Oakland likely to be key player in free agency
The 2016 offseason will be a defining one in the tenure of GM Reggie McKenzie. The franchise, as a whole, is poised to take the next step into the ranks of perennial contender, but they’ll have to make good use of their projected $75+ million in cap space to get there.
Below are the free agents that the Raiders should re-sign, let walk, and target on the open market.
(Editor’s note: This article was updated on Feb. 29, 2016, following the re-signing of P Marquette King.)
LT Donald Penn and OLB Aldon Smith
The Raiders have three impending free agents that amassed 500+ snaps in 2015 (Donald Penn, Aldon Smith, and J’Marcus Webb), as well as five other restricted free agents in waiting. Of those players, only Aldon Smith and Donald Penn are guys that really need to be retained. They’ve already taken the moral plunge on Smith, and with nine games remaining on his suspension, he should be back for far less than his skills are worth. Penn, on the other hand, is 33, and still one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the league. It shouldn’t take too much to resign the veteran tackle, and all signs point to him still being productive.
G J’Marcus Webb
J’Marcus Webb obviously fits in here. He was a last-ditch effort last offseason to fill a need on the offensive line, and the results were less than stellar. Webb would finish as the 70th-best guard in 2015.
WR Andre Holmes
There are a number of part-time guys that aren’t necessarily critical to keep around, most notably wide receiver Andre Holmes, who is only a year removed from being a starter. His -9.8 cumulative grade over the last two seasons was the lowest on the Raiders’ roster, and with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper in place, Holmes becomes easily expendable.
With so much cap space, the Raiders can—and probably will—go a number of different ways. In the past few seasons, they’ve added big name and big money talent in Michael Crabtree and Rodney Hudson. But they’ve also hit on some mid-tier guys like Dan Williams and Donald Penn. Reggie McKenzie has proven to have a fairly sharp eye in his pro scouting department. With glaring needs at safety, linebacker, and cornerback, here are a few names at each that I’d take a hard look at.
LB Danny Trevathan
Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith were not the cures the Raiders were looking for at the position. Lofton is a likely candidate to be cut, and a nice replacement for him would be the Broncos’ Danny Trevathan. He’s only 26 years old, and has a +26.3 cumulative grade over his last two healthy seasons, impacting both the run and pass.
S Eric Weddle
Replacing Charles Woodson won’t be easy, but this is a position ripe with talent in free agency where they could make a splash. The most likely candidate comes from another division rival, and it’s Eric Weddle. He’s been PFF’s highest-graded safety twice in his career, and is almost certain to leave the Chargers this offseason. At 31 years old, he’ll have a handful of good years still left, and could seamlessly replace Woodson.
CB Trumaine Johnson or CB Brandon Boykin
Josh Norman is obviously a pipe dream here, but without a whole lot invested in the position outside of former first-rounder D.J. Hayden, Oakland may be wise to go after multiple mid-level cornerbacks. Trumaine Johnson and Brandon Boykin are unlikely to command big money, but both will be massive upgrades at the position. Boykin is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league, but was underutilized in Pittsburgh last year. Johnson was quietly one of the stingiest cornerbacks in the NFL in St. Louis last season, allowing only a 55.0 passer rating when targeted, the second-best figure in the league. He’s also likely to command far less money than his counterpart Janoris Jenkins.