In the 2014 season, the Oakland Raiders will finally move on from the uncertainty caused by the injury plagued tenure of Darren McFadden. General Manager Reggie McKenzie has hinted McFadden likely won’t be back and that signals the end of a frustrating era in Oakland. For a player as talented as McFadden, this is a disappointing end.
Gaining only 379 yards last season, McFadden has likely put himself in a precarious position come free agency on March 11. There could be an outside chance he comes back to the Silver and Black on a bare minimum salary, but there could be a team out there willing to roll the dice and take a chance on his yet unfulfilled potential. The Cincinnati Bengals could be a landing spot with a connection to former head coach Hue Jackson, under whom the former Razorback had his best years.
With the departure of McFadden and Rashad Jennings hitting free agency, the roster only has Latavius Murray and Jeremy Stewart as the two remaining backs. Stewart is a special teamer and a backup so that would only leave Murray, who spent the 2013 season on injured reserve, as the bell cow back. Murray was productive in college, but he is more of a power back and maybe even a situational player. He is tall and lanky with a huge mass to pound the rock between the tackles and he is also surprisingly fast with a sub 4.40 40 time and could turn out to be a diamond in the rough. Im very excited to see the progression of the last draft class and Murray heads that list owing to the fact that we haven’t seen him on the field much.
Jennings came in last season and fared remarkably well in the absence of McFadden. He finished the season with 733 yards on 163 carries, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Those are good numbers and could have been better had he had more playing time alongside a better quarterback. Jennings’ production also highlights the tremendous job offensive coordinator Greg Olson did with the limited weapons he had. I would like to see Jennings back in Silver and Black to go along with Murray.
With the Raiders having so many needs on both sides of the ball, getting a back in the draft may not be in the plans unless a good player is available later in the draft.
Free agency could provide another player to complement Murray if Jennings is lost. In the last two seasons, McKenzie has unearthed Mike Goodson and Jennings so finding another productive back at a low cost could be another option. I don’t anticipate McKenzie spending big, even with the $60 million plus in cap space, and frankly I’m glad we have abandoned the wild and reckless spending of the past. So don’t expect a Chris Johnson, Ben Tate or LeGarrette Blount in Silver and Black.
The last collective bargaining agreement allows teams to roll their unused cap space into future years and that means bad contracts have a longer term impact. Any unused cap space will be available next year and that means drafting well is paramount to building a championship squad.
The Raider run game ranked 12th in the league last season, but Jennings and Terrelle Pryor accounted for more than half of that production. It could be the first season in six years that Raider Nation won’t have to worry on the injury history of McFadden and it could be a year the Raiders finally find their future star in the running game.