The start of free agency was rocky for the Oakland Raiders and general manager Reggie McKenzie. The team’s best two players, defensive end Lamarr Houston and left tackle Jared Veldheer signed elsewhere. The team voided the agreement with offensive lineman Rodger Saffold due to a failed physical, their big free-agent get at the time.
Solid signings like pass-rushers Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley started McKenzie’s rebound from a poor start, but the debacle with Saffold continued to hang over his head. The Raiders had more than enough money to make waves early in free agency, but they are scooping up more affordable talent after all the silly spending has subsided instead.
By signing wide receiver James Jones to a three-year, $11.3 million deal on Monday, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, McKenzie has put together a collection of talented players with plenty of tread left on their tires. McKenzie still has a lot of work to do, but it’s safe to say he’s put together a nice offseason so far. If he can find a way to fill a hole at left tackle, McKenzie can put the slow start behind him for good.
Jones may not be a No. 1 receiver, but he’s a solid No. 2 option and a high-character person. According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jones was homeless for a time growing up in San Jose, Calif., and does a lot of volunteer work for shelters there as well as in Green Bay, Wis.
Jones is the type of player who can help head coach Dennis Allen in the locker room. He can also aid in the development of young receivers, of which the Raiders have many. The Raiders may rely on Jones to mentor Denarius Moore, Brice Butler, Juron Criner, Andre Holmes and Rod Streater.
Having more quality receivers for whichever quarterbacks McKenzie brings in will also be vital for the Raiders in 2014. For that reason, the signing of Jones also doesn’t rule out the Raiders using a draft pick to select receivers who can be a No. 1 receiver—perhaps even the No. 5 overall pick.
Jones has never had a 1,000-yard season, but he did lead the league in touchdowns in 2012. Although he will turn 30 at the end of the month, Jones has improved just about every season of his career. Last season, Jones had a career-high 817 receiving yards even though quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed seven games.
In fact, Jones’ performance was just as good with Rodgers throwing him the ball as when Matt Flynn, Seneca Wallace or Scott Tolzien was throwing it. In seven games with Rodgers last year, Jones caught 27 passes for 407 yards and two touchdowns. In seven games without Rodgers, Jones caught 32 passes for 410 yards and one touchdown.
|Jones With/Without Aaron Rodgers in 2014|
The Raiders still have to address the quarterback position be it via trade, free agency or the draft, but odds are there isn’t an Aaron Rodgers out there right now. If Jones were a product of Rodgers, the Raiders would be making a huge mistake, even for less than $4 million per season.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jones was 36th in the league in yards per route run in 2013 with 1.55 yards. That figure was better than Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Dwayne Bowe among receivers who played at least 50 percent of the time. Jones will make a significant amount less than those three players, who have all signed new contracts over the past two years.
Jones is best after the catch. He was ninth in the league with 6.3 yards after the catch per reception in 2013, per Pro Football Focus. In 2011, he was fourth with 7.7 yards after catch per reception.
In 2012, when he led the league with 14 touchdown catches, he was 66th with just 3.6 yards per reception after the catch. That’s not surprising because a lot more of his catches were ending in the end zone that may have been more yards after the catch.
“My style of play is physical,” said Jones via the team’s official website. “I’m a yards after catch guy. I pride myself on not letting the first guy bring me down, so Raiders fans will see a lot of broken tackles, a lot of YAC and, hopefully, a lot of touchdowns.”
Jones adds to a list of high-character players the Raiders have signed over the last few days. Tuck, Woodley, defensive lineman Antonio Smith and cornerback Tarell Brown are all good examples.
Linebacker Sio Moore was enthusiastic on Twitter about learning all of Woodley and Tuck’s pass-rushing secrets. McKenzie’s job may rest on the production of cornerback D.J. Hayden to some extent, so adding a player like Brown to mentor him can’t hurt.
The Raiders may have missed the opportunity to sign the young talent on the market, but they are making up for it by signing good football players to affordable contracts. Most of that talent is at or over 30, and their contracts will not affect the team’s ability to go out and get a player in the future if necessary.
With so many players with quality character now on the team, the Raiders are also creating an environment where young players can develop. If the signings work as intended, they will also buy McKenzie a little time to improve the team via the draft instead of buying fool's gold at the start of free agency.