Before Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen came in, the Raiders were one of the most poorly run franchises in football, towards the end of the Al Davis era and ensuing Hue Jackson era, which saw him trade a 1st and 2nd round pick for Carson Palmer weeks after Davis’ death. As a result, the Raiders had over 56 million in dead money on their cap. Before they drafted DJ Hayden, the Raiders had just two of their first round picks on their roster, Darren McFadden and Sebastian Janikowski, a kicker and a running back who got benched mid-season. Of their top-10 cap numbers, only three of them were actually on the roster this season. Two of those would be McFadden and Janikowski and the other would be Tyvon Branch, who missed most of the season with injury.
Fortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel is near. The Raiders wisely kept both Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen despite back-to-back 4-12 seasons, recognizing there wasn’t much they could do. McKenzie and Allen did a good job and getting good seasons out of cheap free agents like Pat Sims, Tony Pashos, Vance Walker, Mike Jenkins, and Charles Woodson. It might sound crazy, but the Raiders overachieved by winning 4 games last season and McKenzie and Allen deserve credit for that. This team was literally working with half of the financial resources of most teams last year, but now they have about 66 million in cap space with all the dead money off their cap. They basically have to start from the ground floor with this roster this off-season, but they have the financial resources to build it up in a hurry.
They’ll have to go into this off-season by identifying building blocks. Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston are both building blocks and need to be re-signed this off-season, even if it means overpaying them on frontloaded deals. Defensive tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker both showed promise this season and should be brought back on multi-year deals. They have a decent young receiver corps. Center Stefen Wisniewski is also very good and the Raiders might be wise to lock up the 2011 2nd round pick long-term this off-season on an extension. Tyvon Branch is their highest paid player for 2014 and he’s pretty solid as well when healthy. Sio Moore showed a lot as a 3rd round rookie and they definitely shouldn’t give up on 1st round rookie DJ Hayden. They’ll have to build around those guys if they want to get out of their recent drought of success. Since losing the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, they are 53-123, by far the worst in the NFL.
The Raiders are basically starting from the ground floor this off-season, but there isn’t a quicker way to turn the team around than by adding a franchise quarterback. The first round pick they used on JaMarcus Russell, the first and second round picks they traded for Carson Palmer, the 4th round pick they traded for Jason Campbell, the 3rd round pick they used on Terrelle Pryor, and the 4th round pick they used on Tyler Wilson were all for naught as the Raiders had to resort to undrafted rookie Matt McGloin to end the season.
McGloin did some nice things, completing 55.9% of his passes for an average of 7.33 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, but ultimately showed why no one used a draft pick on him a few months prior. He could be a nice backup going forward but nothing more. Terrelle Pryor, meanwhile, showed significant flaws as a passer and is not a real starting option going into his 4th season in the league. He completed 57.4% of his passes for an average of 6.61 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked quarterback in terms of passing grade, and was ultimately benched for an undrafted rookie. The Raiders will be looking for quarterbacks early in the draft.
LaMarr Houston is one of the few building blocks the Raiders have. The converted defensive tackle has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th, 9th, and 11th ranked defensive end in the past 3 seasons respectively and has been well worth the 2nd round pick the Raiders used on him in 2010. The Raiders have literally unlimited cap space this off-season because their roster is so bare so there’s no excuse for not re-signing him, even if they have to overpay him on a front loaded deal with a significant cap number in the first season. Even if they do re-sign him, they have a huge need opposite him. Veteran journeyman Jason Hunter struggled mightily as the starter opposite him. He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked 4-3 defensive end. Jadeveon Clowney is going to be awfully tempting for this team at #5 overall if he’s still there, in spite of the Raiders’ desperate need for a quarterback.
The Raiders signed Vance Walker and Pat Sims to cheap one-year deals last off-season because they were so strapped for cap space. That worked out really well. Sims blossomed in his 6th year in the league as the 2008 3rd round pick out of Auburn graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked defensive tackle. Walker, meanwhile, continued the solid play he displayed in Atlanta prior to coming to Oakland, grading out as above average. Unfortunately, both of them were on just one year deals so they’ll be free agents this off-season. If either isn’t re-signed, they’ll need to be replaced.
Tony Bergstrom was supposed to be a big part of the Raiders’ offensive line this year, but he missed the entire season with a foot injury and Lucas Nix had to step in for him. He might get another chance at a starting job in 2014, but he’s barely played in 2 years in the league and was only a 3rd round pick so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he never developed into a starter, especially as he’s already heading into his age 28 season. Lucas Nix was terrible in his absence, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked guard. Meanwhile, at the other guard position, Mike Brisiel is a poor fit for the blocking scheme and could be cut this off-season in an effort to save 1.15 million on next year’s cap and 11.55 in cash over the last 3 seasons. He’s going into his age 31 season.
Jared Veldheer, Khalif Barnes, and Tony Pashos are the Raiders top-3 offensive tackles and all 3 are going to be free agents this off-season. Veldheer should be locked up long-term. Even though he missed most of the season with a torn triceps and struggled upon his return, he’s still a franchise left tackle at full strength. A 3rd round pick out of Hillsdale in 2010, Veldheer graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 12th ranked offensive tackle in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The Raiders are in no position to allow someone like that to leave.
Even if re-signed, they’ll need someone opposite him at right tackle. Tony Pashos was competent this season, after being out of the league in 2012, but he’s going into his age 34 season. Barnes, meanwhile, was awful this season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 59th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible and he’s perennially among the worst ranked tackles in the NFL. 2013 2nd round pick Menelik Watson could be a long-term starting option, but the raw athlete struggled mightily in limited action as a rookie and might just be another Bruce Campbell.
Darren McFadden has never been able to live up to his billing as the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and was never able to live up to his huge 2010 season, in which he rushed for 1157 yards and 7 touchdowns on 223 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and added 47 catches for another 501 yards and 3 scores. In 3 seasons since, he’s played a total of 29 games out of 48 and rushed for just 1700 yards and 11 touchdowns on 446 carries (3.8 yards per carry). This season, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked running back.
Even with the big 2010 season, he’s never played more than 13 games in a season or had more than 223 carries or 270 touches and in his 2nd straight season of sub-3.5 yards per carry, he was benched for backup Rashad Jennings following an injury. Jennings was much better, rushing for 733 yards on 163 carries (4.5 yards per carry) with 6 touchdowns and 36 catches for 292 yards. Both are free agents and the Raiders are much more likely to bring back Jennings as a lead back than McFadden, who is probably going to be playing football elsewhere in 2014. Jennings, however, should not be considered a sure bet lead back, as he’s never had more than 163 carries in a season, he’s missed 27 of 80 games in his career, and he’s rushed for 4.3 yards per carry in his career, including 2.8 yards per carry in 2012. And if both are gone, then this is a significant position of need.
The Raiders drafted DJ Hayden in the first round in 2013. That hasn’t worked out so far as he played just 353 snaps because of injury and was unable to crack the starting lineup, grading out well below average on Pro Football Focus. He should still be considered a big part of their future obviously, but they’ll need cornerback help after him as well. Both Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter were on just one year deals and are now free agents again. Jenkins was actually pretty decent and could be brought back, but Porter showed why he had to settle for a one year deal as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th worst ranked cornerback this season.
Charles Woodson played decent football this season at free safety, but he’s a free agent heading into his age 38 season in 2014 so he obviously can’t be counted on long-term. Usama Young was his backup and he was actually very solid in limited action, which shouldn’t be surprising because he was actually a solid starter in Cleveland the year prior. However, he too is a free agent. The Raiders have so many needs that it might be a good idea to settle for bringing back either Woodson or Young or someone else on a cheap one year deal.
Key Free Agents
DE Lamarr Houston
LaMarr Houston is one of the few building blocks the Raiders have. The converted defensive tackle has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th, 9th, and 11th ranked defensive end in the past 3 seasons respectively and has been well worth the 2nd round pick the Raiders used on him in 2010. The Raiders have literally unlimited cap space this off-season because their roster is so bare so there’s no excuse for not re-signing him, even if they have to overpay him on a front loaded deal with a significant cap number in the first season.
OT Jared Veldheer
Even though he missed most of the season with a torn triceps and struggled upon his return, Jared Veldheer is still a franchise left tackle at full strength. A 3rd round pick out of Hillsdale in 2010, Veldheer graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 12th ranked offensive tackle in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The Raiders are in no position to allow someone like that to leave.
DT Pat Sims
Pat Sims was a largely irrelevant backup in Cincinnati to start his career, but the 2008 3rd round pick out of Auburn blossomed in his 6th season in the league in Oakland, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked defensive tackle, excelling against the run. The Raiders should try to keep him around as a potential building block for the future, but they shouldn’t overpay for him based on one strong season.
DT Vance Walker
A 7th round pick out of Georgia Tech, Vance Walker has emerged as a solid starter at defensive tackle over the past 2 seasons, first in Atlanta in 2012 and then in Oakland in 2013, where he was on a one year deal. He’s graded out above average in both seasons and has earned the right to get a multi-year deal worth in the range of 4-5 million dollars yearly with a decent sized signing bonus. The Raiders have a lot of cap space and would be wise to keep him in the fold.
RB Rashad Jennings
Rashad Jennings was a talented backup for Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville in 2009 and 2010 to start his career, after going in the 7th round in 2009. He rushed for 661 yards on 125 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. However, in 2011, he missed the whole season with injury and only rushed for 2.8 yards per carry upon his return in 2012. The Jaguars let him go as a free agent and the Raiders snatched him out where he had, by far, his best season, rushing for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns on 163 carries, an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and adding 36 catches for 292 yards through the air, taking over for Darren McFadden mid-season. The Raiders could bring him back on a cheap deal to be their lead back, but they should be hesitant about putting too much faith in him, especially as he’s going into his age 29 season already.
RB Darren McFadden
Darren McFadden has never been able to live up to his billing as the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and was never able to live up to his huge 2010 season, in which he rushed for 1157 yards and 7 touchdowns on 223 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and added 47 catches for another 501 yards and 3 scores. In 3 seasons since, he’s played a total of 29 games out of 48 and rushed for just 1700 yards and 11 touchdowns on 446 carries (3.8 yards per carry). This season, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked running back. Even with the big 2010 season, he’s never played more than 13 games in a season or had more than 223 carries or 270 touches and in his 2nd straight season of sub-3.5 yards per carry, he was benched for backup Rashad Jennings following an injury. Jennings is much more likely to be brought back as a lead back than McFadden, who is probably done in Oakland. Perhaps he can reunite with former Head Coach Hue Jackson in Cincinnati, under whom he had that 2010 season.
CB Mike Jenkins
Mike Jenkins was a 1st round pick by the Cowboys in 2008 and actually made the Pro-Bowl in 2009, deservingly so, but he eventually washed out in Dallas, struggling and losing his starting job. He got another chance with the Raiders this season and wasn’t terrible, grading out only slightly below average. They could bring him back as a starter, but he’s probably looking at short-term deals wherever he goes.
S Charles Woodson
Charles Woodson actually wasn’t that bad this season, grading out only slightly below average. However, he’s going into his age 38 season in 2014 so there’s a very good chance the former Defensive Player of the Year and Heisman winner just hangs them up and waits for the Hall of Fame to call, which it will. If he decides to continue playing, he’ll be looking at one-year deals with little to no guaranteed money.
OT Tony Pashos
Tony Pashos was out of the league completely in 2012, but he actually played very well in 12 games in 2011 with the Browns, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked offensive tackle. Given that, it shouldn’t be that surprising that he was pretty competent this season on the right side in Oakland, but he’s going into his age 34 season in 2014 so it’s tough to trust him going forward. He’s probably looking at one year deals with an opportunity to compete for a starting job.
S Usama Young
Usama Young was a cheap young talented starter in Cleveland in 2012, so naturally they cut him, despite the fact that he was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked safety that season. The Raiders wisely snatched him up cheaply, but they didn’t play him enough. Brandian Ross played in Tyvon Branch’s absence this season and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked safety. Usama Young, meanwhile, played just 208 snaps for some reason. He graded out above average on those snaps though. I still believe he’s a starting caliber player if given a chance.
OT Khalif Barnes
Khalif Barnes was one of Pro Football Focus’ worst tackles in 2012, grading out 64th out of 80 eligible despite making just 9 starts at right tackle. In 2013, he was equally bad, grading out 59th out of 76 eligible in 11 starts on the blindside. When Jared Veldheer came back from injury, Barnes, not Tony Pashos, went to the bench. Barnes should be looking for swing tackle work this off-season.
CB Tracy Porter
Tracy Porter has fallen a long way from running back an interception for a touchdown to seal a victory over Peyton Manning and the Colts in February 2010. Porter struggled mightily in 2011, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 91st ranked cornerback out of 109 eligible, allowing opponents to complete 71.2% of passes against him. He didn’t get a chance to redeem himself on a one year deal in Denver in 2012 because of an illness and he struggled mightily again in Oakland in 2013. He was Pro Football Focus’ 104th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible. He’ll have to wait a while for a team to call.
DE Jason Hunter
Jason Hunter was a veteran journeyman, but the Raiders gave him a chance to start because they were out of options and had very little cap space, in spite of the fact that didn’t play a snap in 2012 thanks to injury. He played exactly as he would have expected him to, generating just 4 sacks, 6 hits, and 12 hurries and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked 3-4 defensive end. He’ll be looking at situational role at the most this off-season.
Cap Casualty Candidates
G Mike Brisiel
Brisiel has been talked about as a cap casualty for about a year. They signed him to a 5-year deal to be one of the lynchpins of their zone blocking scheme, but the zone blocking scheme was implemented poorly and thrown out. Brisiel was Pro Football Focus’ 8th worst ranked guard in 2012 and would have been cut if cutting him hadn’t come with a cap hit. Now they can cut him and save over a million in cap space and 11.55 million in cash over the next 3 seasons, as he goes into his age 31 season. They could easily cut him, but they actually might not. They aren’t pressed for cap space at all and Brisiel had a much better season this year than last year, grading out just below average. With the struggles of Lucas Nix last season, Brisiel is their best guard and they might not want to part ways.