In desperate need of a highly productive offseason, the Oakland Raiders finally have the salary-cap space to make the necessary improvements throughout the roster.
Of course, general manager Reggie McKenzie and the front office will try to avoid overspending and putting themselves in the same hole they just worked to get out of, but changes do need to be made in short order.
That $66 million figure is easily more than any team in the NFL, and it gives the Raiders an advantage they can certainly use on the open market.
Although, even before free agency gets underway, the task of re-signing some of the team’s own free agents will be the focus, with left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston being the top priorities.
In any other year, considering the contracts they could demand, the re-signing of both Veldheer and Houston could prove to be a difficult task.
However, with so much money available against the cap, and the franchise or transition tag available for use, there is no reason why both shouldn’t be in silver and black in 2014.
The argument can be made that less expensive options for at least one of the two players could be added in the draft, and possibly even in the first round at fifth overall. However, avoiding the creating of even more roster needs by re-signing the homegrown, proven talent is the better option here.
If the Raiders can get those two long-term deals done in the coming days, as well as a few other key players like Charles Woodson and Rashad Jennings, they can then turn their attention to the other free agents around the league set to be available.
There, the Raiders should have the ability to sign some of the top players available and will certainly be linked to many of them.
From a need standpoint, free agents likely to earn top dollar who would make sense for the Raiders include cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes, defensive ends Brian Orakpo and Jared Allen, and offensive guards Jon Asamoah and Rodger Saffold, to name a few.
While the Raiders can certainly afford to sign a few of these players, and thus should be in the market for some of them, the second wave of the free-agency period—after the top free agents have signed—is where they should end up doing the majority of their work.
Sure, the Raiders could afford to hand out at least two contracts to top free agents ranging anywhere from $7 to $10 million annually, and they may well do so with any of the aforementioned names.
At the same time, signing two or more of those players, as productive as they may be, would not solve all of this organization’s extensive issues up and down the depth chart.
Instead, it is in that second tier of free agency where the Raiders can find their best value and, possibly more importantly, add the highest number of players to their roster.
Here, there are many more names to keep an eye on that could be potential fits in Oakland.
At cornerback, this includes the likes of Walter Thurmond III, Chris Cook, Corey Graham and Captain Munnerlyn, as all would make for solid contributors in the nickel at the very least.
Addressing the defensive line, likely in hope of much more depth for effective rotations, defensive ends Robert Ayers, Everson Griffen and Justin Tuck, as well as defensive tackles B.J. Raji, Paul Soliai and Terrence Cody, could all help in that regard.
At running back, with the futures of both Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings unknown at this time, veterans like Maurice Jones-Drew, LeGarrette Blount and James Starks all become options who could be productive in Oakland.
These represent just a few of many positions the Raiders will be looking to address in free agency, but the value in the second tier is crucial this offseason.
Undoubtedly, McKenzie will continue to build this Raiders team with the future in mind. Not only will that involve smart and cost-effective spending in free agency, but it could also mean additional in-house spending to follow.
For example, extensions handed out over the past year to players like Sebastian Janikowski and Marcel Reece, as well as Taiwan Jones this past week, have gone a long way to displaying the team’s focus on keeping those they envision as being key contributors long term.
This offseason, heading into contract years of their own, candidates for similar extensions likely include center Stefen Wisniewski and wide receiver Denarius Moore.
Overall, the Raiders’ influx in salary-cap space set to take effect when the new league year gets underway will be the most highlighted part of their offseason, and for good reason.
With pressure from ownership for improvement to be made, talent needs to be added to this roster in short order.
While the Raiders can and will be in the market for several of the free agents who will be signed within the first few days, the heaviest of their spending should be done later on, where significantly more players can be added.
Led by McKenzie, this front office knows it needs to make effective changes, but despite having more salary-cap space than any other team, the Raiders are likely well aware that overspending in hopes of quick fixes is not going to get the job done.
It may not be as exciting for the fans, but remaining relatively cost effective, despite having so much money available, is in the Raiders’ best interests both now and well into the future.