State): Signed
  • 7-221: Andre Debose, WR/KR (Florida): Signed
  • 7-242: Dexter McDonald, CB (Kansas): Signed

Both GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio described Amari Cooper as “polished” numerous times on draft day. Cooper doesn’t just come with high upside, he comes with the ability to make a major impact right out of the gate in Oakland. His skills have impressed the best of the best, including Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff.

If you know nothing about football, you might not see that he’s mature beyond his years,” Biletnikoff, 72, told Daniel Brown of the Mercury News. “But he’s a step ahead when it comes to the things required to be a receiver. The way he runs his routes, catches balls, gets open. He can do it against man-to-man coverage or press or zone. This guy is not one-dimensional. “He can line up inside, outside, right or left and do a good job wherever he is. Jack and Reggie and the staff were dead on when they talked about him.”

In 2014, Cooper hauled in 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 TDs across 14 games.


Text on coaching changes, etc.

The Raiders were eyeing Jack Del Rio early on in their offseason search and he ultimately won out over the incumbent Tony Sparano. Of course, the Broncos’ defense never got the same kind of love as the team’s offense, but the Denver defense finished fourth in DVOA in 2014 after placing in the middle of the pack in 2013 under Del Rio’s guidance. Other teams with coaching vacancies seemed to flock to the sexiest names of the bunch like flies to a bug zapper. Every other team clamored to interview guys like Dan Quinn and Rex Ryan, but the Raiders more or less went by the beat of their own drum, save for their overtures towards new Jets coach Todd Bowles.

With Del Rio comes two new coordinators in Bill Musgrave (replacing Greg Olson) and Ken Norton Jr. (taking over for Jason Tarver). Some expected that McKenzie wouldn’t return, but his job was spared in the team’s shakeup. One has to imagine that he won’t have a very long leash, however, if the Raiders falter in 2015.

Top 10 cap hits for 2015:

  1. Rodney Hudson, C: $13,000,000
  2. Dan Williams, DT: $8,000,000
  3. Nate Allen, S: $7,000,000
  4. Tyvon Branch, S: $6,671,000 (dead money)
  5. Curtis Lofton, LB: $6,500,000
  6. Austin Howard, RT: $6,400,000
  7. Donald Penn, LT: $5,400,000
  8. Justin Tuck, DE: $4,968,750
  9. Khalil Mack, OLB: $4,244,773
  10. Charles Woodson, S: $4,200,000

With a young star quarterback under center and major changes on the sidelines and in the locker room, these are not your same old Raiders. Meanwhile, after losing a handful of key players, the Broncos aren’t quite the same as they were either. If everything goes right, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Raiders make a play for the AFC West crown.

Contract information from Over the Cap and Spotrac was used in the creation of this post.

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2 comments on “Offseason In Review: Oakland Raiders

  1. Luke Adams

    I suppose it should be viewed as a sign of progress that the Raiders added some younger free agents with the potential to be long-term core pieces this year, as opposed to the veteran stopgaps they signed last year. And I suppose they had to use their cap space SOMEHOW. But that doesn’t mean I love some of the numbers on the deals they handed out, particularly Nate Allen’s.

    • Dallas Robinson

      Yeah, they have to meet the minimum spending requirements somehow, but to me, the Williams, Allen, and Lofton contracts were three of the biggest overpays of the entire free agent period.

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