The Oakland Raiders just ended the second season of what will come to be known as the “Deconstruction” to quote owner Mark Davis. What will ensue this season forth will be the true gauge of the job General Manager Reggie McKenzie has done and will do.
Heading into the 2014 off-season, the Raiders have in excess of $60 million in cap space, but also a roster that is bereft of talent. To bring the Raiders back to contention is at minimum, a two year process henceforth. The talent deficiency can not be fixed in one draft and one Free Agency period alone. Looking at the Green Bay Packers model, you can make a calculated guess as to what McKenzie will do. I firmly believe McKenzie will target low profile talent in Free Agency and go big in the draft. What I mean by that is, don’t expect more than one big free agent acquisition. The future Raiders team will be built primarily through the draft.
Before looking at free agency we have to figure out the future of the two big free agent players the Raiders themselves have. I believe Jared Veldheer could be a candidate for the Transition Tag. What the Transition tag does is it allows a team to let his player go out and set his own market. Essentially, Veldheer would be allowed to negotiate with any team on any terms with the caveat that the Raiders have the right to match or refuse the offer. The downside is there is no compensation as is the case with the Franchise Tag. If the two party’s can’t agree on a long term deal, Veldheer would be paid the average of the top 10 offensive linemen.
Lamar Houston is another valuable free agent, but there is no need to overpay any player. Houston is not a dominant player as of yet and I can’t justify paying more than $8 million a year for his services. The cap number for defensive ends is $12 million so I don’t see him getting the Franchise Tag. I would love to have him back at the left end position and $8 million is the most I would pay.
Looking at the other needs of the Raiders, I would suggest the big signing could be a receiver, pass rusher or defensive tackle. If the Raiders sign one, the other would be targeted with the fifth pick. I’m not sure if a quarterback will be available worth drafting at that point. I would be more in the line of picking up Zach Mattenberger or Aaron Murray in the third round than reaching for a quarterback that high. Sammy Watkins, the prolific wide out from Clemson, should be available with the fifth pick as opposed to Jadeveon Clowney who should be gone by that time.
In that scenario, I would think the Raiders will go after an End in Free Agency. The top targets could Michael Bennett, Greg Hardy, and Michael Johnson. Veterans like Jared Allen, Justin Tuck, and DeMarcus Ware could also be available.
If Charles Woodson is not resigned, I could see the Raiders going after a low priced safety.
The defensive tackle position is another huge need. The Raiders badly need a three technique that can pressure the quarterback up the middle. The defensive tackle could be addressed in the draft although it is the riskiest position to draft. The free agent list includes Henry Melton, Randy Starks, Chris Baker. Another player that could be in the mix would be Cam Thomas of the San Diego Chargers. He is versatile and is a menace in the middle. I would not be surprised to see him in Silver and Black next season.
The other two positions that could be targeted would be quarterback and guard. The Raiders are badly in need of a beefy left guard especially if Matt McGloin gets another chance next year. I could see the Raiders grabbing Gabe Jackson of Mississippi in the second round of the draft.
A quarterback like Matt Schaub could also be on the radar. He is a veteran and would help the younger players learn the game and get accustomed to the NFL.
Whichever way the Raiders go, it will be interesting to see how McKenzie attacks Free Agency come March 11th. Having so much cap space will give the Raiders purchasing power, but there is no need to be rash. I believe in McKenzie and I know he will build this team the right way.