For the first time in about 50 years, someone else other than Al Davis was making the personnel decisions for the Raiders last offseason, following Davis’ passing in October of 2011. However, the new front office didn’t have a lot to work with. Al Davis mortgaged the team’s future for two 8-8 seasons in 2010 and 2011. The new front office inherited a roster with mediocre talent, a team that entered the offseason already over the cap, and no draft picks before the 3rd round of compensatory picks.
You can’t blame the Raiders 4-12 season (their 10th straight non-winning season) on their new front office, but they certainly have their work cut out for them this offseason. They have needs all over the field, still lack a 2nd round pick thanks to the ridiculous Carson Palmer trade, and aren’t in the best position cap wise either.
The Raiders are 49-111 over the last 10 seasons since their Super Bowl appearance in February of 2003 and they have a roster that probably doesn’t have a single player who is among the top-5, maybe even the top-10, at his respective position (excluding special teams specialists). GM Reggie McKenzie comes from a great organization (Green Bay) and I believe he’s the right man for the job, but this isn’t going to be a 1 year fix.
The Raiders were definitely worse on the defensive side of the ball than the offensive side of the ball, as they ranked 28th in the NFL, allowing 27.7 points per game. In fact, before shutting out the pathetic Chiefs, the Raiders had a near historically bad scoring defense. It starts up front for this team and they’ll probably take some sort of defensive lineman with the 3rd overall pick in a defensive lineman/edge rusher heavy draft. Defensive end Damontre Moore is a definitely possibility as the Raiders’ pass rush needs a lot of help.
They ranked 21st in the league in pass rush efficiency and Matt Shaughnessy was the biggest reason why. Lamarr Houston opposite him actually played very good football this season, especially down the stretch, but Shaughnessy managed just 15 total pressures on 368 pass rush snaps, good for a pathetic 4.1% pass rush rate. Only 3 players graded out as worse pass rushers at that position on ProFootballFocus than Shaughnessy and he only ranked as “high” up as 55th out of 62 eligible overall thanks to some solid play against the run. He’s a free agent anyway and should not be back as a starter.
Star Lotulelei is the other option for the Raiders at 3, unless Jarvis Jones somehow falls. The Raiders ranked 20th against the run this season and all 3 of their top defensive tackles, Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant, and Tommy Kelly might not be back next season. Seymour and Bryant are free agents, while Tommy Kelly is owed a non-guaranteed 6.5 million in 2013, his age 33 season, and isn’t worth even half of that. He was one of the worst defensive tackles in the league this year, ranking 74th among 85 eligible defensive tackles on ProFootballFocus.
Here’s what the new regime was working with: all of the cornerbacks who played a single snap for the Raiders in 2011 combined to play 13 snaps for them in 2012 (all by 2011 4th round pick Chimdi Chewka, who wasn’t on their week 1 roster). With no cap room, they were forced to bargain shop for two guys coming off injuries, Shawntae Spencer and Ronald Bartell, and that didn’t work out.
They barely played and it was up to a bunch of castoffs and youngsters to man the cornerback position. The group didn’t play well in general, en route to ranking 25th against the pass. They also converted talented safety Michael Huff to cornerback and while he played alright, he’s best served at safety long term. Phillip Adams and Brandian Ross showed some promise down the stretch in very limited action, but this is still a major need for them.
Khalif Barnes and Willie Smith split starts 9 to 7 this season, but neither of them played well at all, allowing a combined 9 sacks, 15 hits, and 37 hurries, while committing 8 combined penalties. This is a spot that needs a new starter.
Mike Brisiel was their only big money signing last offseason and it didn’t work out. He was ProFootballFocus’ 74th ranked guard out of 81. The new regime better hope that his struggles were the result of the poorly executed zone blocking scheme put in place by recently fired offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and that better coaching will allow him to once again be a solid player because they’re kind of stuck with him for another year. On the left side, Cooper Carlisle is a free agent heading into his age 36 season this offseason. They do have Tony Bergstrom, a 2012 3rd round pick, in the mix. He struggled in very limited action this season, but may still be a future starter.
The Carson Palmer trade continues to be ridiculous. They won’t owe Cincinnati any more draft picks after they give them their 2nd rounder this year, but they will owe Palmer a combined 28 million in 2013 and 2014, his age 34 and 35 seasons. They’re kind of in a tough spot with him. He’s not worth that, especially not at that age, but they don’t have a better option internally nor do they have anyway of finding an immediate upgrade externally, so they’re kind of stuck with him for at least another year. However, he’s clearly not a long term solution.
Unless the new regime feels Al Davis holdover Terrelle Pryor is a potential future starter, they’ll need to find one this offseason. I don’t think they do as he was their 3rd string quarterback behind crappy Matt Leinart until week 17. Plus, after a decent showing in their week 17 finale, Head Coach Dennis Allen said that he “earned the chance for us to evaluate him some more,” but qualified that by reiterating that he was being evaluated for a chance to be the primary backup in 2013. The Ohio State product was widely viewed as a reach by people around the league when athleticism lover Al Davis took him in the 3rd round in the 2011 compensatory draft. It’s likely the new regime feels the same way about him.
Phillip Wheeler was one of the bright spots for the Raiders defense this offseason, as he was playing for near the veteran’s minimum, but surprisingly was one of the better 4-3 outside linebackers in the league this year. The Raiders obviously want to retain him, but need to avoid overpaying him based on this one year and remember that he didn’t even get a million dollars on the open market last offseason.
If he’s not back, they’ll need to replace him in the starting lineup and even if they do retain him, this is still a need. Opposite Wheeler, 4th round rookie Miles Burris was ProFootballFocus’ worst rated 4-3 outside linebacker this season. They have so many needs that he might have to be given a 2nd chance, but that’s not ideal.
Let’s just get all of the defensive positions (besides safety). One of many early Al Davis draft pick whiffs, Rolando McClain, the 8th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, got into a major disagreement with the coaching staff this season that ended with him getting benched and suspended. Owed 4 million in 2013, it’s assumed he won’t be welcomed back. In his absence, Omar Gaither struggled in limited action in the middle.
Brandon Myers was one of the bright spots for the Raiders this season. An afterthought coming into the season in a receiving corps that features Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, as well as talented rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater, Myers led the team in receiving and was 2nd in the AFC in yardage among tight ends. Not bad for someone brought in primarily for his run blocking abilities (ironically, he really struggled as a blocker, as he was ProFootballFocus’ worst rated run blocking tight end). Unfortunately, he’s a free agent who will need to be retained. Like with Wheeler, they’ll need to avoid overpaying him for one year of production.
Earlier I said that the Raiders don’t have a player in the top-5 in the NFL at his respective position, but qualified it by saying I was referring to players except special teams specialists. This is because punter Shane Lechler is one of their best players. Unfortunately, like Brandon Myers and Phillip Wheeler, also among their best players, Lechler is a free agent this offseason.
Phillip Adams was their primary punt returner this season, returning 25 punts, but he was terrible at it and Denarius Moore, who returned the other 9, was even worse. As a result, they ranked dead last in the NFL in punt return average by a yard and a half. They obviously need to do better than that.