Pending free agents:
- Larry Asante, S (restricted)
- David Ausberry, TE
- Tarell Brown, CB
- Vincent Brown, WR
- Chimdi Chekwa, CB (restricted)
- Andre Holmes, WR (restricted)
- Marquette King, P (restricted)
- Darren McFadden, RB
- Denarius Moore, WR
- Carlos Rogers, CB
- Brandian Ross, CB (restricted)
- Kory Sheets, RB (restricted)
- Pat Sims, DT
- Rod Streater, WR (restricted)
- C.J. Wilson, DL
- Stefen Wisniewski, C
Top 10 2015 cap hits:
- Austin Howard, T: $6,400,000
- Matt Schaub, QB: $5,500,000
- Donald Penn, T: $5,400,000
- Justin Tuck, DE: $4,968,750
- Khalil Mack, LB: $4,244,773
- Charles Woodson, S: $4,200,000
- Antonio Smith, DT: $4,000,000
- Nick Roach, LB: $3,721,250
- Sebastian Janikowski, K: $3,610,000
- Marcel Reece, RB: $3,580,838
Notable coaching changes:
- Head coach: Jack Del Rio replaces Tony Sparano (interim coach)
- Offensive coordinator: Bill Musgrave replaces Greg Olson
- Defensive coordinator: Ken Norton Jr. replaces Jason Tarver
- No. 4 overall pick
- No traded picks
- Current projected cap room (via Over the Cap): $54.83MM
- Top extension candidate: Donald Penn
- Already re-signed S Charles Woodson, released S Tyvon Branch, released DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley.
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.
The year wasn’t without its bright spots, of course, and the biggest silver lining (get it?!?) was the play of rookie quarterback Derek Carr. While other teams are scheming to get one of the top two picks in this year’s draft in order to get a capable young quarterback, Oakland has no such need and they can focus on other areas.
The Raiders were eyeing Del Rio early on in their offseason search and he ultimately won out over the incumbent 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.
Key Free Agents:
The Raiders acted quickly to re-sign one of their biggest name free agents in Woodson. The veteran, who celebrates his 39th birthday in October, started all 16 games for the club, grabbing four interceptions to go along with a career-high 111 tackles. The advanced metrics didn’t love his performance as Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him 68th out of 87 qualified safeties, thanks in large part to the 355 yards after catch he allowed. Still, the Raiders were obviously satisfied with his performance and rewarded him with another one-year deal that carries base value of $3.2MM. Ultimately, the deal will count for $4.2MM against Oakland’s cap after taking into account the likely-to-be-earned incentives.
Still, there are more free agents to go, including center Stefen Wisniewski. Wisniewski stands as Oakland’s most important free agent on their docket, but they opted not to use the franchise tag to retain him. The reasoning there is fairly straight forward: while the soon-to-be 26-year-old is highly valued, all offensive linemen are grouped together when it comes to the pricing of the tag, so keeping him that way would have meant paying him like a top-tier left tackle. At last check, the two sides are talking but there appears to be a decent-sized gulf between the two. PFR’s Luke Adams recently suggested that Wisniewski could land a deal worth between $5-7MM annually.
Last month, McKenzie divulged that will let both Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown hit the open market as the Raiders look to go younger at cornerback. That doesn’t automatically mean that they won’t be back in Oakland, however.
“I’m going to let those guys hit the market and we’ll see what happens there,” McKenzie said, according to Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “We like what our young corners have done. I think veterans like that are here on the team to bring those young guys along. And I think they kind of did that. Carlos was a savvy veteran that they leaned on. Tarell did a good job with those guys. I think it’s their turn.”
Rogers and Brown might have value as mentors, but they both graded out as below average in 2014 according to PFF, coming in at 69th and 75th amongst qualified corners, respectively. The door is open for them, but probably only slightly, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in different uniforms in 2015.
“To me, this year’s a little different because Latavius [Murray], in 2013 he spent the whole season rehabbing an injury,” McKenzie said in February, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Last year, I think he showed that he can be a player.”
McFadden began the year as the No. 2 back behind Maurice Jones-Drew, started 12 games and gained 534 yards on 155 carries. However, they eventually gave the bulk of the work to Latavius Murray and the exciting youngster is widely viewed as the team’s feature back of the future.
The Raiders have four wide receivers – Denarius Moore, Vincent Brown, Rod Streater, and Andre Holmes – all eligible for either unrestricted or restricted free agency. Moore’s burn has fluctuated over the last four years thanks to some stints in the doghouse, but he’s a solid athlete who can help round out the team’s receiving corps behind James Jones. Holmes, 27 this summer, should stick around since he’s an RFA. Streater, who led the team with 60 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns in 2013, played just three games in 2014 due to a foot injury. Assuming he’s healthy, the Raiders will probably exercise their power to match any offer for him.
Pat Sims, a defensive tackle who is vicious against the run, could be brought back to Oakland on an affordable one-year deal.
Possible Cap Casualties:
Branch, 28, was with the Raiders for seven seasons. He started 62 out of a possible 64 games in his first four years but he missed all but five games over the past two seasons. The Raiders saved $2.9MM by releasing the strong safety but they’ll carry $7MM in dead money for the luxury of dropping his remaining three seasons on the deal. Branch was the 11th-highest-paid safety in the NFL, but his production just hasn’t matched that thanks to his injury troubles.
Days later, the Raiders decided to release Woodley. The 30-year-old spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Steelers and his first season in silver-and-black didn’t go as planned. Woodley, who went from playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 set to a 4-3 defensive end, placed 44th out of 59 qualified 4-3 DEs per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In total, his season lasted six games before a biceps tear knocked him out for the year. Woodley had no guaranteed money coming in 2015, so Oakland was able to clear his entire cap figure off its books, saving ~$5.2MM.
Jones-Drew, once one of the league’s top rushers, was signed to be the starter in Oakland. Things didn’t go as planned, however, and MJD finished with just 96 yards off of 43 carries. As Jones-Drew approaches his 30th birthday towards the end of March, it’d be hard to see the Raiders keeping him and his $2.5MM cap number for 2015. If you’re thinking that Del Rio could show some favoritism and keep him around at that price, think again, as the coach expressed serious doubts about how much the diminutive back has left in the tank. If Jones-Drew returns, I’d expect it to be at a greatly reduced price, but there’s no guarantee that offer would even be there.
Veteran quarterback Matt Schaub isn’t expected to be back in the fold with Carr firmly entrenched as the No 1 quarterback and Matt McGloin capable of handling the duties as the No. 2 QB on the depth chart. The Raiders won’t hesitate to shed Schaub and his $5.5MM cap number. Offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, who has experience at both center and guard, is set to carry a cap number of $1.3MM and could be let go.
Austin Howard theoretically could be let go after finishing as one of the league’s worst regularly playing right guards (per PFF), but the dead money on his deal will probably keep him around for this upcoming season. Del Rio let everyone know last month that Howard will change positions and compete at right tackle with third-year player Menelik Watson. Sebastian Janikowski ain’t cheap with a cap hit of $3.6MM, but he missed only three field goal attempts in 2014. Besides, dropping the soon-to-be 37-year-old would be like taking the eye patch off of the Raiders’ logo.
Positions Of Need:
With Nick Roach already ruled out for the season, the Raiders’ top need is probably finding a starting middle linebacker. Miles Burris could theoretically be called upon again, but he wasn’t all that effective when given the opportunity. Brandon Spikes, who is rather profiecient as a run stopper, probably stands as the best available MLB on the open market. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Norton is extremely familiar with Rey Maualuga from their time shared together at USC and the 28-year-old is coming off of his best season to date. Maualuga still graded out as being just a tick below average, according to PFF, but he’d represent a cheaper solution at the position if the Raiders wanted to direct more money elsewhere.
As mentioned earlier, the Raiders have three key receivers who could potentially reach the open market. Regardless of how things shake out there, they can be expected to look into finding a true top target for Carr. Armed with the No. 4 pick in the draft, the Raiders are in prime position to grab Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper doesn’t boast the insane athleticism of last year’s top rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr., but he’s a very advanced route runner for a player at his age and could make a major impact right off the bat in Oakland. While Cooper’s name has been thrown around as the top wideout in this class for some time, there are some who have made the case for DeVante Parker (Louisville) and Kevin White (West Virginia). Sounds surprising, but you only have to look back to last year where Sammy Watkins was almost universally regarded as the best talent over the rest of the crop, including Beckham. The jury is still out on that race as we’re only one year in, but Beckham just might prove to be the best WR out of that class, despite being the third one off the board.
With Howard going over to tackle and Wisniewski set to hit free agency, the Raiders will be looking to fill in their offensive line. In the draft, At the top of the draft, there’s Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, who could play tackle or guard. Taking him at No. 4 might be something of a reach, however, and they’ve got other needs. Tafur recently suggested that Florida’s Cam Erving could make a lot of sense for Oakland and he projects more as a second-round prospect. An added bonus: scouts feel that Erving could work as a guard, tackle, or center. In free agency, Oakland could make a play for 49ers guard Mike Iupati or Broncos guard/tackle Orlando Franklin. Neither one will be cheap, but the Raiders don’t have to be with a great deal of cap room to work with.
The Raiders could use a defensive tackle and, as is the case with every team seeking a DT, they’ve been connected heavily to Ndamukong Suh. After all, the Raiders are cash flush and there’s no better way to upgrade the D-Line than adding one of the league’s most feared players. There are options outside of Suh in free agency, of course. Broncos notable Terrance Knighton would cost a whole lot less, as would Henry Melton, who was looking pretty solid in 2014 before his injury. Nick Fairley is understandably overshadowed by Suh this offseason, but he’s slated to hit the open market and he’d move the needle for any team that signs him.
Extension Candidates/Contract Issues:
Donald Penn signed a two-year contract with the Raiders around this time last year and he’s set to earn $4.6MM in his walk year. You can beat up Oakland for a lot of their decisions in the spring of 2014, but Penn’s deal is not one of them. He more than earned his contract with his play last year which resulted in him being ranked as the No. 7 ranked tackle in the league by PFF (subscription required). Great tackles don’t grow on trees and Penn has a history of being one of the better ones in the league, earning a positive grade from PFF in every season since 2011.
The Raiders have a boatload of cap room to work with this offseason, the No. 4 overall pick, and they’ll have every opportunity to vault themselves into the playoff mix in 2015. The question is whether they’ll utilize those resources properly. Their recent history says they won’t, but nothing is constant in the NFL. Maybe this year is the year that the Raiders get things right.
Information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.