Like a skier with frostbitten toes, cutting losses is a hard decision due to sentiment. Luckily in the NFL, non- guaranteed contracts make trimming waste easier, unless teams are indebted for an enormous signing bonus (see: Redskins every year).
No job is safe in Oakland. The roster is flooded with underachievers who have negatively affected the locker room. While the franchise will likely allow all free agents to leave sans Matt Shaughnessy and Philip Wheeler (goodbye Shane Lechler?), GM Reggie McKenzie will have to release or restructure several hefty deals to sneak under the $121 million salary cap in 2013. The 5 players below will almost assuredly be cut, but not all will be missed:
Rolando McClain – 2 years, $9,810,000 remaining
Take solace in the fact McClain is Al Davis’ last 1st round draft bust. The 8th overall selection 2 years ago has been erratic with or without his shoulder pads.
On the field, McClain has been overwhelmed with his responsibilities as a middle linebacker. The 6’4”, 260 pound specimen has found difficulty shedding blocks and positioning for correct angles. McClain has also struggled to align his teammates and counter react to audibles. An every-down defender as a rookie, the 23 year old has been removed from passing downs this year.
Then there’s McClain off the gridiron. After narrowly escaping legal repercussions for discharging a firearm in 2011, coaches assumed it was a wakeup call for the Alabama man. Instead, McClain’s nonchalant attitude alienated peers, while an undisclosed action resulted in a 2 game suspension last week.
The linebacker’s development has stagnated, and his days as a Raider may not outlast the Mayan calendar.
Tommy Kelly – 2 years, $13,500,000 remaining
Another Al Davis favorite, Kelly milked more money from his contract than anyone predicted when he signed an unwarranted 7 year, $50.125 million extension in 2008. At the time, the under tackle was recovering from a serious ACL tear, but Davis envisioned the next John Randle and made him the highest paid player at his position.
Kelly didn’t reach his prime until he paired with Richard Seymour, who allowed the Mississippi native to exploit one-on-one blocking. The result was 57 tackles and 7 sacks in 2010, and a career high 7.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 2011.
Kelly’s performance has skydived this season (along with Seymour’s) and combined with his exorbitant salary and penchant for fouls, it’s probably time to cut him loose. The Raiders face a present cap hit for roughly $9 million if they release the 9 year veteran, but this would give Oakland breathing room in 2014.
David Tollefson – 1 year, $900,000 remaining
Tollefson was a low-risk signing, but McKenzie clearly misjudged the lineman’s talent. The Raiders added him for insurance after Shaughnessy’s 2011 shoulder issues, and in 5 seasons as a backup defensive end, the ex-New York Giant showcased stout leverage against the run and decent pass rushing skills. A bay area native, Tollefson seemed comfortable back home.
However, it seems that Tollefson’s success was a byproduct of the talent surrounding him, as his play thus far has been unnoticeable (8 tackles, 0.5 sack in 12 appearances). His ineffectiveness stirred enough doubt to force Oakland to sign Andre Carter in week 4, who has absorbed most of his snaps.
Tollefson may be given an offseason to reestablish himself, but his only chance to remain on opening day is if Shaughnessy leaves as a free agent. Since Raiders management views the starter as a cornerstone, it would take a massive overpay from a bidder to make that possible.
Realistically, expect the savings from Tollefson’s release to go toward Shaughnessy’s next deal.
Taiwan Jones – 2 years, $1,200,000 remaining
A 4.33 40 time is not a guarantee for NFL success, as Jones will admit. An inability to learn blitz pick up and an impatience for developing lanes have relegated the former 4th round pick to special teams gunning.
A telling sign of Jones’ favorability with the coaching staff was in week 10, when Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson sat against the Ravens with high ankle sprains. Rather than feeding the 6’, 200 pound scat back, Coach Dennis Allen opted to start fullback Marcel Reece at halfback and used practice squad signee Jeremy Stewart as his backup. Jones’ numbers that day: 2 rushes, 6 yards. He has not carried the ball in the last 2 weeks.
There is either an issue with Jones and the coaches behind the scenes, or the running back is just not very good. This was his best opportunity to establish himself as an NFL player, which the Raiders don’t see from a close perspective.
Coye Francies – 1 year, $630,000 remaining
It was a bad sign when both starting cornerbacks were injured for an extended time, their backup (Pat Lee) was cut, and Francies still failed to earn defensive reps. Then again, Oakland released the 3 year veteran earlier this season, so perhaps McKenzie was right the first time.
With Jacoby Ford’s absence, Francies has become the primary kick returner, averaging a respectable 23.8 yards per runback in 11 contests, but he lacks the wheels for big gains. Whether the lightning-quick Ford returns or not, Oakland will hold auditions for an explosive return man in the offseason. Francies should get a head start by packing his luggage.