Setting Realistic Expectations for Each Oakland Raiders Free-Agent Signing
Setting realistic expectations for the plethora of bodies the Oakland Raiders went out and added during free agency is a fantastic way to try and figure out what the future holds for this storied franchise.
Entering the free-agent market, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was equipped with enough cap space, per OverTheCap, to go out and fortify the team's ailing roster.
Acting as a doctor of sorts, McKenzie's remedy for turning around the misfortunes of the Silver and Black ran into trouble early on.
After signing St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a whopping five-year, $42.5 million deal, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora tweeted that the team voided the deal because Saffold failed his physical.
The confusion surrounding the whole Saffold situation was a brutal way to kick-off McKenzie's journey to fix the Raiders.
Luckily, he was still able to muster up enough loot to lure a throng of free agents over to Oakland.
Spending money on established, veteran players, McKenzie has rebounded nicely, adding guys who not only will be able to perform on the field but also bring a level of leadership with them to a young Raiders roster.
At this juncture, the question becomes, what can we expect from these guys?
By checking out their past production and figuring how they will fit into the Raiders scheme, it's time to set realistic expectations for each free-agent signing heading into the 2014 season.
DE/DT Antonio Smith
If you had to use the term "under-the-radar" to describe one player that Reggie McKenzie added via free agency, former Houston Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith would fit the bill.
Traditionally a 3-4 defensive end, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Raiders plan to move Smith to the interior and play him at defensive tackle in defensive coordinator Jason Tarver's 4-3 scheme.
Racking up 18.5 sacks over the last three seasons he spent in Houston, Smith has proven to be an absolute force disrupting the pocket.
Looking at the impact he had using Pro Football Focus' advanced statistics (subscription required), Smith graded out as the 17th-best 3-4 defensive end and the fifth-most effective player at that position when rushing the quarterback.
At 32 years old, McKenzie didn't sign Smith to a long-term contract. Instead, he chose to ink Smith to a two-year, $9 million deal, per ProFootballTalk.com.
Lining up in a 4-3 scheme will be different, but nonetheless, Smith's consistent ability to knife into the backfield will give him ample opportunity to make his presence felt as a 3-technique defensive tackle.
CB Tarell Brown
The Raiders depleted secondary led them straight to the doorstep of another Bay Area cornerback named Tarell Brown.
Brown, who has spent his entire nine-year NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers, is a veteran who has garnered a ton of experience playing with one of the league's most productive defensive units.
Adding Brown into the mix, means the Raiders now have a seasoned defensive back who will immediately improve the team's secondary.
ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reported the particulars on Brown's deal, noting that it was a one-year contract worth $3.5 million—that lump sum of money comes fully guaranteed.
Though he isn't a shutdown cornerback by any stretch of the imagination, by PFF's count, Brown had the 16th-most passes defensed in the NFL last season.
With that kind of production, Brown's services are a huge upgrade over the crop of cornerbacks who suited up for the Raiders during the 2013 season.
Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter—who are both no longer with the team—finished with negative grades in coverage according to PFF.
Not only will he make this secondary better from the moment he steps on the field, but his vast experience could help guide second-year cornerback D.J. Hayden along the way.
OT Austin Howard
One of the biggest expenditures McKenzie made this offseason was signing former New York Jets offensive tackle Austin Howard to a multi-year deal.
For Howard, the deal itself is incredibly lucrative.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the Raiders dished out a five-year, $30 million contract, with $15 million guaranteed to the 26-year-old tackle.
Despite the money being high for an unheralded name like Howard, Bleacher Report's own Christopher Hansen mentioned, "It’s (the deal) front-loaded to take advantage of the Raiders’ salary-cap space, but it isn’t a salary-cap monstrosity we’re used to seeing the team give to unproven players."
Howard comes to the Silver and Black at time when they are in desperate need to bolster their offensive line.
The loss of former starting left tackle Jared Veldheer to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency put the pressure on McKenzie and his staff to go out and find a solution with the abundance of cap space they had at their disposal.
Right now, according to San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Vic Tafur, it looks like Howard will be slotted to play right tackle, with second-year offensive lineman Menelik Watson getting a chance to move over to left tackle.
Scouting the ins-and-outs of his game, B/R's Matt Miller expressed his thoughts on Howard as a football player:
Howard is a slow-footed mauler in the running game who doesn’t possess the natural athletic ability to fit in most non-power-dominated offensive schemes. Howard improved his balance in pass protection this season, but he has a relatively low ceiling because of his lack of foot speed.
Miller gave him 59 out of a possible 100 points. If you go by Miller's perspective, the Raiders overpaid for a mid-level right tackle.
Whether you agree with Miller or not, the expectations for Howard shouldn't be very high this season.
Going by PFF's metrics, he struggled mightily in 2013 during run-blocking situations—registering a negative 10.2 grade for his efforts.
While it's hard to picture him turning into a Pro Bowl-caliber offensive lineman, B/R's Christopher Hansen raised a valid point:
The Raiders are betting on their ability to evaluate talent, Howard is betting on himself and if they are both correct, everybody wins. If they are both wrong, the Raiders wasted $8 million they could have spent elsewhere.
Best-case scenario, because of his age, you could argue that Howard should be able to tighten up the loose ends surrounding his game and help give the Raiders a more polished identity on the offensive side of the ball.
DE Justin Tuck
Veteran leadership ran plentiful this offseason as McKenzie coaxed former New York Giants edge-rusher Justin Tucker over to the Bay Area.
The 30-year-old Tuck wasn't the youngest pass-rusher available on the open market, but he has been historically one of the most productive ones.
Tuck is your prototypical 4-3 pass-rusher, who can more than hold his own against the run.
Grading out as PFF's eighth-best 4-3 defensive end when it comes to run defense, Tuck brings a balanced attack lining up on the edge in Oakland.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter had the news on the impending deal between the Raiders and Tuck—a two-year contract worth $11 million.
Finishing up his tenure with the Giants, Tuck managed to accumulate 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and 63 combined tackles last season. If he can sustain that level of production, he will be worth his weight in gold during his two-year stay with the Raiders.
The trouble is, if you put on the tape and dig a little bit deeper into his 2013 campaign, there's cause for concern when it comes to his ability to get after the quarterback.
Going back to the game log, of the 11 sacks he posted, six of those came in two games against the 3-13 Washington Redskins.
While he still has proven to be a solid option against the run, it will be intriguing to see how he does rushing the quarterback at 30 years old.
Putting aside all of his recent numbers, the best part about having Tuck in a Raiders uniform, is that he's now playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Detailing his disappointment with the Giants organization, Tuck told Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, "I plan on having a pretty damn awesome year next year to be honest with you. I appreciate the Giants for giving me a lot more motivation."
OLB LaMarr Woodley
The quest to add veteran components to the defensive side of the ball continued when McKenzie allocated more dollars to ex-Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Woodley managed to secure himself a nice two-year deal with a maximum value of $12 million.
Whether they decide to slug him in at outside linebacker or put his hand in the dirt and let him get after the quarterback from the defensive end position, Woodley is a guy who brings a substantial amount of experience attacking the quarterback with him.
During his time in Pittsburgh, the eight-year veteran compiled 57 sacks, nine forced fumbles and 213 total tackles.
Despite his decorated career, Woodley hasn't looked like himself over the last two seasons. Posting just nine sacks in that time frame, the Michigan alumni's production is definitely a cause for concern heading into this season.
For Woodley to have any sort of success in Oakland, he's going to need figure out a way to stay healthy first and foremost.
Because illustrious career or not, setting bold expectations for his time in the Bay Area is a difficult task based on what we saw during the tail-end of his career in the Steel City.
WR James Jones
Jones, a former benefactor of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, joins a Raiders offense still searching for an identity.
Because of his prior success working within Green Bay's offensive scheme, Jones instantly becomes the No. 1 receiving option for the Raiders.
What you have to like most about adding Jones into the mix, is that he will bring a sense of veteran leadership with him to a relatively inexperienced wide receiving corps.
Talking to CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair about being a mentor, Jones said:
I truly believe that the young guys are going to watch what I do before they listen to anything I say. So, I am going to come in here, I am going to lead by example. If they have any questions, I am going to do my best to help them out.
Quotes like that make it easy to believe that young pass-catchers like Andre Holmes, Denarius Moore and Rod Streater will all benefit from his arrival.
If McKenzie can figure out a way to land a franchise signal-caller, Jones should find plenty of success during his time in Oakland.
All advanced stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), unless noted otherwise.
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