History shows that free agency is no way to build a franchise, but the Raiders need to add talent in short order, and doing so effectively could allow them to stick to their “best player available” draft strategy.
While there are no franchise quarterbacks to be found on the open market, the Raiders are fortunate to have their salary cap influx take effect in an offseason set to be quite deep at several other positions of significant need.
Although signing all would be an unrealistic expectation, here are the ideal free agents to fill each of the Oakland Raiders’ roster needs this offseason.
Despite countless attempts, the Raiders have not been able to get solid and consistent play out of their quarterback spot since Rich Gannon retired prior to the 2005 season.
As such, they will almost certainly look to add a young quarterback in the draft this spring, but with Reggie McKenzie’s preference to have such a player sit for the early stages of his development, an established veteran becomes a need as well.
Quite possibly the one of most interest will be former Bucs and Vikings quarterback, Josh Freeman.
Of course, Freeman is coming off of a difficult few seasons, where his play in Tampa Bay went downhill fast, and he wasn’t able to get back on the field after a tough first start in Minnesota.
Even so, he is still a young player at just 26 years old, and has showcased plenty of natural talent in his career thus far.
Reuniting him with offensive coordinator Greg Olson, whom Freeman had his best seasons under in Tampa Bay, could be a best-case scenario for both sides.
The hope would be that Freeman could provide a bridge to a quarterback added in the middle rounds of the draft, but the Raiders would certainly not be opposed to him recapturing the potential he once showed and earning the starting role moving forward as a result.
Despite already having some young talent at the position, adding a player that can establish himself as the No. 1 target of the wide receiver group will be among the Raiders’ priorities this offseason.
In Oakland, he would bring a much-needed ability to stretch opposing defenses vertically, opening up the underneath game for other receivers in the process.
Although he didn’t spend much time doing so with the Eagles, his playmaking ability would make him a candidate to contribute as an occasional return man on special teams as well, potentially addressing another area the Raiders have struggled in of late.
Of course, his ongoing recovery from a season-ending knee injury prior to the 2013 campaign will be an important part of the evaluation, but Maclin is the type of impact player the Raiders should look to target in free agency this offseason.
With some solid pieces at center and both tackle spots in Stefen Wisniewski, Jared Veldheer and Menelik Watson respectively, the Raiders’ offensive line may be a guard or two away from becoming a strength of this team overall.
As such, guard should be a position of focus heading into the offseason, as solidifying the group up front would go a long way toward helping the development of the entire offense moving forward.
Sticking with a trend of young talent in the group, St Louis Rams G/T Rodger Saffold is a player the Raiders should make a target in free agency.
A former first-round selection, Saffold did not exactly become what the Rams were looking for as a tackle, but like many players that faced the same difficulties early on, his level of play improved significantly with a move inside to guard.
Now a free agent coming off his rookie contract at 25 years of age, Saffold is certain to draw plenty of interest on the open market and would be an ideal candidate to add to the Raiders’ offensive line.
The potential for the Raiders to put together an offensive line that could grow and play together for many years to come has to be something that interests the front office. Adding another young talent in Saffold in free agency would go a long way toward making that happen.
Aside from quarterback, addressing the pass rush will be the biggest need for the Raiders this offseason, and it would be no surprise to see them look to do so through both free agency and the draft.
While there will be younger players available on the open market at defensive end, none can match the consistent and elite-level production of Jared Allen.
In his 10-year career, Allen has tallied 128.5 sacks, reaching double digits in all but two seasons and in each of the past seven.
Evidently, Allen is showing no signs of slowing down, and his experience makes him a much safer signing than that of the younger and more inconsistent players available at the position.
Capable of playing the run just as well as he plays the pass, Allen would likely step in as an every-down right defensive end. This would allow the Raiders to move Lamarr Houston to his former left end spot or even inside to defensive tackle should they add another end as well.
Allen would instantly become the Raiders’ best defensive player, as well as a valued veteran presence in the locker room and should definitely be among their top targets in free agency.
Although the Raiders’ secondary improved last offseason, opposing quarterbacks still had their way throwing the ball on a regular basis, and the depth at cornerback was exposed down the stretch of 2013.
Both Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter were only with the team on one-year deals, and it is possible that both will hit free agency in March before extensions can be worked out.
As such, the Raiders will be in the market for a starting cornerback to pair with D.J. Hayden for the foreseeable future, and the best fit for that is the Titans’ Alterraun Verner.
A cornerback of Verner’s caliber getting to free agency at just 25 years old is quite rare, but comes at a great time for the Raiders and their newfound salary cap flexibility.
With a versatile skill set allowing him to play in both zone and man coverage, thus fitting well with the concepts the Raiders are employing under Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver’s defensive scheme, he and Hayden would make for an impressive young tandem.
With more than enough cap space to make the move, the Raiders would be wise to target a Pro Bowl cornerback just entering his prime, potentially solidifying one of football’s more difficult positions to find talent at for years to come.
Dan Wilkins is an Oakland Raiders Featured Columnist. You can follow him on Twitter here.