Don’t Expect the Oakland Raiders To Make a Splash in Free Agency

Jun 15, 2016; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie at minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2016; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie at minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

With free agency set to get started in the next few days, the Oakland Raiders have an estimated $43M in cap room. But don’t expect them to be big spenders.

The Oakland Raiders were big spenders in the 2016 offseason, inking Kelechi Osemele, Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin to sizable contracts in free agency. Many fans are hoping for a repeat of that, with some big names once again available on the free agent market.

If you were to casually browse over to to check out how much cap space the Raiders have to use this offseason, you’d see a nice looking number — $43,048,488. But unfortunately, that number is wildly misleading.

As explained in our detailed cap projection, extensions for Derek Carr, re-signing a chunk of their own free agents, the NFL Draft and a possible extension for Gabe Jackson is going to eat up virtually all of that money.

The detailed cap projection explains it all in more detail, but here’s the gist of it:

  • $23M first year cap hit for Derek Carr
  • $8M first year cap hit for Gabe Jackson
  • $10M or so to re-sign their own free agents
  • $5M or so for draft picks

That adds up to $46M, which would put the Raiders in the hole by roughly $3 million.

Reggie McKenzie could do, and likely will do, several things to free up some additional spending money. For starters, there are several players who could be potential cap casualties. Dan Williams and Reggie Nelson stand out due to no dead money hits if released, and McKenzie could very well decide to take on dead money hits on others — Sean Smith and Austin Howard, namely. But that doesn’t seem as likely.

Perhaps in the case of Smith, and maybe even David Amerson or others, contract restructures could be done. Perhaps even Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele or Bruce Irvin wouldn’t mind pushing some of their money back.

Realistically, cutting Dan Williams and maybe one other fairly notable name, like Nelson, could be a possibility. As well as several smaller contracts (like Taiwan or Heeney), but that is going only going to free up so much money. In regard to the aforementioned restructures, those are difficult to predict, so it’s hard to say for sure how realistic they are or how much money they would free up.

But the bottom line is, even with McKenzie doing all of these different things to free up some spending money this offseason, don’t expect him to be a big spender this time around.

But let’s say McKenzie can somehow free up another $15M or so million — that doesn’t mean he should go sign Dont’a Hightower to a deal at $10M per year. Or Tony Jefferson, Calais Campbell, or whoever.

Must Read: Raiders Detailed Cap Projection

With big dollars needed next offseason for Khalil Mack, the wise thing for McKenzie to do would be to sign free agents like he did in the 2015 offseason, when the Raiders added Dan Williams and Malcolm Smith.

Those players, specifically, might be on the way out now, but signing players in their mid/late 20’s to value deals is a wise investment. Players who were either quality starters but not household names or young backups that have shown some potential — those are the types of players Oakland should sign. Bringing players on board who are about to enter their prime with the hope that they can be coached and developed is the best way to approach this round of free agency.

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The big splash happened last year, and now, it’s time to tighten up the budget with Oakland’s homegrown superstars due for big money. Continue to build through the draft, use free agency as only a supplemental method to build the roster, and keep the salary cap flexible for the future.

Next: Raiders Ultimate Offseason Primer

The Raiders have gotten this far following McKenzie’s blueprint of building through the draft, with the rare 2016 offseason free agency splash as an outlier to that blueprint. Sticking with that process is the best way for Oakland to remain competitive long-term.