2014 Team Needs: Oakland Raiders
As the Oakland Raiders have gone through their post-Al Davis transition, they’ve shied away from splash moves in favor of the slow-and-steady path, at least as far as roster additions go. Clearly targeting 2014 as the foundation-laying season, they’ve worked for two years to clear contracts and get the franchise out from under the cloud of past promises. The result? A mountain of cap space. The cost? A roster with so many holes it’ll take that mountain of cash to get it in shape.
This year should be where we see them start adding impact pieces. The draft hasn’t been kind to the organization and they’ll have to do better in that department for the grand scheme to work, but they’re now able to buy some needed veteran parts as well. Just what will they be looking for when free agency opens and who might be the best fit? Here’s a look…
Potential Cap Casualties
There isn’t a need to trim in hopes of additional cap savings given the Raiders already sit atop the league’s pile with more than $60 million ready to spend (per overthecap.com), but they’ve been in that cost-cutting groove for a while now and, if they find it difficult to break the habit, there are still a few spots where they could tighten up.
– Right guard Mike Brisiel leaps to mind as a player whose potential savings might be more attractive to the team than having him serve again as one of the 53. Brisiel put in 898 snaps in an up-and-down year that saw him finish mildly below average as both a pass blocker (-1.3) and as a run blocker (-2.5), but he’s turning 31 in March and would get the team $1.4m back if he’s let go. His $5+m cap number in each of the coming three seasons isn’t going to happen, especially during this re-make that should include a few more doses of youth on the O-line.
– Kevin Burnett, who’ll also play as a 31-year-old in 2014, represents a possible cap savings of $3.5m in this, the last year of his two-year deal with Oakland. One of the defense’s most effective run defenders in 2013, Burnett does have some recent on-field accomplishments to point to when defending his worth but, as you’ll see in the performance based value article that posts later today, Nathan Jahnke’s ‘Play vs. Pay’ model showed Burnett’s on-field showing fell short of his 2013 cap hit that was less than half of what it will be in 2014.
– Brought in as part of last year’s roster-filling slew of signings, reserve linebacker Kaluka Maiava saw just 118 snaps over six games in his first season as a Raider. Though his cap number isn’t terribly high, a special teamer seeing over $2m per season may not be the direction the team wants to go, especially considering the one draft pick that stepped in and carved out a role for himself, Sio Moore, lines up ahead of him on the depth chart. The savings from letting Maiava go would be just short of $1m.
If you’ve been reading along with the ‘Team Needs’ pieces we’ve put up to date, you’ll surely have noticed a trend among the teams at the top of the draft order… the need for a QB. As was said for Houston, Cleveland, and Jacksonville before them, the Raiders can comfortably count finding an answer at the position as their top priority.
Surviving the 2014 season with the Terrelle Pryor- Matt Flynn-Matt McGloin combo only served to reinforce what a glaring need this is. While Pryor obviously had a lot to offer with his legs, he graded out at the bottom of the league as a passer (-24.4) in only 337 drop-backs. McGloin also had a moment or two that got the Nation riled, but in the end, his league-worst Accuracy Percentage (66.5%) is what stood out.
Free agent fix: As with the other QB-needy teams mentioned above, the long-term answer doesn’t lie in this year’s free agent market. But, assuming the team will look closely at the rookie QB crop with their No. 5 pick, a free agent add here could be a one-year seat-warmer and that fits nicely with what’s available. The name coming up often as a short-term plug-in after his successful relief stint in Chicago is Josh McCown and another short run with the Raiders at this point might not be a bad idea. That said, it’s hard to get behind any of the QBs on the list, even the nine-years-younger Josh Freeman that offensive coordinator Greg Olsen had in Tama Bay for three seasons or the once-dynamic Michael Vick.
With the entire starting D-line scheduled for free agency Oakland could be left in search of replacements for over 3000 combined snaps worth of play up front. Even if they managed to bring back one or two of their own (Lamarr Houston? Pat Sims?), adding an impact pass rusher here could change the face of the unit.
It’s not going to be often that things align to have the team in position to pay for that kind of player when that kind of player is actually on the open market. But, fortunately for Oakland, they have the cash and there are worthy options out there.
Free agent fix: There simply aren’t many more destructive 4-3 defensive ends in the league than Greg Hardy. Ranking among the best at the position both as a pass rusher (+15.4, fourth) and as a run defender (+12.6, sixth) in 2013, Hardy is the kind of force that a building team can count on as a legitimate foundation piece. A young player excelling at a premium position and still on his way up – he’s got ‘face of the franchise’ written all over him and the Raiders can offer the dollars to lure him in.
Strong safety is the only spot sewn up in the Raiders’ secondary and even that is dependent upon the healthy return of Tyvon Branch. In need of long-term help at free safety and at least two of the three corner spots, Oakland’s cap timing once again could lead to quick solutions via free agency. Both the cornerback crop and the group of free agent safeties hold multiple possibilities worth considering.
Free agent fix: Looking at high safeties, Jarius Byrd is the top target (though the potential for another Franchise Tag exists for him in Buffalo) but a player like Chris Clemons brings the coverage ability sorely needed at the back of the defense and a more reasonable price. His seven plays on the ball (an INT and six PDs) held against the 11 catches charged to his coverage in 2013 hints at his impact when the ball is in the air and his league-leading 0.20 Yards per Cover Snap hammers it home. If a corner is preferred, the list is even longer. Banking on one or two of the younger choices would fall in line with the team’s long-term plans and 25-year-olds Alterraun Verner and Captain Munnerlyn would make a lot of sense as investments that could play out the full life of a contract.
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