After a season of regression, the Oakland Raiders really need to play their cards right in free agency and the draft. They have so many needs, there's no telling where the Raiders will start to try to fill them.
Then you have that thing called the salary cap that the Raiders are around $4.5 million over. On top of that, the Raiders don't have a second- or fifth-round pick—making it seem impossible to fill all their needs.
But it is definitely possible if Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie can put it all together this offseason. This is my third time putting my two cents in and I have to say it is my favorite of all of them.
It covers all of the Raiders' needs and should fit under the salary cap in the process. While the other two articles had the Raiders switching to a 4-3 base defense, this one has the Raiders in the 3-4.
Turn the page to see what I came up with.
On offense, the Raiders are built around quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Darren McFadden. McFadden should be comfortable with the power-run scheme newly hired offensive coordinator Greg Olson brings from Jacksonville.
If McFadden is comfortable, Palmer will be too as he will be able to throw the ball down the field off play action. McFadden is quite a weapon at Palmer's disposal in the passing game as well. Denarius Moore is a guy I expect to have a 1,000-yard season after being slowed by a hamstring injury in 2012.
On defense, Phillip Wheeler showed what he can do away from the Colts at outside linebacker in 2012. Lamarr Houston looked so good coming off the edge as a base-end getting down to 285 pounds in 2012, I'm expecting his first double-digit sack season in 2013.
On the back end, Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch will be the safeties unless Huff plays corner. If that does happen, I expect Huff to do very well with a full training camp and offseason at the position.
While he was hurt this year, you can't forget Jacoby Ford because, aside from the big plays he gives you as a receiver, he's one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL. Then, of course, I have to mention Sebastien Janikowski, the Raiders' leading points scorer.
Shane Lechler is probably the greatest punter of all time, but $5 million a year is too much for any punter. It's fartoo much for a punter that is declining on a team that needs cap space for more regular players.
Starting guard Cooper Carlisle, tackle Khalif Barnes, and free safety Matt Giordano have to go. Corners Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell need to follow them out the door.
Tight end Brandon Myers had career highs in receiving in 2012 but he's a check-down receiver that won't block. I would like to see defensive tackle Richard Seymour back along with Myers but only at the right price.
Outside linebacker Phillip Wheeler definitely needs to stay for the Raiders' defense to be good next year. Desmond Bryant really came on down the stretch of 2012 to prove that he is starter material for 2013.
Mike Mitchell should at least be considered in case Michael Huff has to play corner again in 2013. I would even give Andre Carter one more year at least for depth as he was a solid edge rusher in the latter part of the season. Corner Joselio Hanson should also be brought back for depth as he was pretty good in 2012.
If I failed to mention someone, it's probably because I didn't think it was important—good or bad.
With all of the free-agent re-signings and players allowed to walk, the Raiders need to make cuts to create cap room. Tommy Kelly, who makes too many bone-headed errors and not enough plays for his salary, is No. 1.
I want to see Seymour come back at a reduced rate and Kelly not have any more opportunities to hurt the Raiders. Seymour and Bryant sound good as the defensive tackles in a Raiders base 4-3 in 2013.
Right guard Mike Brisel was brought in for his supposed zone-blocking prowess but to no success. He and Carlisle were constantly driven back into Darren McFadden's lap, leaving him no room to run.
In the last couple of articles, Rolando McClain was still on the team as an inside linebacker. In this one, McClain is gone as, his other matters aside, he isn't fast or instinctive enough to play middle linebacker.
I like Darius Heyward-Bey for his hard work and improvement, plus it wasn't his fault he was picked too early. But the madness has to stop as he is one of the highest-paid players on the team.
My hope is that he takes a pay cut, but if not, undrafted gem Rod Streater may take his position anyway. Palmer should also be willing to take a pay cut so he has a chance to win and improve his legacy.
Kelly, Brisel, McClain, and Heyward-Bey take up over $31 million in cap hits themselves.
Once re-signed, Bryant should be promoted to starting defensive tackle in place of Kelly. David Ausberry is a converted receiver with 4.4 speed that fits the mold of today's vertical tight ends on winning teams.
The Raiders' first pick in 2012, Tony Bergstrom, got some experience at guard that will help him at right tackle to try to replace Barnes. Replacing Heyward-Bey might have been done already with Streater, who's just as fast, taller, runs better routes, and most of all, he catches the football.
McKenzie made a good move in putting punter Marquette King on injured reserve with a hang-nail on his toe. Lechler is a legend but King has shown that he has the leg to kick long and the touch to pin opposing teams deep in their own territory. He's also athletic enough to tackle a return man that makes it past the rest of the coverage team—a quality Lechler doesn't have.
With power-blocking back in Oakland, the Raiders need powerful guards and don't have them. Zone-blocking guard Mike Brisel badly needs to be replaced and Louis Vasquez is the right guy to do it.
Vasquez is a great, young right guard but isn't considered one of the top free agents this year. It will take some scratch for the Raiders to get him but it won't be an Albert Haynesworth type of deal.
He would be valuable to the Raiders so I have to stay with Vasquez after having him in the last article. And like I said in the last article, I wanted Al Davis to draft the class of 2009's strongest player.
Now that he is establishing himself as a road-grader and good pass-blocker in the NFL, I hope McKenzie signs him in free agency. If I were in front of McKenzie, I would be on my knees begging him for this one.
Perhaps Palmer and McFadden are doing what they can to make this happen themselves.
The Oakland Raiders gave up the third-highest quarterback rating to opposing QBs in the NFL. They were also around the bottom of the league in touchdowns given up and interceptions.
So it is more than safe to say that the Raiders need to bolster their secondary for 2013. I thought Huff did pretty well last year at corner considering he didn't prepare for such a move this past offseason.
He would do much better with some offseason preparation at corner but he was an All-Pro free safety in 2010. So the Raiders should get stronger at corner, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can make them that.
I'm sure McKenzie, who loves former Packers, would love to get his hands on Sam Shields and I agree. But Shields is going to get paid big and the Packers have him as a restricted free agent.
I also love Brent Grimes but we really don't know what he is now after tearing an Achilles tendon. Rodgers-Cromartie is a talented corner that hasn't quite put together yet so the pay won't be too big.
The tutelage of old-school Raiders legendary corner Willie Brown would help him put it together. We already know that Rodgers-Cromartie is already much better than Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer as he is.
He's still on my list because at the very least, the Raiders get stronger at corner with him.
In the last article, I had Chilo Rachal playing the other guard spot with Vasquez and Wisniewski at center. In this one I want to bring back former Raider Kevin Boothe, who's a real good pick-up.
Boothe is a strong run blocker that isn't too bad in pass protection with the kind of versatility the Raiders need. He can play any position on the offensive line except left tackle and that's good to have on a team in a game that has so many injuries.
After taking over a starting guard position and being a bright spot for the Raiders in 2006, he was waived to enable the Raiders to go to the zone-blocking scheme. It would be fitting for Boothe to come back to the Raiders as they go back to power blocking.
I wonder if McKenzie would do this one because he may try to stay away from players Al Davis drafted.
I don't like to speculate on what other teams are going to do but I just can't help myself on this one. The Philadelphia Eagles will have to pay Nnamdi Asomugha $15 million if they keep him on the team next year.
The fact that they fired head coach Andy Reid tells us the Eagles are blowing up the team to rebuild. You can't rebuild while you're paying a corner that hasn't played well for you $15 million so there is a possibility that the Eagles waive Asomugha.
If that happens, McKenzie should jump on this one because Asomugha is awesome as a Raider. Plus he would be cheap after his being waived after two disappointing seasons in Philly.
McKenzie played for the Raiders when Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes were their bump-and-run corners. He also worked for the Packers while they used a lot of bump-and-run coverage, so he has seen it work.
Head coach Dennis Allen likes to blitz too and he had Champ Bailey in Denver behind all the blitzing he did with Von Miller. So Asomugha, who was proven to be a one-trick pony over the last two years, should be welcomed back home to turn his one trick.
It's a long shot but I love Asomugha.
I think the Raiders need a first- and a second-round selection more than they need a top three pick so I still have them trading down. Also, I still see that trade with Cincinnati Bengals to give the Raiders their second-round pick back.
There will be a freakish athlete that's available later on in the first round of the draft anyway. At 6'7", 243 pounds, Dion Jordan is that freakish athlete that has the upside to do freakish things in the NFL.
Allen often uses a "multiple defense" and Jordan was a 3-4 outside linebacker in college. But at 6'7", Jordan can easily put on 20 pounds without losing his athleticism, then use that and his length to play defensive end.
He has tremendous burst coming off the edge and he isn't bad against the run either. That freakish athleticism can also be used to help the former tight end cover the athletic tight ends in the NFL.
Defensive ends sometimes cover tight ends and backs out of the backfield in today's defenses anyway. But rushing the passer is what the Raiders should mainly use Jordan for as that is what they need most.
Do you remember Ben Davidson from the '60s?
How about Ted Hendricks from the '70s and '80s?
Pick Jordan with the first-round pick, give him No. 83, and let him go.
If the Raiders do indeed stay in that base 4-3, they are going to need a true middle linebacker that doesn't have to come off the field. Rolando McClain proved that he isn't the answer as a middle linebacker, having to come off the field on third down for another guy that can't cover at that—Miles Burris.
Believe it or not, there will be a guy available in the second round with the speed and instincts of a middle linebacker and doesn't have to come off the field on third down. Alec Ogletree from Georgia is that guy and while he's undersized at 6'3", 236 pounds, he's extremely physical.
Just ask Alabama bowling ball running back Eddie Lacy, who Ogletree stoned at the goal-line and caused him to fumble in the SEC Championship Game this year. He also didn't have the problems Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o had shedding blocks from guys like Alabama's Chance Warmack.
As for his speed, while running a blocked field goal back for a touchdown against Alabama, he convinced me he's the fastest linebacker coming out of college. Ogletree went to Georgia as a strong safety so his experience in the secondary along with his speed will have him ahead of linebackers in coverage.
Ogletree was an inside linebacker at Georgia so he will definitely work in a "multiple" scheme. He's just what the Raiders need at middle linebacker and after watching him this year, I think Ogletree is a steal.
I tried to go with someone else in the third round this time but I just couldn't. Kyle Long is a physical specimen just like his father and brother before him so I couldn't resist.
Not only do I see Long beating out Bergstrom for the right tackle spot but I can see him backing up starting left tackle Jared Veldheer. He's also versatile as he played guard at Oregon and as I said before, that's big in a league that has so many injuries.
To keep it 100 with you, the genetics and family name are a huge influence on me with Long. Not only is this huge man a good athlete but he knows what's coming as much as a rookie can with his father and brother being defensive ends.
Having Seymour back would be ideal but it would still be nice for the Raiders to get Kwame Geathers in the fourth round. At 6'6", 355 pounds, Geathers would fit in as a nose tackle and tackle in the Raiders' multiple scheme.
Geathers is a little tall for a nose tackle but he didn't have a problem playing the position at Georgia in the SEC this year. A year or two under the tutelage of Seymour would turn Geathers into a monster.
He's already next to impossible to move off the line of scrimmage and will occupy multiple blockers. He will allow Ogletree to shine the same way he allowed him to shine while they played together in Georgia.
Look for the Raiders run defense to really improve when this space-eater becomes available.
After the Aaron Curry trade, the Raiders lost their fifth-round pick so to the sixth we go. I had the Raiders taking him in the fourth round last time but I'm starting to believe that no team will take Tyrann Mathieu before the sixth round.
Therefore the Raiders have a chance to take him fresh out of drug rehab in the sixth round. Hanson did play well in the slot this year but I see Mathieu being even better and there's no better way for the Raiders to do it but to have Mathieu come in as a sixth-round pick and earn playing time.
Remember, Mathieu would have went in the first round if it weren't for his problems with that bud. So this is a talented player the Raiders would get to possibly take over a corner spot at some point but at least make a contribution now.
The 2013 "Mr. Irrelevant" title goes to University of North Carolina guard Travis Bond. At 6'7", 345 pounds, Bond would give the Raiders depth in their movement to the power-blocking scheme with big men.
Bond is a good run-blocker with the decent pass-blocking skills but teammate Johnathan Cooper is the one with all the buzz. You never know with seventh-round picks so going with an absolute beast (his size) isn't a bad idea.
When you draft a guy like Bond, your real hope is that he's ready to go when you need him.
If the Raiders have an offseason like this, it will set them up for a competitive football season. Boothe, Vasquez and Long would join Veldheer and Wisniewski to form a formidable offensive line.
McFadden will have some holes to run through to break those long runs again. When defenses stack the line to stop McFadden, Palmer can throw long to take advantage of the one-on-one coverage as a result.
To help Palmer more, Moore and Streater would be his outside targets to push the ball down the field. Ford would be in the slot with Ausberry at tight end to stretch the defense from the inside too. Then they would have Marcell Reece and McFadden coming out of the backfield to create a dynamic passing game.
On defense, the Raiders would have heat coming off the edge with Houston and Jordan. There would be push up the middle to with Seymour and Bryant as the two tackles would help stop the run too.
Ogletree would be behind them flying around to make plays as the two tackles occupy blockers. With Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie at the corners, bump-and-run would be back while Wheeler blitzes.
Behind all that, Tyvon Branch is there along with the All-Pro in Huff.
I would put that team against any squad.
Just win baby!