Here we are just marching through the second week of free agency and the Raiders have been the butt of joke after joke after joke, and honestly, that is why I ignore mainstream outlets. Well, that’s a lie. I listen to their podcasts but it’s mostly because I hate myself and I prefer torture to get me through my daily routine. Joking aside, the national media outlets play to the lowest common denominator and because they are interested in simplifying all issues they ignore the little things and the details that fans know and see. I don’t do free agency grades because it’s a simplification of facts and anybody who has read my work knows I don’t so simple. I mean if you are as long winded as I am how can you be simplistic?
So far general manager Reggie McKenzie has done a solid job following his plan. For those who don’t know the plan, it is what I have been describing all offseason, bring in a mix of solid players that can produce, be valuable for what they are paid, and have exceptional leadership. Between Lamar Woodley, Justin Tuck, Kevin Boothe, and James Jones the Raiders have added the combined experience and leadership of seven Superbowl rings. What is most impressive about all of these signings beyond the contracts, is the fact each player is self aware and they know they are not coming to Oakland for a chance to win a ring, but rather build a legacy and to be the guys that laid the groundwork for a winning culture in Alameda. One thing Houston and Veldheer didn’t know how to do, win.
Out With The “Old”
All I have heard from the detractors of what Reggie McKenzie has done this offseason is in regards to Veldheer and Houston. Initially, critics crucified the man and even Jared Veldheer’s mom could not help from spouting off on twitter, but as time progressed and we learned more it seems Reggie did not give anybody a raw deal. Just a reminder, I went out of my way to prepare the readers of this site for a Veldheer and Houston-less Raiders team. Hopefully those who read my work weren’t as shocked as the rest of the Nation.
Regarding Veldheer, he came off as very sympathetic initially when his mom came out ranting and raving on Twitter. That combined with the numbers of his deal and the Saffold contract which I will address later, made it seem as if the Raiders got cheap. The truth is, he demanded the Raiders pay him 10.5 million per season when negotiations began and when the Raiders countered with a standard low ball offer, Veldheer’s agent (brother) stomped his feet like a baby and mistook business as a personal attack. Reports are that he became impossible to deal with and ran his brother out of town into the waiting arms of the Cardinals. To be fair, Bill Romanowski said on local radio that the Raiders were not impressed with Veldheer and their internal evaluations graded him low.
Houston is a different kind of animal. Anyone who followed him on Twitter knows that he had some cryptic criticisms of the Raiders coaching staff and front office because they wanted to eventually change his role on the team. My guess, he wanted to stay a defensive end and the Raiders wanted to move him back inside, but he wanted to seek big money at a big money position. His exit to another team was decided months ago and a break made the most sense. Most of all the Bears are welcome to his six sacks and I think all of Raider Nation will have a laugh when the Bears get no pressure on Aaron Rodgers while Justin Tuck racks up ten sacks.
What cannot be overlooked by any Raiders fan or any person who is looking at this situation objectively, these were not Reggie’s guys and because of that they valued them and their skill sets less. Right or wrong, they really do not fit into the plan and now that free agency has progressed and we can see the skill sets of the free agents signed, that is clear. The Raiders want a dancing bear at left tackle not a mauler who has issues with speed rushers and counter moves. It also means the Raiders wanted more nimble and versatile outside rusher. What Veldheer and Houston did not have that their replacements do, the ability to lead a team. Reportedly, Houston never took the bull by the horns and lead the men on defense and the coaching staff was upset by his abdication of the role. Veldheer was injured most of the year, but he too never displayed the leadership mentality they wanted.
What Reggie wants out of free agency are veteran players that can groom up the next generation of Raiders draft picks. There are multiple ways to do this and many fans are upset they are not adding top end talent that is 26 years old, but that is not for lack of trying. The Raiders heavily pursued a trade for Darelle Revis, but he in the end told the team he did not want to play for him and he actually took less money to go to the Patriots. Furthermore, there were several tweets from reputable insiders that top free agents were turning down big Raiders contracts to go elsewhere. After being turned down by many players the Raiders got back to what they had in mind.
What Reggie McKenzie wanted to do was to lay down a framework for future success and the best way to do that is bring in a stable of experienced vets with leadership skills that can groom the young draft picks with a winning mentality. Beyond that is a focus on versatility and aggressive play. The Raiders want pass blocking offensive tackles, pulling athletic guards, a smart quarterback, tall receivers, a versatile right end/Leo, a versatile left end that can run defend and rush from inside, a penetrating defensive tackle that can also play in a two gap scheme, a big run defending nose tackle, and aggressive playmakers in the defensive backfield. All of those positions have either been filled by a vet or the Raiders have attempted to fill those positions with a vet. That does not mean the Raiders are done. They will focus on the defense in the draft although I do expect them to add a quarterback and wide receiver. Every position that there is an older vet will be backed up with a rookie or young player.
Will People Please Stop It With Saffold?
I truly do not understand the issue with the Roger Saffold deal. People are enjoying beating up on the Raiders for some sort of dysfunction, but with the exception of one person’s “source” nobody can place Mark Davis in this situation. All we do know is Saffold passed the initial physical until the doctors saw the scans of the shoulder and they reacted to it by telling Reggie McKenzie that he was not fit. From there Reggie told Mark Davis the situation and he was uncomfortable with the shoulder so he requested that McKenzie end the transaction. That sounds like good business to me, but when it’s all said and done we as fans know very little and the insiders know equally as little.
Moving past the drama and nonsense, the Saffold signing may not make sense on its face, but it is clear that Reggie McKenzie values versatility above all else and after what happened on the offensive line last season it is a perfectly reasonable adjustment to make. For me, Saffold was going to be the left guard despite the reports that he was being brought in as a left tackle. There were reports coming out of Saint Louis that said he was being singed as a guard, and the contract he received would have made him the second highest paid guard in the NFL. Regardless of position, being upset with Reggie assuming he was replacing Veldheer with Saffold is not necessarily true. I would argue that they replaced Veldheer last season when they drafted Menelik Watson in round two of the draft last year.
The Additions, The Loses, and Their Impact
As I have said many times, I do not do free agent signing grades. They are a brainless way to gain shock value and they are entirely subjective. What I will do is speak objectively about the players that have changed teams and how they will affect the Raiders.
Jared Veldheer: We as Raiders fans all need to understand the facts in this case and why the Raiders let Veldheer go. Firstly, he demanded 10.5 million from the Raiders to resign in Oakland, and frankly he is not worth anything near that much money. I priced him out at seven million for my free agency primer. After the demand Reggie countered with an offer of six million dollars and that reportedly sent Veldheer’s agent (his brother who has no other clients) into a rage and he was reported as being impossible to work with. From there it is a long line of lies and innuendo including Veldheer’s mom on Twitter, but the facts are simple. Furthermore, according to Bill Romanowski the Raiders’ internal evaluations of Veldheer were not flattering and they were not impressed which explains why they were not willing to meet or beat the Cardinals’ offer. In the long run, I do not believe his loss will be felt and in many respects this has been planned by the organization.
Lamarr Houston: We all saw the cryptic yet tough messages on Twitter Houston had regarding the Raiders during last season. He seemed to criticize their future plans for him and rejected any change in his role. This to me was a break waiting to happen and the Bears can keep his one million dollars per sack. Houston is a good player, but his loss is minimal.
Rashard Jennings: I don’t worry about running backs leaving. He got paid good for him.
Justin Tuck: The 30 year old defensive end signed with the Raiders for a two year 11 million dollar deal. His role is obvious and his talent lays the groundwork for what the Raiders want out of their team. His ability to play a base end, but also rush the passer as a defensive tackle which is ideal considering the division the Raiders are in. Last year he recorded twelve sacks and that was in an inconsistent year. With the other talent around him he will have the opportunity for a very solid season. What is best about this signing is the leadership.
Lamar Woodley: Woodley played as a LOLB in a 34 defense that didn’t always require him to rush the passer. In fact the Steelers’ system developed into one that specialized their outside linebackers and the 275 pounder actually covered tight ends and running backs. He has been told in this system he will be asked to get after the quarterback only just as he did at Michigan. Last year Woodley battled injuries but the 29 year old has a lot left in the tank and for a two year 12 million dollar contract Woodley is a very solid add. Again, the leadership is key with him.
Antonio Smith: This 32 year old played defensive end in a 34 opposite of JJ Watt and received an 18.8 grade in pass rushing from profootballfocus.com. He will immediately come in and be a solid three technique or even defensive end in some sets. Smith is a versatile and very disruptive player who can be a little too fiery, but this Ninja Assassin makes a solid trio of pass rushers to lay the ground work for what the Raiders want to become in the future.
Austin Howard: Starting from the Ravens practice squad this player was a left tackle that gradually worked his way to the right side and was picked up by the Jets and excelled as their right tackle. He jumped off the tape review last year when I re-watched the Jets/Raiders game. He is a balanced right tackle, but is a mauler at heart. He was told by the Tony Sporano that his position is not solidified which tells me they will put the best five lineman out to start. There is a god chance that Howard ends up as right guard depending how the group works out. One last note, Howards contract is extremely team friendly and is essentially several one year deals,
Khalif Barnes/Kevin Boothe: Barnes is a resigning I understand that but these players are very similar. They both are very versatile and ideally neither are a starter for the Raiders. They both however are excellent backups and locker room guys.
James Jones: Raider Nation has been clamoring for a veteran wide receiver for a long time. My Twitter timeline can attest to that. This is one of the best unsung heroes in free agency and the Raiders got him for cheap on a three year deal. Jones does everything well and is a noted solid mentor. He also fits the mold of what the Raiders want in a wide receiver, he plays big, he is speedy, and he is versatile. The addition of him to this receiving corps is just what the doctor ordered.
Donald Penn: I haven’t seen the contract details yet but rumor is the Raiders offered him a multi-year incentive laden contract to battle at left tackle. My money is on Watson to win that battle, but similar to Howard, Penn is very big yet they both move well and both can make solid pulling guards. I would guess he will start at left guard for the Raiders.
Tarell Brown: Brown received a one year 3.5 million dollar deal to play for the Raiders and he will continue his streak of solid play. Brown is an upgrade from Jenkins last year and will make a solid tandem with Hayden. He said what attracted him to the Raiders was his relationship with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. Do not be surprised if he plays well for him to get a mid-season extension.
Darren McFadden: Why not? The contract is minimal and incentive laden. I’m shocked really.
As of now the Raiders have about 30 million in cap space and they still have some significant holes to address which I expect to dealt with. Firstly is the matter of a one technique or nose tackle type. Of course Pat Sims is still available, but it has been said that he was too inconsistent last year. With Walker off to the Chiefs who I think they did want back to fit that role, a guy like Terrence Cody could be in line. At this point it is tough to guess who they may go after. The Raiders also need to address free safety and slot cornerback. I have read from some insiders that the Raiders have interest in Chris Clemons from Miami and the slot corner market is a little dry. A luxury item for depth I would love to add is Robert Ayers the Broncos left end from last year. He recorded six sacks and had similar numbers to Lamarr Houston last year, but he is more agile being an ex-linebacker. Of course there is the quarterback question. I do not think they will trade for Schaub who has intimated he may not be interested in being a Raider. I also think Vick is a wost case scenario and last option. The Raiders may want to wait until after the draft to address the situation when guys like Schaub or Sanchez get cut. There is no reason to rush it because nobody is moving on the free agent quarterbacks.
Reggie was forced out of the expensive free agent market because people would not take his money, but he adapted and has used his money to add solid veterans. He has laid out a ground work for long term success and is showing some sort of identity. I expect the draft to be defense heavy in order to back up all of these vets with the future of the team so they can learn. I am optimistic about the future and with a solid draft the Raiders could be on their way up soon.