Creating the Oakland Raiders' Free Agency Fallback Plan
Fans of the Oakland Raiders have waited a long time to hear these words: Ladies and gentleman, free agency is officially underway.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is in a precarious position as he attempts to rescue this team from the depths of irrelevance. Thankfully, this offseason he'll have an estimated $63.7 million to lure free agents over to the Bay Area.
The quintessential blueprint for a successful offseason starts with bringing in marquee names who can help the Raiders compete from the moment they arrive at training camp. Addressing major positions of need, McKenzie will have to open up his checkbook and target some of the bigger fish swimming in the sea.
Aside from his goal to land household names, restoring a sense of depth to a depleted Raiders roster is just as important.
Going out and re-signing guys like Rashad Jennings, Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and Charles Woodson—if both sides maintain a mutual interest—means the Raiders won't have to undergo another excessive amount of turnover heading into the 2014 season.
But what happens if that formula fails to come to fruition?
Ensuring the team has a solid fallback plan to rescue them in case of an emergency is needed.
Detailing some other valuable names hanging around the free-agent market, it's time to examine what that plan should look like.
Go After Jairus Byrd
One big move that McKenzie could pursue this offseason is attempting to sign free safety Jairus Byrd.
Arguably the biggest difference-maker in the free-agent market, the 27-year-old finished his last three seasons with the Buffalo Bills as a top-10 ranked safety—according to Pro Football Focus.
The need to shell out big bucks on a guy like Byrd isn't the most pressing issue the Raiders have. Still, pairing him up with Tyvon Branch—assuming he can stay healthy—would instantly give Oakland one of the most sought after safety duos in the National Football League.
At the moment, no one knows for sure the amount of loot Byrd will command when the dust settles. If you go by ESPN.com's Mike Rodak's estimate, the magic number to attain Byrd's services could be around $9 million a year.
While the production is clearly there, McKenzie is going to have to wrestle with the question, is a premier safety worth that kind of money?
ESPN and former NFL general manager Bill Polian (Insider subscription required) isn't riding the Byrd bandwagon as much as everybody else this offseason. Giving him a B- on his free-agent grading scale, Polian said:
A turnover-forcing machine with 33 combined interceptions and forced fumbles in just 73 career games, he could command big money as a Pro Bowl-level free safety. He gets marked down due to concerns about his less-than-ideal speed, though.
Listed as a fallback option because of so many other needs on this roster, there's no doubt that Byrd rocking a Silver and Black uniform would be interesting.
Go out and Bolster the Defensive Line
Lamarr Houston's departure from Oakland to free agency means that one of McKenzie's biggest challenges is going to be shoring up the team's defensive line.
In a division loaded with Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith, getting after the quarterback is going to be the only surefire remedy for a turnaround.
If McKenzie wants to shell out big bucks, pursuing former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson would be the most logical decision. Finishing as the fourth ranked 4-3 defensive end by PFF last season, Johnson has proven to be a versatile edge-rusher who constantly finds ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
Though it's hard to consider him a tier below Johnson, former Minnesota Vikings grinder Jared Allen enters free agency heading toward the end of his illustrious career.
Even if McKenzie wanted to retain Allen's services, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, "Allen is focused on teams closer to contending as he enters free agency for the first time in his career and negotiates what likely will be his final contract."
Bypassing the household candidates, McKenzie could hit paydirt with some of the more unheralded names in free agency. Willie Young and Mike Neal are both low-key options who could make an impact in Oakland for a fraction of the cost of a player like Johnson.
Dating back to 2013, Young was effective for the Detroit Lions whenever his number was called on. Registering 48 quarterback hurries, his ability to find a way to the quarterback is something the Raiders need more than ever before.
The goal at the end of the day is to just get better. Because without the threat of a pass rush, the Raiders will remain nothing more then a blip on the radar of AFC supremacy.
Sign "Under-the-Radar" Contributors
As mentioned in the previous slide, free agency isn't always about spending big money.
At the end of the day, the goal is go out and find players who can help contribute to the greater good of the franchise. Whether they are perceived as long-term solutions or just bodies who can come in and help during the interim, the generous amount of cap room McKenzie has to operate with will allow him to take a chance on some under-the-radar names in free agency.
If they can't re-sign their own guys, the open market is a great place to look for more of these types of players.
Last offseason, when the Arizona Cardinals were being restructured, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim went out and signed inside linebacker Karlos Dansby to a one-year contract.
What Keim got in return was one of the veteran linebacker's best seasons to date. Using PFF to gauge his effectiveness, Dansby played 1,107 snaps and finished the season as the fifth-best inside linebacker in all of football.
Registering 6.5 sacks, 114 total tackles and four interceptions, the 32-year-old proved to be one of the most effective offseason acquisitions by any franchise.
Hoping for a low-risk contract that will warrant the production of Dansby is wishful thinking. But, there still are solid contributors who can be added to this lineup if some of the "bigger" names fall through.
Former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Tony McDaniel is an intriguing name floating around the market.
At 29 years old, McDaniel is coming off of a big year. Finishing as the 15th-ranked defensive tackle according to PFF, the nine-year veteran meshed beautifully in Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's system.
Watching the All-22 film shows that McDaniel is a quality defender in the trenches. Even though the Raiders only gave up 107.9 rushing yards per game in 2013, the fact that they got shredded through the air to the tune of 255.8 yards per game takes away from their "effectiveness" stopping the run.
McDaniel would fit well in Oakland as a 3-technique defensive tackle who could help to clog up running lanes and collapse the pocket.
More importantly, he's the type of player who can contribute without bogging down Oakland's newfound cap space.
Take a Chance on Sidney Rice
Former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice is a player who has all of the physical tools and intangibles you'd want in a No. 1 target.
At 6'4", Rice has a generous catch radius that poses a problem for opposing defenders. Over the course of his tenure in the NFL, Rice's best asset has been his ability to contort his body and come down with the football.
The major snag to going after Rice comes down to the difficulties he's had staying healthy.
Over the course of the seven seasons he's played, the former South Carolina Gamecock has played 81 out of a possible 112 regular season games.
The only way Rice would even land in Oakland would be on a low-risk, "prove-it" type of deal—structured with incentives based on his health.
As it stands today, the free-agent market is littered with less risky options like Julian Edelman, Golden Tate and James Jones. But, if McKenzie can't make a play to bolster the wide receiving corps with any of those guys, a nice fallback plan would be taking a flier on a big-bodied target who can stretch the field like Rice.
Chase a Veteran Quarterback
Even though Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin are still on the Raiders roster, it's clear the Raiders need another viable option at quarterback heading into the 2014 season.
Going after a veteran in the open market is a decision McKenzie has to come to terms with.
Does he stick with with Pryor and McGloin for now? Does he pursue a quarterback in this year's draft? Or, does he bring in an established signal-caller to guide this team through a transitional period?
In a conversation with Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe, CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair indicated former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman is a realistic possibility to wind up in Oakland.
Assuming the whole Freeman situation doesn't work itself out, there still are two names that would make a lot of sense for McKenzie to take a look at. Those names? Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mike Vick and current Houston Texans veteran Matt Schaub.
According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport (h/t Marc Sessler of NFL.com), the Raiders have already expressed an interest in Schaub if he were to be released by the Texans.
Despite his recent struggles, Schaub is your prototypical pocket passer who makes a living with his arm and decision-making rather than relying on his athletic ability.
On the other hand, Vick would bring a sense of excitement back to the position. Signaling the end of his tenure in Philadelphia, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora mentioned, "The Eagles are going in a different direction with the backup quarterback spot, and are not interested in retaining Vick, sources said."
Finding his way to the free-agent market, Vick is now a 33-year-old veteran who's itching for one last chance to start for an NFL franchise.
If he winds up with the Silver and Black, based purely on talent, he would be the favorite to take the job away from either Pryor of McGloin.
No matter who McKenzie chooses to pursue, both guys should only be considered if Freeman winds up inking a deal to play somewhere else this offseason.
All advanced stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), unless noted otherwise.