Offseason to-do list for the Oakland Raiders

Robert Hamilton examines the biggest offseason needs for the Oakland Raiders, a team likely a few moves away from becoming a playoff contender.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Offseason to-do list for the Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders struggles have been well documented since their last playoff appearance following the 2002 regular season, which turned into a drubbing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. However, the franchise that has been perpetually mired by its own poor decisions and reckless spending appears to be one more productive offseason away from returning to its once proud standing as an AFC West contender. The team has already shown progress in 2015, with a 7-9 season under new coach Jack Del Rio, and in the process, made the precipitous jump from PFF’s 30th overall ranked team in 2014 to PFF’s ninth overall ranked team this season.

Building blocks through the draft

Based on the immediate results, GM Reggie McKenzie has absolutely nailed the past two drafts for the Raiders, and has set them up nicely in some key spots. This starts and ends with solidifying the game’s most important position via QB Derek Carr in the 2014 second round. The team’s overall improvement this past season mirrored Carr’s, as he jumped from PFF’s second-to-last ranked QB to the edge of the top 10, finally affording Raiders’ fans a sigh of relief following a sprinkle of Carson Palmer and Jason Campbell amid mostly disastrous stints from Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn, and he-who-must-not-be-named, JaMarcus Russell. Based on this year’s performance, Carr should be expected to grow into an upper-echelon QB for the foreseeable future.

Khalil Mack fortuitously fell to the Raiders with the fifth pick in the 2014 draft, and has already established himself as PFF’s top ranked edge defender and a true building block of a player who is equally disruptive against the run and pass. To top things off, the Raiders third pick in 2014, G Gabe Jackson (84.4 season grade), is already PFF’s 12th-ranked guard. Wide receiver Amari Cooper followed in 2015 and added a new dimension to the Raiders’ offense after being a highly-regarded pick for Oakland. On the other hand, the pick of DE Mario Edwards Jr. in the second round was widely panned by analysts who may now regret their sentiments after a very impressive rookie season by Edwards Jr. (80.9). Finally, McKenzie completed back-to-back hat tricks, with the pick of TE Clive Walford (74.6) in 2015’s third round.

All six of these players are already graded as average to elite NFL starters, while being locked into their rookie contracts for at least two to three more seasons. McKenzie has had a penchant for sticking to his draft board and not straying from this plan based on need. Another strong draft should at the least give the Raiders cost-effective players to supply the depth they have lacked in seasons past.

Savvy free agent shopping

While many GM’s pay lip service to the mantra “build from the inside out,” McKenzie has had success on the free agent market during his tenure as GM. Three of the highest four players on the payroll are free agent lineman signed in the past two off seasons: C Rodney Hudson (84.8, seventh-ranked center), DT Dan Williams (88.0, 14th ranked interior defender), and OT Austin Howard (80.7, 18th ranked offensive tackle). Another free agent signee, LT Donald Penn (84.5, 12th ranked offensive tackle) has slightly outplayed the man he replaced, Jared Veldheer (81.8), but at a fraction of the price. A free agent flyer, WR Michael Crabtree (78.8) provided excess value on his one-year contract, and already earned himself a long-term extension to pair with Amari Cooper and form a dangerous starting duo for Derek Carr to utilize going forward. In one offseason, McKenzie was able to turn the WR position from a blatant weakness to a strength.

McKenzie should continue to look to add productive players on team-friendly contracts. Some lower priced targets should include a third WR, a viable supplement to Latavius Murray at RB, a starting RG to replace likely departure J’Marcus Webb (44.6), a legitimate return man, and a LB who excels in coverage, given the team’s struggle covering tight ends this season.

Aggressive free agent splashes

As laid out above, McKenzie has had some success targeting the second and third tier of free agency the past few offseasons, while cleaning up what was arguably the worst salary cap situation in the league. The result of his diligent work is that the Raiders will be entering the 2016 with approximately $64 million in projected cap space, more than any other team. They must spend this money out of sheer necessity so as to be in compliance with the new collective bargaining agreement, which requires a team to spend at least 89 percent of its cap from 2013-2016, and there aren’t many pending free agents on the Raiders’ current roster who will take a large portion of this.

According to PFF, Oakland’s lowest-grade attribute as a team was its pass coverage (No. 22 in the league). They should look to allot a good chunk of their space to the secondary, given that there does not appear to be many answers waiting in the wings on the current roster, especially with S Charles Woodson now making wine in Napa instead of intercepting quarterbacks.

Midseason pickup CB David Amerson (83.4) deserves a shot at a starting gig in 2016, but after that, it’s open season. After an injury-riddled season, S Nate Allen (41.3) may get another chance at a safety position given his high salary. That leaves a lot of acquisitions left through the draft or free agency to make this offseason.

One possible target could include S Eric Weddle (77.9), who is only one season removed from being PFF’s top-ranked safety, and who would likely enjoy taking a shot at the San Diego Chargers twice per season. Additionally, CB Sean Smith (83.9) figures to be high up on the list, along with CB Prince Amukamara (78.4), CB Leon Hall (79.7), and S Walter Thurmond (79.3).

Another area that could stand to benefit from a “splash signing” would be the defensive line, particularly a pass rusher such as Mario Williams to pair with Khalil Mack while Aldon Smith continues to serve the remainder of his year-long suspension. McKenzie will have a lot of money to spend, and should finally have the infrastructure in place to be able to attract top-tier talent at positions of need.

Putting it all together

First and foremost, the Raiders need to figure out where they will be playing next year, in Oakland or in Los Angeles. The lack of clarity on its future is certainly causing a state of unrest. Once that is settled, the franchise and its fan base can hopefully emerge as a unified front going forward. Based on their young talent, coaching stability, strong offensive/defensive lines, and ample cap flexibility, the Raiders are in as good a position as any team to make the jump from non-playoff team to postseason contender in 2016. While nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, by staying the course and making some of the above mentioned improvements, they have the opportunity to get back to “just winning, baby.”

  • Lucas Daniel Uribe

    #Raiders need in no particular order; O-Lineman, S/CB, & MLB/OLB. Reggie Mckenzie should focus on defense in Free Agency. I think we also need a Power Back behind Latavius Murray. All in All, Reggie wants to build from O-Line to D-Line. Which I like! The Draft should be the BPA! With Free Agency and the Draft Reggie has put us on the Rise! #RaiderNation will be Back. Oh and Great Article Mr. Hamilton!

  • SuperRaider

    i would love to see a veteran edge rusher who can put at least a year or two in while Aldon Smith serves out his suspension and regains form. I also like Heeney as MLB but Malcolm Smith is best suited as backup.

    • codered5

      I think you’d call that person justin tuck

      • TrillyMadison

        Justin Tuck is on his last legs’ last legs.

    • tno

      I can see us signing Tuck to a 1 year contract. He is on his last leg but I believe he was a good presence in the lock room and was on the sideline. He can be a backup strictly. Our LB need help. I know everyone likes Heeney. Heeney looked like he earned a spot to play or until we find someone better. I was really expecting a lot from N. Ball. He was fast and able to cover. I am not sure how he will be next year but I thought he was getting better as season went on. He is a good cover LB. What helped us get sacks was mario Edwards. He pushed the pocket from the middle causing QB to step back right into arms of LB/DE.

  • jdg3

    If Reggie can pull 3 more starters out of the 2016 draft the Raiders will be in great shape. I don’t actually dread the draft anymore like I did in Al Davis’ last few years

    • crosseyedlemon

      Al Davis did take some crazy flyers at the end but knowing that the league would always come up with some “tuck rule” b.s to screw him over with, I’m not sure he had many other options.

      • GencoOliveOil

        The tuck rule was not a good rule, but in Jan. 2002, it was in the rule book, so Walt Coleman was right in calling it. Sorry, but it wasn’t an example of the NFL trying to screw Al Davis. You conveniently forget a few key facts: 1) The Patriots proceeded to drive down the field on consecutive drives; 2) They then converted two field goals of 40-plus yards in an intense snowstorm that made for terrible kicking conditions; 3) Earlier in the 2001 regular season, the Patriots had lost to the Jets after a Richard Seymour fumble recovery was overturned on account of the tuck rule; and 4) Most people agreed that the rule was a poor one… which is why it was eliminated from the rule book that very off season.

        • BigDRaider

          That call was never known before that happened. Is it strange that it was never called all year then to happen to the Raiders who had just secured the game. It was a big cheat you must be a Patsy fan.

        • Lorini

          I know what you are saying, but that call felt like the recent ‘no, that just LOOKS like a catch’ calls we’ve been seeing. I think the NFL has refined the tuck rule since that disastrous game and I’m now happy with the way they call it.

        • Mo

          Just because it was in the rule book, doesn’t mean it was correctly applied. The call on the field was a fumble and the replay could not clearly show that Tom Brady had not already tucked the ball when he got hit (he got hit exactly as his off hand touched the ball). So by rule, the play should’ve stayed as called on the field.

        • ron m

          Sounds like a Pats fan…and the party line: “Yes, it was a stupid rule, but it was the rule, so it was called right”. I saw an interview with Jon Ritchie last night. He said, “So, if I was a QB, I’d drop back and (Ritchie repeatedly mimicks a tapping motion of a ball into his hand a la Mackey Sasser), so nothing I would do after that could be a fumble”… and he’s RIGHT! The intent of the rule was to rule incomplete a ball that slipped from a passer’s hand an aborted forward passing motion…NEVER did it rule out the possibility of a ball DISLODGED by opponent contact AFTER it had been reclaimed by the QB’s non-passing hand. That is an eloquent way of saying IT WAS A FUMBLE. Everyone knows it.
          As jacked up as the “Immaculate Deception” was, the “*uck Play” was a WORSE call that Bradshaw to Fuqua to the ground to Harris, with Villipiano getting clipped while tackling Harris (and that was 3 blown calls, all on the same play).
          Sadly, the “*uck Play” was not the worst blown call that cost the Raiders in the playoffs…and good luck finding a video of the Rob Lytle goal line fumble in the 77 AFC Championship anywhere on the internet. It is property of NFL films, and they’re not doing a whole lot of bragging. They are also the owners of the OTHER angle of the Franco Harris non-catch – the one that hasn’t been shown in 35 years (the one everyone is familiar with cuts the ball off just below the bottom of the screen).
          I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I am not obtuse either. It’s clear that a) the refs were afraid to reverse the call in 1972, b) that the refs blew the call (a 14 point swing) in 1977, and didn’t know how to reverse it, c) that a team named the “Patriots” had market value shortly after September 11, 2001, and d) Al Davis and the NFL powerbrokers have always been at odds.

          • Nick


    • chuckupnow

      So right…I remember sitting with a bunch of buddies for the 2009 Draft (all Pats fans, so please pray for me again this year).

      When the Raiders come up, they all start yelling (Raji, Crabtree, Maclin…etc)

      Just before the pick was announced, I stand up and say “Darrius Heyward-Bey!”

      We pick DHB.

      They responded…”who the f*** is that? and how did you know?”

      I say, the “fastest guy in the draft”.

      That was Al for you.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I have to believe the Raiders would be in the playoffs this year had they been in either the AFC South or NFC East. The franchise has definitely turned the corner and is poised to be a solid contender next season. The plan is place is starting to pay dividends so management should just stick with it.

    • Mike Riley

      Well a 18-46 record as GM & no news about a possible firing shows Mark Davis trusts Reggie McKenzie to see this through the end of his contract. Of course they have to finish 10-6 or better in year 5 or else I see it hard to retain his services & resign.

      • crosseyedlemon

        The Raiders had to suffer several losses waiting for Carr to gain confidence and mature but their patience was finally rewarded this year and he looks ready to join the ranks of the leagues top QBs now.

      • GBPFan12

        Dude had to clean up one of the biggest messes in the league, then rebuild a team and then build the team into a contender.

        That all takes patience unless you get super lucky like Seattle with their 2010-2012 draft classes.

        • Zach

          Adderall helps too = Seattle lmao

      • play4blood

        Nah. Can’t fault the GM if the coaching staff doesn’t deliver. Del Rio was a Mark Davis hire. McKenzie will live or die by his drafting and talent acquisition. As such, his job security is on solid ground.

        The 18-46 record is meaningless. The Raiders deliberately tanked Reggie’s first 2 seasons to repair the salary cap. Davis himself called it the “deconstruction phase.”

        “Reconstruction” began in 2014, and while it certainly got off to a slow start (due in no small part to the Raiders’ laughably inadequate facilities; something JDR successfully pressed to have upgraded), 2015 represents a giant leap forward. The +4 win total doesn’t begin to demonstrate just how far this team has come over the last year.

        Reggie isn’t going anywhere. He’s earned his seat at the table.

        • BigDRaider


        • thetwilightsown .

          Couldn’t agree more.
          The constant clanging of the W/L bell is so friggin’ tedious. Anyone can’t see what had to be done in order to get where the team is now should probably invest in a different hobby because frankly, you’re not very good at this one. Also, you’re a BUM OUT to everyone else who enjoys watching a team turn things around. RM has done an amazing job – has he made mistakes? Of course – as has every single GM in the league.
          Back to back excellent drafts; about an 85% rate on free agency (count how many legit QB’s are in free agency this offseason, then imagine we don’t have Carr and have to pick from them… then criticize the Schaub and Flynn signings); a straight up masterful job repairing the nightmare of a cap… and this dripping faucet of a complaint should be all done. Nobody wants to dig out the pool full of sewage, because it’s never fast enough and every minute that it isn’t clean, less and less people will ever want to swim in it.
          Props to Mark for sticking by RM through this, now we can watch this team not only complete the 180º, but go full speed ahead in the right direction.
          And props to the fans who stuck by them the whole way through.

          • ron m

            Really well said…complete with poetic imagery (I especially like the “pool full of sewage” metaphor). It’s ironic, the hearty thumbs-up he gets now when so many were calling for his head a year or two ago, but you said it best: fans are an impatient lot. They want to click the remote and see their team win, and critical thinking skills as to why a team fails are subverted by frustration. It was this kind of impatience at the management level that led to the Raiders burying themselves in salary cap hell 5 years ago.
            I often try to picture the Mark Davis/John Madden/RM hiring process: “Listen, you have a trainwreck on your hands, and if you want me as your GM, you need to commit to 11 wins over the first 3 years if I’m going to fix this thing”. That’s the truth, isn’t it? In a “win now” world, kudos to MD for taking a step back, seeing the reality, and having faith in the process…because it IS a process.
            I have said it before, there are 32 GMs in the league and they all want to win. If it were easy, there would be 32 Lombardi trophies every year. Furthermore, teams who have stayed on top in the 21st century (most of whom I hate) have done it by finding young talent in the draft and by managing the cap sensibly. The only difference between RM and the GMs of the Packers/Pats/Broncos,Hawks, etc over the past 5 years is that Reggie started with a clear handicap. Yes, he has blown a few… like Dennis Allen and DJ Hayden…but 31 other GMs have blown a few as well.
            Think of it as rebuilding your house. Years 1 and 2: Tear down the dilapidated old building that serves no purpose, without evicting the tenants… which is to say, cut salary and field a team…any team… with no cap space and no draft picks. Year 3, lay a foundation. If you’ve ever looked at a bare foundation being laid, it has rebar and mortar and conduit sticking out – grey cinder blocks and a lot of mud…aka 3-13. Year 4: build the building…finally, you can see what it’s supposed to look like. There’s still no lawn or trees, but the cable, plumbing, framing, ethernet, and wiring is in… that’s what we’ll call 7-9.
            Next year will be the real acid test. It should be obvious by now that this was a 5 year plan from the beginning. If not, RM would have been fired after turning 8-8 into 4-12. The braintrust of this team went into this KNOWING that there was no quick fix, and that deconstruction was necessary. This disenfranchises a lot of fans who want to click their remote and see a W. Next year is year 5, and I suspect RM will be expected to deliver a winning record and a playoff appearance. The foundation is laid and the walls are built, and next year will be a referendum on his plan. A championship is not the mandate, but he will be expected to 1) have a winner, and 2) continue the model (ie, have the draft picks and the cap space to move FORWARD). The bad news is that the AFC West is a tough division. The good news is that we are about 6 players (and I mean HIGH-END players) away from being a really good team (3 DBs, 1-2 OLs, and a DE or MLB), and that we have the cap space and draft pics to easily fill those needs.
            In closing, I’d like to give a shout-out to my 15 year old son, a hard-core Raider fan. He has heard his 51 yr-old father’s tales of Stabler, Allen, and Tatum (my homey from Passaic, NJ), but has never seen a winning season. If he can keep the faith, so can I… and RM has given us a reason for hope.

      • BigDRaider

        I think the owner understood the GM had to deal with a place that has never had anyone else be a GM other than Al Davis that alone means something…then he endured……Bad contracts and no draft picks in rounds 1,2 and 3rd pick was the last pick of that round all this handcuffed the GM year one. Year two way too many holes to fill but also swung out on DJ Hayden and Menelik Watson second round although there is time for those to get better..GM’s are allowed to swing and miss…ask Al Davis….Then Great draft year 3 and 4. The inept offense improved immensely in those two years alone acquiring Carr, Cooper, Jackson, and the emergence of Moore from the bench. And smart FA picks ups in Crab and Hudson and Penn who is grading better and cheaper than his replacement. Oh and the stretch on Aldon Smith was great…. The D can be monstrous with Mack and in need of secondary help which will improve through draft/free agency. With all the cash available and being on the verge of being in the playoffs will make Oakland sexy to play for. It took time but this team will be competing for a playoff spot next year. Raiders are that close. The GM has done his job the financial house is in great shape (most in the NFL to spend) why: because he didnt hamper the cap with over paying FA’s and gave dudes 1 year deals and if they didnt work out they didnt stick around getting paid(great strategy) and now the GM has alot less holes and can now add depth….

        • Truthteller33

          To add on, 2013 has been an AWFUL draft class. Fisher, Joeckel, and Jordan have all been busts big time. We should have taken Star Lotulelei, but I think McKenzie wanted to take a shot at a super high ceiling knowing there weren’t many sure things. Watson was coming along before that Achilles. Sucks, but it happens. Still got Murray (Pro Bowler), Rivera (starter…though Walford will be taking his spot), and McGee (solid rotational player) all in the 6th round.

  • Alfredo Cota

    – Kelechi Osemele
    – Trumaine Johnson/Sean Smith
    – Bruce Irvin
    – Eric Weddle
    Strictly BPA in the draft.

    • ron m

      wow, you’re looking psychic right about now

      • Alfredo Cota

        Big Reggie stole my plan!

  • tno

    I am not saying be crazy and spend but we should look at resigning Penn and Tuck. Yes, we need upgrades on 0-line and DE but I thought Penn earned an extended contract. If anything they appear to be great veteran presence on field and locker room. Tuck can still rush the QB but as backup. This would give us Depth.

  • chuckupnow

    I think parallels can be made with the Dallas Cowboys circa 1989 & 1990 and the Raiders of 2014 & 2015.

    The highly talented foundations are in place with some exceptions (CB & now Safety). Some will argue we need a stud RB, well in today’s NFL two back system is the way and I expect a change of back draft pick or free agent (Miller/Morris or Martin).

    Reggie has shown his ability in the draft, and as long as he stays ways from free agent QB’s , overall he does well in free agentcy.

    Added talent described in the article, and the leap to 10 plus wins should occur next year.

    I personally don’t think the stadium situation has much of an effect on the players. The Raiders are not leaving Oakland, or at least California any time soon.