Heading into the 2014 offseason, Just Blog Baby Podcast cohost Rory Anderson evaluates approaches that the Oakland Raiders could take in free agency. Here are his thoughts.
When I was writing my Back to the Bay column during the season I started branching off into how the Raiders may approach free agency. Here I am going to take a more in depth approach laying out the three models the Raiders could follow based on the information we know. These approaches will have some things in common and they will dramatically affect how the team drafts as well. Ultimately what the organization needs to do is decide what they want to be and how they feel they can win in their division. After this article I will write three more breaking down how much each prospective free agent target will look to earn this offseason, which plan they fit into, and whether or not it is realistic the Raiders sign them. In conjunction, the goal is to lay out why the Raiders would choose a certain path and what expectations fans should realistically have. To clarify, all of these approaches work off the idea of the Raiders resigning Veldheer, Houston, Charles Woodson, and Tracy Porter.
This approach is hard to define too specifically because many players may get franchise tagged, but that will not stop me from discussing the overall concept. Overall, the focus here is to three big names and most importantly the three biggest names in free agency to both make an impact on the field, but to also spark the fan base. I encounter many fans on twitter who ask me about all sorts of potential free agents, but most frequently I get questions regarding the big names. Guys like Brian Orakpo, Jared Allen, Alterraun Verner, Jimmy Graham, Jarius Byrd, Justin Tuck, Greg Hardy, and Hakeem Nicks. In that list there are several who will get franchise tagged, however a combination of Allen, Byrd, and Verner would be a very significant catch for the Raiders.
The big names and the value in this free agency class is on the defensive side of the ball. Because of that, it would most likely drive the team to focus on offense in the draft but that is not a definite. The issue with taking this approach is that you leave a lot of holes to be filled with minimum contract players. If the Raiders were to sign Verner, Byrd, and Orakpo, they would likely use up about thirty million dollars of this year’s cap. Reggie McKenzie in this case would most likely prefer to make those contracts front loaded which means it would take up more of this year’s cap. The advantage to front loading the contracts is they can have significantly smaller numbers each of the subsequent years making the contracts more palatable even if the players output declines.
Come draft day the Raiders would be in position to take best player available, but most likely based on the recent report that they only view Teddy Bridgewater as a first round quarterback, it seems they would draft Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins to continue the pattern of big production and big names players. A quarterback would likely come from the mid rounds and a veteran addition would be a certainty. I have long said I expect Josh Freeman to be a Raider next year and I think that inclination hold true with all of these approaches due to the previously released report regarding the Raiders views on the quarterbacks. Furthermore, Reggie McKenzie said in his end of the season press conference that he wants a rookie quarterback to sit and learn for at least one season.
Ultimately this approach is about bang and getting names along with impact to drive interest in the team and although I do not necessarily believe this will be the approach they take, I have heard from several scouts, agents, and media people that find this approach legitimate. There are rumblings that the Raiders will go make a few splashes which means it must be taken seriously.
All Around Depth
In this case the Raiders would take the approach of adding solid talent in every position of need. Bypassing on the biggest names in free agency, the Raiders would look at the free agents and try to maximize the efficiency of their money, but have no specific preference on which side of the ball to improve. Adding offensive and defensive assistance with players more valuable than the ones they added in 2013 would be their direction.
For this approach to work, it is centered on the idea that you add solid free agent talent, but you groom your own stars. The checklist of needs is long and addressing them all with a talented player would be tough but it is doable. What the Raiders would want is an established veteran in each position that can start and play well allowing the team to take best player available or trade the pick. The free agent positional check list would be an interior offensive lineman, possibly a wide receiver, at least two defensive ends/Leos depending on how the Raiders want their defense to look, at least two defensive tackles, potentially a middle linebacker if they don’t believe in Burris to start, a cornerback, and a safety.
The advantage here is with depth comes security and having someone you can trust to do their job allows you to stay away from drafting a certain position. That being said, at their spot Sammy Watkins is likely the best player available, but drafting an explosive outside pass rusher that could be a situational rusher and eventually the starting Leo is also plausible. In the end the focus is to build both sides of the ball evenly. The disadvantage is as a team unless you groom your early draft picks you lack any big names or playmakers, but that is why this is an organizational decision. They must decide as an organization what they value.
Becoming AFC West Kryptonite
A few nights ago I floated a tweet out there regarding the Raiders saying that either the Raiders can fall in line with the AFC West with a high profile quarterback or they can become the antithesis of the AFC West, the Seattle Seahawks. Of course they do not have the opportunity to do in one year what they did in four years, but they can make strides in that direction. If you are looking at teams that can throw the ball well and have significant offensive threats and you do not see a franchise quarterback in round one, then you can’t become your enemy. Instead you have to beat them another way and the best way may be to become a defensive power house.
To do this the Raiders have to start up front. They could sign either big name guys or several solid lesser name players. Greg Hardy, Michael Johnson, Brian Orakpo, Jason Worilds, and several other ends or Leos would be definite targets. Then at defensive tackle adding Melton would be a must, but they would have to focus on adding guys that can get penetration. Resigning Pat Sims would be very advantageous, but a more unknown Seahawks who I speak very highly of is Clinton McDonald. The main focus is getting penetration. Adding a big two gapping nose tackle isn’t necessarily the route I see them going unless they want more 3-4 principles. The Raiders mixed their one and two gap responsibilities consistently depending on the play, but that requires athletic and versatile tackles not big space eaters like BJ Raji. Adding a two down middle linebacker if they do not believe in Burris would also be likely in order to move Roach to his natural weak side linebacker spot. Lastly adding at least one versatile cornerback such as Thurmond or Munnerlyn would be very helpful along with a versatile safety like Kendrick Lewis.
When draft day comes, the Raiders would likely focus on an outside pass rusher or more likely trading down. If they were to get extra pick(s) (a 2 and a 4) and drop until pick eleven they could add Aaron Donald and then in rounds two through four they would add one more outside pass rusher, a wide receiver, a cornerback/free safety, an interior offensive lineman, and a quarterback.
When it comes to the offense, they would have added Josh Freeman who would compete with McGloin, Pryor, and a mid-round pick like Garappolo or even Tim Savage from Pitt. This approach requires the belief that the Raiders have the young talent on the offensive line to fix the issues from last year with more stability and practice which is not crazy. The main issue on the offensive line is left guard and they have three players who could solidify that spot if they grow into it. The requires faith in the coaching staff, but it is an organizational decision they must make.
In the end the Raiders have a long way to go to be successful, but this offseason is a pivotal time for the entire franchise. They must decide who and what they want to be and they must execute that plan effectively. In the following weeks I will be putting out contract estimates and fits for players that would qualify in each scenario. The following weeks will be exciting and we will see some plan start to emerge as soon as free agency starts. When I was writing my Back to the Bay column during the season I started branching off into how the Raiders may approach free agency. Here I am going to take a more in depth approach laying out the three models the Raiders could follow based on the information we know. These approaches will have some things in common and they will dramatically affect how the team drafts as well. Ultimately what the organization needs to do is decide what they want to be and how they feel they can win in their division. After this article I will write three more breaking down how much each prospective free agent target will look to earn this offseason, which plan they fit into, and whether or not it is realistic the Raiders sign them. In conjunction, the goal is to lay out why the Raiders would choose a certain path and what expectations fans should realistically have. To clarify, all of these approaches work off the idea of the Raiders resigning Veldheer, Houston, Charles Woodson, and Tracy Porter.