It is no secret that the NFL has become a year round entertainment business. The kind of interest it draws, is unparalleled in American sports and even American entertainment at large. Even with that realization, most fans don’t often note the official start to the league year. This year, the official start to the 2014 league year commences at 1 p.m. Pacific on March 11.
The start to the league year also kicks off the free agency period, when unsigned players officially have the permission to auction their services league-wide. As of the start of this week, NFL teams as a whole had in access of a combined $600 million in available cap space. That number figures to go up with the recent report that the salary cap will be set at $133 million.
That large increase in salary cap doesn’t help a team like the Oakland Raiders, who have more than $60 million to spend. The large availability of cap room means teams who are willing, will have a better capability of re-signing their own talent.
The Raiders have many issues in all aspects of football operations from ticket sales to low cash reserves to stadium issues. Signing big name free agents requires offering large signing bonuses, and the Raiders frankly don’t have that kind of cash flow. You might remember late owner Al Davis selling shares to finance the signing of Javon Walker and DeAngelo Hall several years ago.
If I were to make a calculated guess, I would say the Raiders will sign at least one big free agent to create hype and interest for next season. The other reason I don’t anticipate the Silver and Black being big players in free agency is the model general manager Reggie McKenzie hails from. The Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson model in Green Bay preaches the significance of drafting well and re-signing your own players when their contracts come due.
Judging from the failure of most big free agency teams, that might be the smart plan of attack. For the Raiders, this is a critical year in getting back to the winning ways of old. The decisions made this year will impact the team for the next four years at least. It is vital that owner Mark Davis allows the football people to make football decisions and not meddle like say a Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder.
The Raiders have a very capable staff in place to start the rebuild and they will need at least two more years and the support from fans. Cries about former coaches are counter productive to the rebuild. It is paramount that the fans get behind this regime for the next two years. If the regime senses that their jobs are in jeopardy, they are bound to take short cuts to gain job security and that will hurt the long term goals of the franchise.
The immediate goal of the coaching staff as well as the personnel folks, is to identify and secure the services of a capable quarterback if they don’t feel Matt McGloin can develop into one. Whether it’s through free agency or the draft, the quarterback position is the most glaring need. I’m of the opinion of bringing in at least four guys into training camp to compete for the job. I would trade (highly unlikely any other team bites) or cut Terrelle Pryor, sign Matt Schaub and/or Josh Freeman, and draft a quarterback as well. I personally like Aaron Murray and Zach Mattenberger who both played very well against quality talent in the Southeastern Conference.
Seattle proved this year that a proper rebuild takes at least four years, but it might be five or even six years with the Raiders given their cap purgatory and lack of draft picks the first year. I would like to see sustained success so being patient is the key.
I believe McKenzie is the right guy for the job and he should get a fair shot at fixing the talent problem now that the cap situation has stabilized. My fear is that Mark Davis, a complete novice when it comes to talent evaluation, will start to make bad decisions at the behest of those who are in his ears. Dennis Allen, in my opinion–I know most fans are split on him, has changed the locker room culture and now the lack of talent is the only problem.
March 3 is another date that should be interesting. It is the deadline for franchise tags. It’ll be interesting to see if Jared Veldheer or Lamarr Houston gets the tag. I would favor giving Veldheer the transition tag and letting Houston walk if he wants more than $8 million per year. The transition tag means Veldheer will have the right to negotiate with any team, but the Raiders reserve the right of first refusal. If both parties still can’t find common ground, the hulk like Left Tackle would make an average of the top ten offensive linemen.
Whatever happens, it figures to be a great off-season for the Oakland Raiders–who for the first time in eons–have enough cap space to execute a top notch plan in free agency. March 11 may be the start of the new league year, but the Raiders should do most of their work after the initial free agency frenzy is over.
Tags: Oakland Raiders