Oakland Raiders Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors
Mark Davis took over the team and hired Reggie McKenzie to take over the football operations. McKenzie will begin to process of changing the Raiders football operations to more closely align with the rest of the teams in the NFL.
McKenzie has a lot of work to do and this offseason tracker has been created to keep you up-to-date on every roster move.
We'll review the Raiders' salary cap situation, the most glaring roster holes and the options to fill them. The Raiders have a handful of current free agents and we'll determine if they should stay and at what average annual dollar value.
The Raiders will be looking at free agents beyond their own and we'll look at how much cap room the team has after re-signings and what kind of contracts the Raiders could offer these free-agent targets.
With only a couple of draft picks in the 2012 NFL draft, we'll finish by looking which college prospects will help the Raiders fill roster spots in 2012.
Tracking Free-Agent Signings, Re-Signings and Roster Moves
Mar. 17, 2012:
The Raiders released linebacker Kamerion Wimbley according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Vittorio Tafur and signed cornerback Ron Bartell and offensive guard Mike Brisiel.
Reggie McKenzie and Wimbley's agent tried to come to some agreement on a restructured contract, but were limited by the Raiders salary cap situation. Wimbley is good pass rusher and solid player all-around, but was being paid like an elite every-down defensive end and McKenzie had make the tough decision to move on without him.
Ron Bartell was injured most of last season, but he's a good player that fits the defensive scheme and can cover top receivers. Bartell signed a one-year deal and will have something to prove to the Raiders and the rest of the league.
Mike Brisiel comes from the Houston Texans and is well versed in the zone-blocking system. He's familiar with the Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack as both came over from the Texans. He'll solidify the Raiders' offensive line that was suddenly looking very thin.
Mar. 14, 2012:
The team announced the release of offensive guard Cooper Carlisle and defensive tackle John Henderson.
[Update] Henderson's release hardly comes as a surprise with a cap number north of $4 million for a part-time player. Many believe Carlisle would stick around with the switch back to the zone-blocking scheme, but diminishing skills and a hefty cap number forced McKenzie to move on without him.
Mar. 12, 2012:
ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting the Raiders plan to release TE Kevin Boss.
[Update] Boss lost his starting job to Brandon Myers last season and his contract was too much for a second tight end.
Mar. 9, 2012:
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Carson Palmer agreed to a tweak of his contract and released cornerback Chris Johnson. The change to Palmer's contract saves the Raiders $9 million against the salary cap while releasing Johnson saves the team $3.5 million against the cap.
The Raiders also released Hiram Eugene to save $2.25 million against the cap, according to Comcast Sports Net's Paul Gutierrez.
[Update] Necessary steps to get under the salary cap and purge players making far more than they would make on the open market. Eugene wasn't expected to be healthy after dislocating his hip last preseason.
Mar. 7, 2012:
According to Brian McIntyre, the Raiders have restructured the contracts of Richard Seymour and Michael Huff. The contract adjustments will save the Raiders nearly $12 million against the 2012 salary cap.
[Update] The restructured deals are for salary cap purposes only. These types of restructurings have little to no impact on the actual money the players pocket. It gives the Raiders flexibility.
Mar. 5, 2012:
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that the franchise tag on Branch is now official.
Mar. 1, 2012: According to Jason La Canfora of NFL.com, the Raiders have applied the franchise tag to strong safety Tyvon Branch. According to the report, Branch is expected to make $6.2 million.
[Update] Reggie McKenzie will continue to work on a long-term deal for Branch that keeps him with the Raiders for several more years. Branch has been one of the most consistent players on defense and has averaged 112 tackles per season since becoming a starter in 2009.
Mar. 1, 2012: According to Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Raiders don't plan to bring back center Samson Satele.
Feb. 16, 2012: The Oakland Raiders signed CB/S Brandon Underwood. Underwood has tons of talentand has the size to play safety or cornerback at 6' 1" and 191 pounds. If Dennis Allen can get Underwood to focus and his off-the-field issues are a thing of the past, Underwood could challenge for a starting spot at safety or cornerback.
Underwood never was able to fully transition to safety as he battled an injury during training camp with the Green Bay Packers last season. McKenzie is familiar with him from his time in Green Bay and is giving Underwood his second chance at a NFL career.
Feb. 9, 2012: The Oakland Raiders released CB Stanford Routt. Reggie McKenzie said he would address several "out of whack" contracts and Routt signed a five-year, $54.5 million deal last offseason. Despite Routt's relatively low cap-figure in 2012, McKenzie made the decision to let him go rather than guarantee his base salary of $5 million.
The Raiders actually take a a salary cap hit of $2.2 million in 2012, but will no longer have to worry about the $11.5 million base salaries that would have been due Routt from 2013 to 2015.
Jan. 6, 2012: The Oakland Raiders signed QB Rhett Bomar to reserve/future contract. Bomar is an average-sized quarterback at 6' 2" and 225 pounds. He bounced around at the end of the New York Giants and Minnesota VIkings rosters the last two seasons.
The Raiders aren't likely to go into the season with Terrelle Pryor as the primary backup and will likely sign a veteran. Bomar's best chance at making the roster would be as the third-string quarterback with the organization deciding to use Pryor at a different position.
Jan. 6, 2012: The Oakland Raiders signed DE Hall Davis to reserve/future contract. Davis has ideal size for a 4-3 defensive end at 6' 4" and 271 pounds. Davis has never made a roster, but has spent time on the practice quad with the St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans.
Davis has the right attributes for the position and might just need the right situation and coaching to thrive. Don't expect Davis to do much, but he's the kind of physical talent that could make some noise in camp or preseason.
Jan. 6, 2012: The Oakland Raiders signed S Curtis Taylor to reserve/future contract. Taylor is a 6' 2" 204-pound safety that spent the 2011-2012 season without a team. He was drafted in the seventh round in 2009 by the San Francisco 49ers and was released prior to the 2011 season.
He's yet another player that fits the physical profile at the position. McKenzie signed Taylor the day after he started on the job, so he obviously sees some potential in Taylor.
Salary Cap Status
Spotrac.com has the Raiders' 2012 contract liabilities at $108,716,635 while Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinal has the Raiders current liabilities at $140,861,316. According to ProFootballTalk, the Raiders have $3.23 million in cap room with a projected cap between $121 and $125 million. John Clayton of ESPN has the Raiders $11 million over the projected cap of $120 million.
No one outside of the team and the league office know what the numbers are for sure. While the salary cap is something to monitor, it will not prevent a team from signing a player they want to sign. We'll take the average of all the above numbers, which puts the Raiders' cap number at about $125 million.
Profootballtalk has the Raiders $22 million over the projected cap, but also that the Raiders should be able to clear cap space quickly by converting base salaries into guarantees.
Salary Cap Busters
Kamerion Wimbley doesn't want to take a pay cut and he'll make $11 million in 2012. $6.5 million of his salary is guaranteed meaning the Raiders would only save $4.5 million by cutting Wimbley before March 17th.
Wimbley has a tremendous amount of leverage and McKenzie has a tough decision to make. McKenzie might be able to reduce Wimbley's cap number this season, but would have to restructure the deal to give Wimbley more guaranteed money in future years. He can cut Wimbley and see if he can replace him for the $4.5 million he would save or he can just leave Wimbley's contract alone.
McKenzie may try to get Carson Palmer's $12.5 million cap hit down as well, but that could be difficult without giving Palmer additional guaranteed money.
Restructure or Release
Richard Seymour has a $15 million cap hit in 2012, half of which is already guaranteed. This is the final year on Seymour's contract and McKenzie will be able to extend Seymour and get the cap number down.
Tommy Kelly has a cap figure approaching $9 million. Like Stanford Routt, releasing Kelly would actually cost the Raiders against the cap, but save them cash this season. Releasing Kelly would result in about a $3 million cap hit, but the Raiders would save the $6 million due to Kelly in base salary.
McKenzie could cut Kelly free now or he could give Kelly more guaranteed money in exchange for reducing his cap number in 2012.
Slim chance of Aaron Curry making $5.7 million in 2012. Even Hue Jackson knew there was little chance Curry would be back with the Raiders for such a large amount. If McKenzie is interested in keeping Curry on the roster, it will be at a significant discount.
The easiest call may be that of defensive tackle John Henderson. A $4.75 million cap hit becomes a $3.25 million in cash savings if Henderson is released. Henderson is a part-time player that hasn't made a big enough difference and is too old to be making fringe-starter money.
Hiram Eugene is coming off a nasty injury and is due $2.5 million. Easy cap and cash savings.
In what can only be described as a very odd contract structure, Darrius Heyward-Bey made $21.9 million in the 2010 season according to Spotrac. That means that Heyward-Bey only made $1.5 million in 2011 and will only make $2.1 in 2012. Heyward-Bey's contract is affordable for a receiver that just fell just shy of 1,000 receiving yards last season.
Lamarr Houston will make just over $1 million per season for the next two seasons. He's more effective inside than outside in the 4-3 and the Raiders coaches will have to figure out how to utilize him, but he's a good, affordable and young player.
The Michael Huff Situation
If McKenzie wants to save a big chunk of salary cap and cash he could release Michael Huff, due $4 million in base salary and $4 million in bonuses in 2012. While Huff's contract in 2012 pays handsomely, his 2013 and 2014 pay him just $4 million per year.
McKenzie could determine that Huff is worth $5 million average per year over the next three seasons and covert more of Huff's base to a bonus to reduce his cap hit in 2012.
A lot of what happens to Huff will depends on if McKenzie thinks he is a cornerback or safety and how much McKenzie likes Huff's tape. McKenzie will need to like Huff as a cornerback for Huff to be back in 2012.
Other Cap Questions
Cooper Carlisle is scheduled to make $3 million in base in 2012. Will McKenzie pay this to an average interior lineman? If the Raiders were sticking with the man-blocking scheme it would be easy to say that Carlisle would be released, but with the return of the zone-blocking scheme Carlisle could stick at $3 million or at a reduced price.
Last Year's Holes
Six of the eight roster holes from last season are on the defensive side of the ball, reflecting the need for a redesigned defensive scheme and a revamp of personnel.
The Raiders ranked ninth in offensive yards despite the loss of Darren McFadden and Jason Campbell for the season and with Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore missing multiple games.
The Raiders ranked 29th in defensive yards allowed and were routinely gouged through the air and on the ground.
Rolando McClain was the only true middle linebacker on the team in 2012. He is likely to get one more year to prove he isn't a draft bust, but he will need help inside. Travis Goethel has been given an opportunity to play, but he can't stay healthy. Aaron Curry may be able to move inside when and if the Raiders decide to play 3-4, but that leaves an even larger hole at outside linebacker.
Kamerion Wimbley is a near lock to make the roster, but is more of a pass rusher than overall linebacker and struggled in coverage at times. Curry is the run defending version of Kamerion Wimbley. Both have are strong in one area and weak in another.
The Raiders need to add one or two outside linebackers depending on scheme. Linebackers that are good in coverage could be platooned with Curry and Wimbley if finding all-around linebackers proves too costly or difficult.
At the end of the season the Raiders starting cornerbacks were Stanford Routt and Lito Sheppard. Routt was released and Sheppard came in off the street to start over Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa. Sheppard will be a free agent again.
Michael Huff filled as a slot cornerback, but it didn't help the issues the Raiders were having stopping the pass. Chris Johnson was injured, and just as he was getting ready to return, his sister was murdered.
McKenzie might not be able to rely on any of the players on the roster to be his starters and he'll have to look to the draft and free agency to find them.
With Michael Huff subbing at slot cornerback, the Raiders turned to Matt Giordano to cover the free safety spot.
Giordano made a few plays, but far more often was out of position and he shied away from contact. Chekwa could begin a conversion to safety, but moving a cornerback to free safety may not solve either problem.
McKenzie has a lot of work to do in the defensive secondary.
The Raiders haven't had a consistent and productive player at right tackle in years. Barnes was never the long-term answer. Joseph Barksdale and Bruce Campbell are players that could steal the right tackle job in training camp, but they are still relatively unknown commodities.
Barksdale and Campbell will also need to learn the zone-blocking system, something they may have never done before. There is opportunity for McKenzie to find the long-term solution at right tackle in the draft and he should make every effort to fill the hole utilizing one of the Raiders' few draft selections.
Kyle Boller might as well have been invisible. The Raiders reacted to losing Jason Campbell for the season by trading for Carson Palmer, who is now the default starter.
Terrelle Pryor is not ready to become the primary backup and the Raiders will need to find a backup to Palmer, preferably a veteran with experience with Greg Knapp's offense.
Listing the Raiders' 2012 Free Agents
The following players will be unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on March 13, 2012 if the Raiders do no re-sign them to a contract before then. Once the free-agency period begins any team can sign these players:
QB Jason Campbell
QB Kyle Boller
RB Michael Bush
RB Rock Cartwright
WR Chaz Schilens
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh
C Samson Satele
RT Khalif Barnes
OL Stephon Heyer
DE Trevor Scott
DE Jarvis Moss
LB Ricky Brown
LB Quentin Groves
LB Darryl Blackstock
CB Lito Sheppard
FS Matt Giordano
SS Tyvon Branch - Given Franchise Tag (Estimated $6.2 million)
Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that the franchise tag on Branch is now official.
SS Jerome Boyd
DB Bryan McCann
The following players are restricted free agents (RFAs) and the Raiders can offer them a one-year tender. These players are free to sign with other teams, but the Raiders would be entitled to draft pick compensation:
FB Marcel Reece
DE Desmond Bryant
The tenders are as follows:
$2.562 million tender = first- and third-round draft picks
$2.017 million tender = first-round compensation
$1.417 million tender = second-round compensation
$927,000 tender = RFA's original-round draft pick (i.e. if the player was selected in the third round, the signing team must surrender a third-round pick).
Any team matching or holding on to the qualifying offer must pay that number as the player's base salary for that season.
Determining Contract Value and Worth for Every Oakland Free Agent
Reggie McKenzie will need to come up with an amount he is willing to pay each free agent on an annual basis and determine if the market worth of that player is over or under his value.
The Raiders only have a handful of free agents that should garner interest on the open market by other teams, but they also happen to be the free agents the Raiders would like to keep.
Below are estimated market rates (annually) for each player, derived from years of service, prior contract data and estimated market demand.
Projecting per year value is in-exact at best. If anything we are putting in a little guesswork here.
QB Jason Campbell: $4 million (estimated)
Campbell made about $4 million per season with the Raiders and is likely to find the market hasn't become any warmer for his services. If he can't find a starting job, he might be looking at half of this amount. He brought the Raiders' offense back to respectability and a quarterback needy team might come calling.
QB Kyle Boller; $1.25 million (estimated)
It's going rate for a backup, but there is no guarantee Boller can find a job in 2012. He looked terrible in the five quarters of football he played in 2011. He'll be lucky to find a third-string job on the open market.
RB Michael Bush: $6 million (estimated)
Bush rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in 2011 and proved himself to be a capable running back. He's never been a clear No. 1. The market for an every-down running back might heat up as the other top options are re-signed. He's a big smooth-running player that could be very successful in the right scheme and behind the right offensive line.
The only question will be if teams are worried about his 3.8 yards per carry average in 2011 and if that is characteristic of Bush as a starting running back.
RB Rock Cartwright: $800,000 (estimated)
Cartwright won the Commitment to Excellence Award for the second season in a row. He was the Raiders' special teams captain. He's exclusively a special teams player at this point, but his leadership sets an example for the younger players both on and off-the-field.
WR Chaz Schilens: $1 million (estimated)
The Raiders once believed Schilens could be a No. 1 receiver if he could stay healthy. He finally stayed healthy in 2011 and didn't produce like a top receiver. He still has soft hands and understands how to run routes in the NFL and that means he'll find an opportunity to play in 2012.
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh: $1 million (estimated)
Hue Jackson pulled Houshmandzadeh off the street to make Carson Palmer comfortable in his new situation in Oakland. Houshmandzadeh quickly stole snaps from the younger receivers and just as quickly gave the snaps back to them.
C Samson Satele: $685,000 (estimated)
Satele has retained the starting center job for the past few seasons, only losing the job during brief periods. He's gone through the transition from zone-blocking to man-blocking and still managed to do good enough to keep starting.
He's not a great center, but he always just just enough to keep the team from looking for a replacement.
RT Khalif Barnes: $1 million (estimated)
Signed originally as competition for the left tackle position. It never worked out for Barnes at left tackle and he spent a season being used as a sixth lineman and then took over for Langston Walker at right tackle last season.
Unfortunately, Barnes wasn't significantly better than Walker and the Raiders will likely turn the right tackle position over to a younger option. If the Raiders are going to get below-average play, they can at least get a young player game experience.
OL Stephon Heyer: $1.5 million (estimated)
In training camp be was challenging for more playing time, but never did make a permanent break into the starting rotation on the offensive line. He started both he games against the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders dominated on the ground in the first game, but fell flat in the final game of the season.
DE Trevor Scott: $685,000 (estimated)
Once a rising pass-rusher and now a washed out one. He's never developed into the pass-rusher the Raiders hoped he would develop into, but he still have some athletic ability that can be useful to another team.
DE Jarvis Moss: $1 million (estimated)
Moss flashed his potential at the end of 2010 and received a second-chance with the Raiders in 2011. He's a liability versus the run and only occasionally would make an impact in the passing game.
LB Ricky Brown: $700,000 (estimated)
He's a special teams player the Raiders were familiar with. He'll have trouble finding work without the Raiders calling.
LB Quentin Groves: $800,000 (estimated)
Groves was quickly replaced with Aaron Curry in the starting lineup and played sparingly after that. He's not particularly good at any one thing and that hurt his chances. If he finds a place to play in 2013, it will be as a backup and on special teams.
LB Darryl Blackstock: $450,000 (estimated)
Bresnahan brought him in from the UFL. He's a veteran minimum player at best.
CB Lito Sheppard: $1 million (estimated)
$1 million is about the going rate for a veteran that can't find a job otherwise. Sheppard stuck around waiting for the Raiders to call for about six weeks of the season before they finally did and inserted him as starter quickly after.
FS Matt Giordano: $750,000 (estimated)
Giordano was an opportunistic interception machine, but he was poor in run support and was too often watching his coverage assignment score touchdowns.
SS Tyvon Branch: $6 million (estimated)
Branch isn't likely to get the $8 million per year contract Eric Weddle received last offseason, but he should get a nice payday. Branch was the only player on defense that was consistently doing his job and he too often was covering up for others' mistakes. He'll be even better if the rest of the secondary is doing their job and in a scheme that will feature him as a roving safety that can make plays on the ball.
SS Jerome Boyd: $450,000 (estimated)
Went back and forth between the practice squad as a hybrid linebacker. If he finds a job in 2012, it will be for a minimum salary.
DB Bryan McCann: $525,000 (estimated)
Did a really nice job filling in for Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore on kick and punt returns.
FB Marcel Reece: $1.417 million (second-round tender, estimated)
Reece is a versatile weapon on offense. His role should continue to be expanded and he may carry the ball more in 2012. It is highly unlikely a team would give up a second-round pick for Reece.
DE Desmond Bryant: $1.417 million (second-round tender, estimated)
When you think about the perfect rotational defensive lineman, it's Bryant. He can play any position on the defensive line. He always puts in the effort and he's had decent success getting to the quarterback. No team will give up a second-round pick for him and $1.5 million or so seems like fair compensation for the man from Harvard.
Projecting Which Free Agents the Raiders Will Re-Sign, Which Will Walk
Now that we have an idea of what these players might be worth on the open market, let's take a lot at which players will be retained by the Raiders.
McKenzie doesn't have a lot of money to throw at free agents, so he'll be looking for deal and any player that he views as overpriced will not be re-signed.
There will be additional turnover because the coaching staff and football operations are new and they will want to bring in their own players.
QB Jason Campbell: Walk
The Raiders quarterback is Carson Palmer now. Campbell will have to seek a starting job on another team. Even if Campbell would accept a backup job there is little change McKenzie would want him at his age.
QB Kyle Boller: Walk
He was terrible. McKenzie is on the hunt for a backup, because Boller will not be re-signed.
RB Michael Bush: Walk
The Raiders would love to have Bush back, but he's likely to get way more money on the open market than the Raiders are willing to spend. Running backs are easy to find in the draft and even easier to find for the zone-blocking system. He'll find his services are desired and move on to the second stage of his career as a starter.
RB Rock Cartwright: Retained
For a minimum deal Cartwright is the right type of player to have around. He's a leader and he does things in the community. All-around player that's worth is much greater than the sum of the X's on O's.
Estimated Contract: one year, $900,000
WR Chaz Schilens: Walk
Injured too often and the Raiders have four younger options. Outside chance he could be back because he would come cheap, but the Raiders will be looking for fifth receiver in free agency or via the draft.
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Walk
He came in for Palmer, on a whim by Hue Jackson. Played decently, Jackson started to move away from him later in the season. McKenzie will not want an older player like that hanging around.
C Samson Satele: Retained
The switch back to the zone-blocking system might have a positive impact on Satele coming back to the Raiders. Satele will be there looking for a job and waiting for the call from the Raiders in case they can't work something out with Chris Myers from Houston.
Estimated Contract: Two-years, $2 million
RT Khalif Barnes: Walk
No way. He's was the worst offensive lineman for the Raiders in 2011 and there are two younger options ready to take his job.
OL Stephon Heyer: Walk
Not a great fit for the zone-blocking system, which might mean he's not coming back.
DE Trevor Scott: Walk
A player like Scott can be found cheaply and easier in free agency or the draft. That's what McKenzie will do.
DE Jarvis Moss: Walk
Didn't play well enough in 2011 to merit another shot with the Raiders. Too often exploited in the run games at a 4-3 end.
LB Ricky Brown: Walk
Was just brought in as a body because of injury. Non-factor going forward.
LB Quentin Groves: Walk
Lost his job and then hardly played. New defensive scheme, but I doubt Groves would fit and become anything more than a special teams player.
LB Darryl Blackstock: Walk
Was a Chuck Bresnahan player. Played pretty good on special teams and not bad at linebacker filling in for injured players, but he won't be back.
CB Lito Sheppard
Didn't perform well enough and got plenty of opportunity late in the year. He was on the street and he's going back there.
FS Matt Giordano: Walk
Will his link with Dennis Allen be enough for the Raiders to keep Giordano as a safety or backup safety? At best Giordano should be a backup.
SS Tyvon Branch:
Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that the franchise tag on Branch is now official.
SS Jerome Boyd: Walk
Can't imagine he did enough to retain the hybrid linebacker role. The defense is changing and the players will need to fit the new system.
DB Bryan McCann: Walk
Raiders have their primary return players in Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore. McCann is on the speed-dial in case of injury to either one. Other teams are likely going to have McCann come in to see if he might be better than their return men.
FB Marcel Reece: Retained
No chance the Raiders let him go. The second-round tender will keep him affordable for one more year and also keep other teams for entertaining the idea of signing him away.
Estimated Contract: $1.417 million (second-round tender)
DE Desmond Bryant: Retained
He went undrafted in 2009, so he'll get at least the second-round tender. Highly unlikely another team gives up a second-rounder for him. Raiders will be happy to pay him the second-round tender to have him keep the other lineman fresh.
Estimated Contract: $1.417 million (second-round tender)
Available Cap Space After Re-Signings
Available Cap Space (projected): $11 million
The Raiders will be able to clear plenty of space to sign their own free agents and probably enough to consider a few mid-level free agents, but not enough to be major players in free agency.
Reggie McKenzie will need to do most of his work in the draft and with undrafted players that come cheaply.
Restructuring the remaining large contracts or releasing players with "out of whack" contracts will solve the cap issue in 2012, but McKenzie needs to be cautious that he isn't extended a cap problem into future years.
McKenzie should restore the fiscal responsibility of the Raiders that will enable them to compete every year and not just one out of every 10 years.
The long view of success means making decisions for tomorrow that don't necessarily benefit the team today. McKenzie was hired to make those tough decisions.
Biggest Needs After Re-Signings
The Raiders will lose only one player they would like to keep, Michael Bush.
Headed into the free agency and the 2012 NFL draft the Raiders will have to address all the holes we mentioned earlier with a few additions.
Backup Running back
With Michael Bush moving to a new team, the Raiders will need to decide if Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece can handle any additional carries or if they need to find a cheap backup.
If the right backup is available, the Raiders should consider it so Reece and Jones can have more specific roles in the offense.
The Raiders might be shifting to the 3-4 starting in 2012, and with no player on the roster currently capable of playing nose tackle, the Raiders will have to find one through the draft or free agency.
The nose tackle is the key to the entire 3-4 and having one that can eat up two blockers frees the linebackers up to do their job.
The Raiders will be letting go of a lot of special teams players. The players McKenzie adds to the roster must be able and willing to contribute on special teams.
Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski have enjoyed excellent blocking in their carries, if not excellent kick coverage. McKenzie needs to make sure his special teams has players that will help block for kicks and cover them down the field.
Identifying Potential Free Agents the Raiders Could Sign
There are primarily three available nose tackles. Antonio Garay, Sione Pouha and Aubrayo Franklin.
Pouha will likely be too expensive and should be locked-up by the Jets. Garay should be more affordable, but hardly cheap considering the number of teams looking for a quality nose tackle.
Franklin is the forgotten man of the group and the one that can be signed the most inexpensively.
The Raiders don't need Franklin to be a full-time player, they only need a veteran nose tackle to fill the middle when they shift into the 3-4. McKenzie will continue to look for a long-term answer, but Franklin can fill the immediate need.
Backup Running Back
There is just one back that makes perfect sense for the Raiders...Justin Forsett. He had his best year as a professional running in Greg Knapp's zone-blocking system. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry that season and should be an affordable free agent after rushing only 46 times last season.
Forsett isn't a power back, but Reece should be able to handle those duties. The Raiders need a backup that can legitimately steal carries away from Darren McFadden and keep him fresh for the whole season.
The logical choice at inside linebacker would be for Dennis Allen to bring over Joe Mays from Denver. He shouldn't be very expensive and he knows the defense.
If the Raiders want to open up their budget for an inside linebacker, they should look no further than Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch is a good shed and tackle linebacker and that's been a weakness of the Raiders' linebackers for years.
Like Joe Mays, the Raiders couple pilfer the Broncos for players that played under Dennis Allen. At outside linebacker that player is Wesley Woodyard who could provide competition at outside linebacker.
If the Raiders choose to throw more money at the outside linebacker position, and they are serious about switching to the 3-4, the Raiders should look at bringing in Anthony Spencer.
Spencer's college line coach is now the Raiders line coach, Terrell Williams.
Now that Stanford Routt signed in Kansas City, Brandon Carr will hit the open market. Either the Chiefs are grossly over-calculating Carr's worth or he'll be out of the Raiders price range. Still, Carr would be a solid No. 1 cornerback in the zone-heavy scheme that Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver will run.
Tracy Porter, Cortland Finnegan and Carlos Rogers are all options. The Raiders will make at least one splash and a good bet is that splash will be on a cornerback.
The target is Chris Myers. Myers has run the zone-blocking system for several years and knows it well. If the Raiders can steal Myers from the Texans that should jump start the transition back to the zone-blocking system.
The Raiders can address right tackle with the players currently on the roster and pick up a cheap veteran for competition such as Sean Locklear.
Projecting Contract Values for Raiders' Free-Agent Targets
The following players should at least be on the Raiders' list of considerations in free agency, even if many may be outside of McKenzie's price range.
MLB D'Qwell Jackson
MLB Curtis Lofton
MLB Stephen Tulloch
MLB Joe Mays, MLB
OLB Erin Henderson
OLB Manny Lawson
OLB Chris Chamberlain
OLB Wesley Woodyard
OLB Anthony Spencer
CB Cortland Finnegan
CB Carlos Rogers
CB Brandon Carr
CB Tracy Porter
OT Sean Locklear
OT Breno Giacomini
OC Chris Myers
OC Scott Wells
RB Justin Forsett
A few of these players are not ever going to become available, but a few are realistic signs and well within the Raiders' salary cap restrictions.
NT Aubrayo Franklin: Three-years, $11 million
Franklin signed a one-year deal in New Orleans, but didn't live up to expectations in 2011. He should be the cheapest of the nose tackles mentioned with a similar chance of success.
CB Brandon Carr: Four-years, $28 million
Carr comes in at about $7 million per year, about what the Raiders would have paid Stanford Routt in 2012. Carr is younger and a better fit for Dennis Allen's defensive scheme. This is a perfect fit, if McKenzie is willing to open the wallet to get it done.
MLB Joe Mays: Three-years, $6 million
Even if Mays is only a quality backup, he'll help the team install Allen's system and provide quality depth and shield the Raiders from Rolando McClain's play and off-the-field issues.
OLB Anthony Spencer: Four-years, $30 million
Spencer would receiver $8.8 million if he receives the franchise tag from Dallas. Any long-term deal is likely to be slightly less on a per year basis. If Spencer hits to market expect him to receiver closer to $7.5 million per season.
RB Justin Forsett: Two-years, $1.5 million
Perfect back for Greg Knapp's system, available and should come inexpensively. The prefect trifecta of what the Raiders need to improve their roster.
OC Chris Myers: Four-years, $15 million
$3.5 million per season would make Chris Myers one of the higher paid guards in the league. That's what it will take to sign him, hopefully the Raiders get that opportunity.
Obviously, the Raiders will not be able to sign two high-profile free agents like Spencer and Carr, but one is certainly possible. The Raiders need a cornerback more than they need a linebacker and it's reasonable to assume they could sign Forsett, Mays, Myers without bumping severely into the cap.
Analyzing the Raiders' Draft Strategy, Positions of Need
The Raiders don't have many draft picks at the moment, but we can assume the Raiders will get four compensatory selections. That brings the total number of picks up to six with the earliest being the 96th overall pick.
Six picks is more than enough selections to allow the Raiders to find some talent in the draft.
Reggie McKenzie's strategy for his first draft as general manager has to be drafting the best players he can find to help the defense and if the opportunity presents itself finding a player or two on offense.
The real work will start when the draft is over and the Raiders can explore the world of undrafted free agents.
Expect the Raiders to draft a cornerback, linebacker, safety and offensive lineman at least and don't be surprised if McKenzie finds a receiver he likes late.
With only two picks in the draft that can be traded, McKenzie might explore trading players on the roster to acquire more picks.
A complete roster overhaul is not going to be possible in one draft, but that will not stop McKenzie from trying.
Draft Names to Keep an Eye on
Raiders will have to dig deep into their draft board before they get their first opportunity to draft a college player.
Let's take a look at who might be available and if the Raiders should try to trade up for a particular player that could make a huge impact on the team.
The Raiders should be looking at any and every cornerback in the draft. It is a deep class and one or two guys are likely to fall between the cracks. Trumaine Johnson (Montana), Casey Heyward (Vanderbilt) and Omar Boldin (Arizona State) are a couple names to remember each in different stages of the draft.
Johnson has off-the-field concerns that could cause him to fall in the draft and Casey Heyward is an undersized zone corner that should be available in the middle rounds.
Linebackers tend to be easy to find later in the draft if you know what to examine. Mychal Kendricks (California) is a high-motor player and a late-round sleeper is Miles Burris (San Diego State). Both players have ties to Northern California.
Kendricks' stock may be rising due to his excellent ethic and underestimated athletic ability. Burris is a player that will run through walls for his team.
The Raiders want linebackers that are going to give it 100 percent on every play and not jog when it's not their mistake or they are more than 10 yards from the ball.
Markelle Martin (Oklahoma State) is likely to be very high on McKenzie and Allen's draft board. He makes plays and is a good fit for Allen's defense. He's not likely to be on the board when the Raiders make their first draft pick and a trade up might be required to make it happen.
Tramain Thomas (Arkansas) could be drafted much later as a guy to develop. He has all the physical tools and can be taught to read and react quicker once he gets to the NFL.
A center, tackle or guard would all help the Raiders. They need depth and competition at all the positions with the only prerequisite for the offensive lineman being experience in or working knowledge of the zone-blocking system.
A few good examples of players that could fit the Raiders needs on the offensive line are OG Desmond Wynn (Rutgers), OC David Molk (Michigan), OT Nate Potter (Boise State) or OT Brandon Mosely (Auburn).
The Raiders could look to bring in the quarterback of the future. Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) seems to be getting knocked unnecessarily because he lacks ideal height and doesn't have elite arm strength, but has all the other tools a quarterback needs and is also a running quarterback.
If not Wilson, Kellen Moore (Boise State) is another late-round quarterback that it might be possible to groom into a solid West Coast offense quarterback.
McKenzie's shrewd reputation as a drafter will be put to the test this year with many needs that need to be addressed and few draft picks to address them.