It has been a nightmare start to free agency for the Oakland Raiders, which is nothing new to a team that hasn’t had a winning season in 11 years. The Raider Nation expected a big splash from general manager Reggie McKenzie, but all they received were two bloated contracted to offensive linemen.
Then, it got worse.
The Raiders voided the offer to offensive lineman Rodger Saffold because he failed the team’s physical, as first reported by Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com. According to Mike Silver of NFL.com, owner Mark Davis pulled the plug on the deal, and Saffold will return to the St. Louis Rams on a five-year contract, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
It’s going to be difficult for the Raiders to recover from this development. When the owner concocts a reason to invalidate the general manager’s top free-agent signing, there are bigger issues than having a glaring hole at left tackle.
The Raiders are the laughingstock of the league, and perception is reality in the eyes of prospective free agents. Recovery will only come if the Raiders can change those perceptions over the next few days and weeks.
It’s giant steaming pile of you know what until the Raiders prove otherwise. They can start by cleaning up the mess inside team headquarters, because nothing else they do will matter if there is dysfunction within.
Who is to blame for the Saffold debacle?
Maybe Davis saved McKenzie from a terrible mistake, but he shouldn’t be undermining the man he hired to handle the football operations. It’s a bad sign for things to come, even if the Raiders manage to land a few big-name free agents to smooth things over with the Raider Nation.
If the Raiders are going to recover from this, there needs to be a line Davis doesn’t cross. Assuming the report is true and Davis pulled the plug on the deal, McKenzie should demand no further meddling. McKenzie can’t do his job if Davis is going to stand in his way, so Davis should just fire him if that’s his plan.
Once the chain of command is clear, the Raiders need to find a left tackle and resume their other plans in free agency. Former Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Anthony Collins and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher have some experience at left tackle. Neither player is a great option, but they also wouldn’t cost a lot to sign.
The Raiders could also have an open competition at left tackle. Last year’s second-round pick Menelik Watson, Collins and the recently signed Austin Howard could compete. It’s not a great idea, but all the great ideas at the position have signed elsewhere.
It’s possible the Raiders could try to draft a left tackle, but such a move would affect their ability to draft a franchise quarterback or a pass-rusher they need. It’s an option the Raiders now must entertain, unfortunate as it may be.
Of course, the Raiders have many other needs. To move past this debacle as soon as possible, they need to make the splash in free agency everyone was expecting. According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen went to dinner with pass-rushers Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley.
Signing Woodley and Tuck would give the Raiders instant credibility around the league. Along with crafty public relations after their signings, the team can literally and figuratively start to rebuild. Two productive defensive leaders would lend credibility to McKenzie and Allen.
Defensive tackles Jason Hatcher, B.J. Raji, Henry Melton and Vance Walker would all be good options to join them. The Raiders could also put more focus on the re-signing of free safety Charles Woodson, a fan favorite.
All these signings would help the Raiders, both on the field and with perceptions around the league. McKenzie might even need to prove to his boss that he is capable of luring good players to the team—even though that boss is the one who's making the task difficult.
The Raiders still have plenty of money to spend, but time is running out to find players worth paying. Most of the top players are off the market, so the Raiders have a small window now to turn things around.
The last thing the Raiders need is to start paying below-average players more than they are worth just so the team can reach the salary floor. The Raiders were no longer supposed to be a dysfunctional franchise. Along with a load of salary-cap space came the promise that that the Raiders would be able to lure top free agents to Oakland.
It’s time for the Raiders to make good on those promises. If they don’t, the fans will start making their voices heard with their wallets.