The Oakland Raiders have been constantly having to make tough personnel decisions based on their poor management of the salary cap under the management of Al Davis. They went into this offseason potentially being $4.5 million over the salary cap. A lot of that was due to the bloated contracts given to veteran players over the previous several seasons, as Davis made feeble attempts to cobble together a roster to challenge for championship.
Reggie McKenzie’s first order of business as he kicked off the major step of the Raiders’ rebuild this offseason was to create salary cap space. Creating cap space is essentially for rebuilding teams looking to add key free agents to fill their young, talented roster.
This offseason left a lot of Raiders’ fans scratching their heads, as they saw most of the team’s established veteran players leave due to expired contracts, roster cuts, and trades. The Raiders saw a lot of roster turnover, which was particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The defense saw eight of its 11 starters leave during this free agency period.
The defensive line saw the most devastation, as it lost three of its four starters and arguably two of its most consistent defensive players. Those would be Desmond Bryant and Matt Shaughnessy, who both proved to be Pro-Bowl caliber players during their tenure in Oakland. Bryant was the biggest loss, as he graded out as one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL by Football Outsiders. Shaughnessy was a monster in 2010, but saw his last two seasons hampered by shoulder injury.
It also lost arguably its most notable player in Richard Seymour. Seymour has seen his production slip over the last couple of seasons, and his drop in production paired with his hefty contract made him a perfect candidate to be let go. The perennial All-Pro looks to be on his way out of the NFL, as he has found little interest on the open market.
The other big roster move was the release of three former first round picks. The Raiders let go former first rounders Darius Heyward-Bey, Rolando McClain, and Michael Huff. Heyward-Bey and Huff were released in the first few set of March cuts. They saved the Raiders nearly $10 million in cap savings by releasing the 2006 and 2009 first round picks.
McKenzie then went to free agency in search of bargains. He signed several players that will fill key roles on the team. They all had a sense of under-the-radar potential to them. The biggest potential steals look to be the corner backs Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. Also, linebackers Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett look to strengthen the second line of the defense at team-friendly deals.
As of the most recent reports, the Raiders have created nearly $7 million in salary cap space. The real impact of these cuts is felt next offseason, as the Raiders have over $60 million in cap space.
A lot of fans and media members feel that the Raiders are adopting a personnel policy similar to their co-tenants the Oakland Athletics. The biggest evidence for this policy shift is the amount of big names that were allowed to walk this offseason. Players such as Seymour, Huff, Tommy Kelly, Bryant, Shane Lechler, and many others left a feeling of uncertainty among Raider Nation. Many felt that McKenzie was decreasing the overall quality of the team to save money on cheap replacement players.
There are two reasons as to why this is simply not true. The first is that they are not doing this to save money. The NFL is very different from MLB in the fact that most NFL teams are not hurting for cash, as is evident in the salary floor being at least 89 percent of the salary cap limit. The Raiders’ financial troubles are not dire and are largely due to their stadium situation, as they play in one of the worst stadiums in the United States. They would instantly jump into one of the more profitable teams in the league.
The Oakland Athletics, on the other hand, are working with a much smaller operating budget. They do not receive the same amount of shared revenues that NFL teams see, so working in their financial range is key for them to survive as a franchise. The lack of a salary cap has made player cost skyrocket in recent and the A’s try to stay ahead of the curve as they replace high priced talent for much cheaper and more cost-effective talent.
The other reason is that the Raiders are letting their veteran players walk to create a more stable cap situation, as the team embarks on its rebuild. The Raiders are not afraid to spend money, but they shed most of their salaries to allow for them to build a much stronger roster with more cap friendly deals. The emphasis is being placed to create the cap space to hold on to their own free agents, instead of being forced to watch them leave via free agency due to a salary cap crunch, much like the situation with Charles Woodson and Nnamdi Asomugha.
The Raiders are not adopting a new policy regarding team spending similar to their “roommates” the Oakland Athletics. They are merely just doing what most teams in the NFL do when they rebuild, which is shed bad contracts and create roster slots that can be infused with young talent brought in through the draft process.
Then you use the excess cap space to fill in one or two roster holes with key free agents. McKenzie comes from a small market in Green Bay and he knows what it takes to create a perennial powerhouse in the NFL.