Going into Week Two of 2014 NFL Free Agency there is no secret to the fact that the Oakland Raiders are seriously in the market when it comes to adding any of the available offensive line talent that has been left over after the initial rush for top level free agents last week. Losing out on the likes of Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe and Anthony Collins as well as Rodger Saffold (after voiding his contract and sending him back to the Rams), Reggie McKenzie has yet to bolster the offensive line as he has done on the defensive side of the ball.
With LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith coming to Oakland on the defensive line it appears that this week’s main mission will be addressing the offensive line, but with Donald Penn talking with Washington weighing out his options McKenzie the Raiders will need a back up plan for getting a quality talent should they miss out on Penn.
Sitting on piles of cap space and far from reaching the salary cap floor, there may be no better option for a big Raiders splurge on the offensive line than the Cleveland Browns Alex Mack who wants to test the free agency market after being slapped with the transition tag meaning that NFL teams can attempt to offer Mack a deal the Browns cannot match.
Mack, 29 and a former 21st overall pick out of Cal, is one of the best centers in football and could be just the answer the Raiders need in the trenches.
Here are some reasons why a splurge on Mack makes sense for the Raiders.
Elite, durable talent
There are few offensive linemen that boast the durability and consistency of Mack as the 29 year old has played in all 16 games in every season of his NFL career since being selected in the 2009 draft.
Mack has also been a quality contributor to every offensive line he has been on since entering the league. Pro Football Focus has ranked Mack as a plus player in each of his NFL seasons, including an impressive 21.0 rating in his rookie year in addition to 14.9 and 17.8 ratings in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Mack’s 2013 season was good enough to place him as the fourth best center in the league per PFF. Only Jason Kelce (18.9), Dominic Raiola (18.6) and John Sullivan (17.9) had better PFF grades for the season and the next closest player to Mack was Denver’s Manny Ramirez with a 14.9 rating showing Mack as one of easily the Top 5 centers in the league currently at the center position.
The one grade where Mack could improve is run blocking as he ranked fifth amongst centers in run blocking grades from PFF, but an all around center in his prime like Mack is a luxury that the Raiders currently do not have which makes his appeal all that more enticing.
Wisniewski better served at guard
The Raiders do have a capable starting center in Stefan Wisniewski, but Mack is a clear cut improvement that makes moving the Wiz somewhere else on the offensive line worth it.
Moving Wisniweski to guard would also be rather painless as he has the experience in the position from the beginning of his career as well as the talented coaching mind of Tony Sparano to help get him adjusted to moving back to guard.
While the Raiders should be fine with Wiz at center, and the signing of the Giants Kevin Boothe likely solidifying his position in the center of the Raiders offensive line there is no denying that Mack wouldn’t be an improvement over the current option.
They can afford it
Even with big spends on both sides of the trenches and Monday’s signing of James Jones the Raiders still have the cap space to outbid the Browns out of Mack’s services.
After voiding the contract of Rodger Saffold, Reggie McKenzie still has the cap space to splurge on an elite offensive line talent if he so wishes. While Donald Penn is a Top 20 left tackle with veteran experience, there are reports that he wants to get paid quite generously by either Oakland or Washington due to the fact he is the last high quality tackle on the market in free agency.
Landing Mack could command a $10 million salary or more to outbid the Browns who still have a decent chunk of cap space even after splurging on a wide list of free agents of their own, but if Penn is truly wishing for a big payday it may be an option to consider should the dollars between Penn/Mack command a look at both options.
In the end, unlikely
The Raiders likely will not be interested in kicking the tires on Mack and may even be less interested in Donald Penn after landing Kevin Boothe. The Raiders have a decent amount of depth on the line and have Menelik Watson hoping to crack the lineup somewhere on the offensive line in his sophomore season as well as the ability to draft players which may mean it is Penn or bust when it comes to spending significant money on free agents on the offensive line.
But should the Raiders be considering Mack? It is a question many Raider fans have asked as the fans hope for a big name signing, the Browns transition tagged center provides that hope as one of the last remaining logical options for a big flashy signing from the general manager. Reggie McKenzie has made progress by staying tight with his money since voiding the Rodger Saffold deal, making great strides by bringing in viable veteran talent on the mid-level side of things. With now double digit dollar figure contracts being handed out yet, don’t expect McKenzie to change that. In a position where the Raiders were closer to contention things may be different, but the big name deal may just be off the cards at this point for the Raiders.