The first day of free agency for the Oakland Raiders has finally come to an end after a flurry of action. The money was flying around, as big name players were locking up big money deals at a frenzied pace. The Raiders had the most available cap space of any team in the NFL at nearly $60 million, which many felt would make them majors players on some big names that could add to their core players going forward. So, how did general manager Reggie McKenzie do with his new found windfall on day one?
The Raiders had roughly $60 million to spend to try and fill their holes in the roster, which reside in just about every position except for the linebacker spot. There are several notables names that could fill several keys positions for the Raiders along the offensive and defensive line and the secondary. Several key veteran free agents would go a long way in the rebuild with the a strong draft to help build a solid foundation.
They also have several key free agents that needed to make decisions, including their two best players, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston. Both players should be highly important to the team’s plans moving forward, as they are both cornerstones for their respective lines. They also has to likely make a decision between their two top running backs, Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings. McFadden is the more well-known player, but Jennings was the more productive player. What moves did McKenzie end up making?
1. Jared Veldheer, Arizona Cardinals (5 years, $37.5 million with $17 million guaranteed):
The Oakland Raiders lost arguably their best player to the Arizona Cardinals. Veldheer had all the makings of a bookend left tackle that is the face of the offensive line. He should have been target number one for the Oakland front-office, but instead they let him walk for a very reasonable deal for an above average left tackle.
The Raiders were lacking along the offensive line and letting their best offensive lineman walk for nothing is a major misstep for the front office. The part that is even more troubling is that they downgraded from Veldheer on an even worse contract. This situation will come to haunt the Raiders down the line.
2. Lamarr Houston, Chicago Bears (5 years, $35 million with $15 million guaranteed):
Not only did the Raiders lose the best player along their offensive line, but they lost their best defensive player, as well. Houston has been the most consistent force for the Raiders’ defensive during his tenure here. Houston had his best season last year with 56 tackles and a team leading six sacks.
Much like Veldheer, the Raiders needed to make Houston a priority. He should have been the face that the Raiders build around on their defense. He is about to enter his prime and could be easy double-digit sack producer, if placed in the right system. It is another head scratching move, as the $7 million annual per year value is not a bad deal for a good defensive end that can be the anchor for a defensive line.
3. Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (4 years, $14 million with $3 million guaranteed):
Jennings was the Raiders’ leading rusher last season and really took a hold of job during the final eight games of the season. He had a per carry average that was more than a yard better than McFadden. Jennings’ powerful running style does fit a lot better with the Raiders power run game.
He made more sense to bring back and would have provided a most consistent hand at the running back position.
1. Rodger Saffold, Offensive Tackle/Guard (5 years, $42.5 million with $21.5 million guaranteed):
Saffold is an interesting case, as he is not a just an average player. He is a definite downgrade from Veldheer at the tackle position and is making more money than Veldheer. There are also questions on what position he will actually play during his time in Oakland, as he mainly played guard recently.
Saffold is still young at 25 years old, he will be 26 in June, but he has struggled to stay healthy. Saffold has played a full 16 games only once in his four year career. He has struggled at the tackle position and moved inside to guard during the season. He graded out well at guard, but you do not pay $8+ million for a guard, especially a non-elite guard. While Saffold is a solid player, the deal remains a massive overpay.
2. Austin Howard, Offensive Tackle (5 years, $30 million with $15 million guaranteed):
The Austin Howard deal makes little sense, especially if Saffold remains at left tackle. Howard is average to above average at best at the tackle position, who would have been a solid pick up without Saffold and Menelik Watson on the roster. The deal makes more sense with Saffold kicking inside to guard and Watson goes to left tackle and allowing Howard to slot at right tackle.
Howard’s rise from undrafted free agent to earning $15 million guaranteed is pretty impressive. He graded out as the 47th of 76 eligible tackles in Pro Football Focus’s ratings, who struggled with run blocker last year. He is normally a strong run blocker and only surrendered two sacks last year. So, a bounce back run blocking season could make the deal easier to comprehend, but $6 million per year is a lot of money for a mid level right tackle.
3. Darren McFadden, Running Back (1 year, $4 million with $100,000 guaranteed):
This is a put up or shut up deal for the once highly-touted running back. McFadden has shown to be a play-maker when healthy early in his career, but he has never played more than 13 games in season. He has shown an inability to play with minor injuries, with various minor tweaks or sprains being enough to either make him entirely ineffective or unable to go.
This contract is McFadden signing a one year deal as a way to try and rebuild his value by putting up one more good year and hoping some team will see that as him turning the corner and regaining the form that he once flashed. In the end, this is just another wasted contract on the oft-injured ball carrier and the Raiders should have just hit the reset button on the position.
Overall, this has been an utterly uninspiring first day of free agency for McKenzie. He had a ton of money to blow by getting the Raiders out of salary cap hell and blew it on all the wrong people. McKenzie let two really good players go and then proceeded to replace one of them with two worst players on worst deals than what that player got.
I get you have to over pay to bring in free agents to a bad team, but you do not have to over pay when you have a better player on your own team that you can retain. They have not found a replacement for Houston yet, but have been linked to several interesting names along the defensive line. There are still plenty of days for McKenzie to rebound, but he is off to an awfully bad first step.