One of the bright spots for the Oakland Raiders organization is the amount of cap space at its disposal in 2015. A whopping $50.271 million will be available to spend on impact players in the upcoming offseason.
General manager Reggie McKenzie should be aggressive when approaching the free-agent market. This approach suggests moving away from aging veterans in favor of more costly productive talent in its prime.
An approximate $50 million in cap space should allow the Raiders to show at least two players the bank when enticing high-end talents to play in Oakland. However, the front office can make two minor salary-cap moves to free up more cash in anticipation of landing a couple of star free agents.
Restructuring Tyvon Branch’s Contract
The highest-paid player on the Raiders’ payroll in 2015 will be Tyvon Branch based on the current contracts on the books. He’s owed $9.657 million.
Branch has played seven seasons in Oakland and had one decent season in 2010.
The veteran safety restructured his contract nearly two years ago to get Oakland under the cap, per Steve Corkan of the Bay Area News Group:
In the following two seasons, he has played a total of five games. In his absence, safety Brandian Ross has stepped into the starting lineup and made decent contributions. This season Ross caught two interceptions, had six passes defensed and forced a fumble in 10 starts.
Keep in mind that Charles Woodson is 38 years old. Oakland would place the secondary in a precarious situation if they were to release Branch despite his being ineffective in consecutive seasons.
In addition, the Raiders would still have to pay the safety $6.671 million in 2015 whether he’s on the roster or not. Nevertheless, his absence on the field doesn’t justify the hefty price tag. The Raiders brass should make a concerted effort to redefine his contract to reduce the cap hit.
Releasing Antonio Smith
This move would only make sense if the Raiders land a top-tier pass-rusher.
Both Jason Pierre-Paul and Jerry Hughes enter free agency this offseason.
|Jason Pierre-Paul and Jerry Hughes Sack Totals|
|Year||Jason Pierre-Paul||Jerry Hughes|
Either defensive end would provide a much-needed upgrade to Oakland’s futile defensive line. A season total of 22 sacks won’t accumulate many wins against Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, both prolific pocket passers.
Justin Tuck is Oakland's veteran leader of the defensive line with marginal production. The Raiders need a younger edge-rusher with more productivity within the defensive front.
Antonio Smith wasn’t a premiere pass-rusher in his prime. He recorded seven sacks once (2012) in his 11-year career. Landing either Pierre-Paul or Hughes should signify the abrupt end of his tenure in Oakland.
Smith was part of the crop of underachieving, aging free agents signed last offseason. Fortunately, if the Raiders release the 33-year-old defensive end, his $4 million cap hit will be recovered in its entirety without money owed.
The fact that Ndamukong Suh will also become a free agent should intrigue the Raiders front office. Suh already expressed an interest in playing for one of the New York football teams, per New York Daily News writers Ebenezer Samuel and Justin Tasch.
But money talks, right?
The Raiders will have the most cap space headed into the offseason. If Suh is seeking a large payout, Oakland is in position to pay him generously. Generating another $4 million in cap space from Smith’s contract would only help the cause.
Suh’s presence and productivity would immediately elevate the Oakland defensive front. He brings run-stopping capabilities, harasses quarterbacks and sometimes provides a little extra—just ask Aaron Rodgers.
Khalil Mack and Sio Moore would also benefit from playing behind a player who garners consistent double-teams. Collectively, Mack, Moore and Suh could potentially become a three-man wrecking crew.
Ultimately, it’s all up to Suh. If he sticks to his initial desire, taking his cleats to New York, Hughes and Pierre-Paul are more than worthy consolation prizes.
Hey, McKenzie: Show the stars the money.
Advanced statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com