The Oakland Raiders aren’t a team flush with great players, so when one goes down with a significant injury it’s a big deal. On Wednesday, the Raiders announced left tackle Jared Veldheer has a torn triceps and would have surgery.
Head coach Dennis Allen said Veldheer would be a candidate to go on injured reserve with the “eligible to return” designation. If that’s the case, Veldheer could return in Week 9 if he’s ready.
Since it’s only a partially torn triceps, there is a very real chance Veldheer can make it back this season if the surgery and rehab go as planned. Until then, the Raiders have a pretty significant mess on their hands.
Without Veldheer, Alex Barron will shift from right tackle to left tackle. Barron was a former first-round pick, but he washed out of the league and didn’t play last year. Even though Barron has been impressive at right tackle during training camp, the Raiders can’t feel comfortable having him protect Matt Flynn’s blind side.
Veldheer’s injury will shake up an already unsettled offensive line. Barron was also pushing to start at right tackle, which would have pushed Khalif Barnes inside to guard. If Barnes moved to right guard, he would’ve pushed Mike Brisiel into a reserve role and allowed Andre Gurode to take over at left guard.
One or two of Lucas Nix, Mike Brisiel or Tony Bergstrom are now likely to start at guard, Barnes will remain outside at tackle where he can be exposed in pass protection and Barron will have to fill Veldheer’s very big shoes at left tackle. The only position on the offensive line that wasn’t impacted was center, where Stefan Wisniewski will now also be the best player on the line.
The Raiders may also keep tight ends that are better blockers. Richard Gordon is more of a blocker and has been listed as the starter this preseason, but Jeron Mastrud is also pushing for a roster spot.
"I think he brings us a pretty good presence as an in-line blocker," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "That's one of the things we want to look at with him."
Veldheer’s injury could end up costing a guy like David Ausberry his spot on the 53-man roster because he’s more a receiver than a blocker. Rookie Nick Kasa may also leap ahead of fellow rookie Mychal Rivers because of his blocking skills. The tight ends may have to help the offensive line, so the nature of the training camp competition may change.
The Raiders have talked about being a balanced team on offense, mixing passes and the power-running game. Unlike the zone-blocking system, the power-blocking scheme requires offensive lineman to win one-on-one physical matchups. Veldheer was the only offensive lineman the Raiders could count on to win at the line of scrimmage consistently.
Getting running back Darren McFadden on track and productive again was a big reason the Raiders dumped the zone-blocking scheme after one year, but if the offensive line can’t consistently win at the line of scrimmage then McFadden is going to have a tough time. McFadden may end up having a lot more negative plays as a result.
The shuffling of the offensive line is going to hurt the pass protection even more than the running game. The offensive line needs to be on the same page to keep well-paid defenders from getting to their quarterback, so the players that are healthy will now have to rush to get used to each other.
That’s not to mention that Veldheer was one of the best pass-blockers in the league. The last time Barron was the full-time starter at left tackle was 2009 and he committed 14 penalties, surrendered seven sacks, 15 quarterback hits and 24 quarterback hurries according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
Quarterback Matt Flynn has been blasted for not being able to throw deep, but behind a makeshift offensive line he probably wouldn’t have the time anyway. Flynn could take a beating if he doesn’t use his mobility to escape the pocket, but at least the Raiders also have the fleet-footed Terrelle Pryor ready to take over should the need arise.
McFadden and Veldheer were entering contract years, which make them prime candidates to lead Oakland’s power-running attack. Whereas McFadden has to prove he can stay healthy to get a contract extension, Veldheer was a player the Raiders were hoping to sign to a long-term extension in the near future.
Although Veldheer’s injury is not career threatening, he wasn’t yet considered an elite player. Veldheer needed to prove he could play at an elite level to get the kind of contract franchise left tackles command, so the injury could hurt his ability to get a lucrative extension. Of course, a torn triceps didn’t hurt left tackle Jake Long’s earning potential.
Veldheer is a fan favorite in Oakland and one of the best offensive players on the team, but the injury could force the Raiders to be a little more conservative with an extension. Using the franchise tag next offseason would enable Veldheer to rehab his value and the Raiders to make sure there are no lasting impacts from the injury.
Whatever the Raiders decide to do at the end of the season, losing Veldheer to injury is a huge loss and the team will struggle to replace him.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes were obtained firsthand.