The Blueprint to a Perfect Offseason for the Oakland Raiders
For the first six or seven weeks of the Oakland Raiders' season, few people knew what to think of this group.
And then, things went downhill quickly.
Now in the middle of a three-game losing streak in which their defense has emerged as the worst in the league, the Raiders' season is essentially over, meaning it's time to look to the future.
With that in mind, we've evaluated the major areas of the 2012 offseason for Oakland: who to re-sign, who to release, who to draft and who to target in free agency.
Who to Re-Sign
With an astounding 24 players up for free agency this year (some restricted), general manager Reggie McKenzie and his staff have a busy offseason ahead.
On the top of that to-do list is Phillip Wheeler, the linebacker signed away from the Colts last offseason that has emerged as Oakland's best defensive player this season.
Wheeler was signed to a one-year, $700,000 contract last year, but that number should increase dramatically this year. Regardless, I think this is a move McKenzie would love to make.
Next on the agenda is tight end Brandon Myers, who is in the last year of a four-year contract he signed in 2009. While tight end was a position of desperate need coming into the year, Myers has been excellent for Oakland, leading the team with 50 receptions.
The third player who should definitely be re-signed is punter Shane Lechler. Some might question his status as third on the priority list, but with as many holes to fill as Oakland has, punter shouldn't be a position that take priority.
Lechler still remains one of the league's best punters, but it will be interesting to see whether McKenzie has any problems paying a premium for Lechler given Oakland's situation. It's also interesting to note that the Raiders have Marquette King under contract for the next two seasons, the team's punter who was exceptional during the preseason.
The three other players I think are no-brainers are Desmond Bryant, Matt Shaughnessy and Matt Giordano. None of these guys are Pro-Bowlers, but with the number of holes to fill defensively, I think all three players provide value the Raiders would be hard-pressed to find on the open market.
Other guys who could be re-signed without any issues from me include Ronald Bartell, Cooper Carlisle, Derek Hagan, Matt Leinart and Shawntae Spencer.
For most people, the two names that jump off that list are Bartell and Spencer—the two defensive backs who were major busts this season.
For me, the reason I like the idea of bringing both guys back is that they'll be cheap and if they're placed into backup roles (assuming Oakland can find quality starters), then all of a sudden, the defensive backfield is far more formidable.
Among the notable players who wouldn't be re-signed are Mike Mitchell, Khalif Barnes and Mike Goodson.
Who to Release
After having his hands tied in his first offseason, I have a strong feeling that McKenzie might be ready to clean house a bit this spring in hopes of freeing up a bit of cap space.
Among the players who could be on the chopping block are Tyvon Branch, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff, Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour.
Of those guys, I think Branch and Heyward-Bey are safe, but if I were in charge, the other three would all be gone.
For Huff, his disappointing tenure as a Raider should definitely come to an end. Huff is owed $8 million a year for the next two seasons, and 2013 will mark the first time that he has no guaranteed money coming his way.
While the transition from safety to corner is a tough one, Huff never excelled enough even as a safety to justify $8 million a year.
Next up is the duo of Kelly and Seymour. Over the next two seasons, Kelly is owed $13.5 million, while Seymour is owed $30 million over the next four seasons. Yuck!
After appearing to be a formidable tandem, both players have regressed significantly this season, proving to be nothing more than a pair of aging veterans along a dreadful defensive line. Neither player has guaranteed money coming their way, so in my mind, both of these decisions should be simple ones.
Lastly, that brings us to the two guys who are on the fence: Tyvon Branch and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Branch was just signed to a big free-agent contract last season, but has been disappointing throughout 2012.
Branch is owed $20 million over the next three seasons, including $9.5 million in 2013 alone ($3.5 million of which is guaranteed). Once believed to be an elite safety, Branch has struggled this season and has caused many to question his place among the highest paid safeties.
Because of the guaranteed money remaining on his deal, however, I think there is little chance that he isn't back in Oakland next season.
Last up is DHB, the only player on this list who is on the upward portion of his career. The problem is, he still isn't quite worth the $7.7 million he is due in 2013.
I think the obvious play here is to restructure his deal into a long-term deal with a lower base salary. Given where he was drafted and how well he has played, I would be shocked to see him gone next year.
Who to Draft
Do you think it's possible to draft an entire defense?
If the season ended today, the Raiders would be drafting sixth overall; however, I think the goal should be to trade down for as many picks as possible.
With so many needs defensively—in the defensive backfield especially—I think the Raiders should look to move their first-round pick for one later in the round, along with a couple more early picks.
Oakland is already without its second-round pick (Carson Palmer trade), so if it could reclaim one of those, along with another third or fourth-round pick, I think the day would be a success.
Atop the priority list will be the cornerback position thanks to their dreadful play this season, as well as some guys to fill in along the defensive line (especially if Kelly and Seymour are gone next year).
Another interesting thing to look at is the quarterback position and whether head coach Dennis Allen and McKenzie see Pryor as a potential future starter. In my mind, he has a long, long way to go, and so, their future moves will depend on how long they see Palmer remaining in Oakland as the starter.
Who to Target in Free Agency
While the draft is a great place to begin the rebuilding process, the Oakland brass has also insisted on the urgency of winning now, meaning McKenzie and Co. will need to be aggressive in free agency as well.
One name that might be at the top of their list is Brent Grimes, the Falcons corner who was unable to reach a contract extension with his team. Although Grimes is sidelined with a season-ending injury, he has put together quality seasons recently and could be the top-flight corner Oakland desperately needs.
Another name that is of interest is Jairus Byrd, the Bills safety who has tapered off a bit since his rookie season. In his first season out of Oregon, Byrd had nine interceptions, but has logged just eight in the two and a half seasons since.
While no other names necessarily jump off the page, expect Oakland to look at both the offensive and defensive lines as places to fill in some new gaps. Both units will badly need some veteran leadership and production, something they have lacked immensely this season.