Will Big Names Be on the Oakland Raiders Free-Agency Shopping List?

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystFebruary 4, 2015

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is seen during pre-game warmups of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Associated Press

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis isn’t wiping his rear with Benjamin Franklin’s face like some other owners, but don’t let his frugality fool you. The Raiders have the resources to bring in players this offseason.

The Raiders also must spend. Not only would a spending spree improve a roster in much need of a talent infusion, but the collective-bargaining agreement requires all teams to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over a four-year period from 2013-2016, and the Raiders aren’t even close.

No team in the league has less money committed to its 2015 roster at this point, and only one team has less committed to players in 2016. That’s before cutting some of the dead weight. The only question at this point will be if general manager Reggie McKenzie is giving out huge contracts to big-name free agents or overpaying aging veterans like last season.

Due to rollover from prior years and dead money, the Jacksonville Jaguars actually have more space under the salary cap, but the Raiders still have about $52 million in cap space. By cutting two or three veterans, the Raiders can have upwards of $60 million in space.

Is a Spending Spree on the Way?

One of the things the Raiders must do over the next two seasons is make sure they get to the salary floor. Otherwise, they will be sending checks to every player on the team over that period for the difference. It’s an accounting nightmare.

Spending Floor
YearSalary CapCash Spend%
2013$123.0$63.451.5%
2014$133.0$102.276.8%
2015$140.0$94.967.8%
2016$160.0$53.233.3%
Total$556.0$313.756.4%
Floor$556.0$494.889.0%
OvertheCap.com

Estimates for the 2016 cap range from $150-160 million, but in this case, the Raiders are going to want to estimate on the high side. That means that the Raiders will have to spend about $180 million in cash over the next two seasons to meet the obligation.

Paying Ndamukong Suh nearly $20 million per year would be no sweat. Marshawn Lynch $10 million for two years would be no problem at all. That would still leave around $120 million to spend—or about a dozen players like Justin Tuck.

At some point in the next two years, the Raiders have to consider overpaying to land quality talent. They don’t have much of a choice.

 

Del Rio’s Role

New head coach Jack Del Rio will have more power than any head coach in Oakland since Al Davis took over the team in 1963. McKenzie’s leash is short, and Del Rio was hand-selected by the owner.

Del Rio had two selling points as head coach. First, he was supposed to bring with him a top-notch coaching staff. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case. If he lands his former teammate Ken Norton Jr. and current linebackers coach of the Seattle Seahawks as his defensive coordinator, he may salvage a staff that otherwise looks average.

The second thing was that Del Rio had a good reputation with his players. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton—a free agent in March—followed Del Rio from Jacksonville to the Denver Broncos, and has been effuse in his praise for his coach.

“The Raiders are getting a great damn coach,” Knighton wrote in a tweet that no longer exists (via the Sun Times). “He will revive that locker room and organization.”

Knighton wasn’t the only player to praise Del Rio, but he was the only one with the opportunity to join him in Oakland. It’s that kind of good will with players that can make a difference for a free agent.

Word gets around. The Raiders have a lot of cap space, a lot of real cash to spend and potentially a head coach with a good reputation. That could be valuable as the Raiders try to woo big-name free agents.  

Since Del Rio played in the NFL, and has been moderately successful as a coach, he knows how to manage personalities. Dennis Allen clashed with Rolando McClain among other players, so McKenzie had to bring in veterans that could essentially be lieutenants to keep the locker room together.

Del Rio will also probably have more power to help select players he wants than any coach in Oakland has in a long, long time. McKenzie must listen to Del Rio to get an idea of what kind of players he needs to run the schemes he wants to run on offense and defense.

Big-Name, Not Big-Game

One of the problems with an offseason spending spree is that teams don’t often let players walk if they are still valuable commodities. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant aren’t going anywhere, for example. They will get the franchise tag or a new contract before they hit the market.  

The hard part is weeding out the big names that have already played all of their big games from the ones that haven’t. The easiest indicator is age, so the Raiders should be looking to spend, but only on younger free agents.

2014 Additions
PlayerPositionAge (2014 Season)2015 Salary
Matt Schaub (Trade)QB32$5.5M
Donald PennLT30$5.4M
LaMarr WoodleyEDGE29$5.35M
Justin TuckDE30$5.0M
Charles WoodsonS37Re-Signed, $4.2M
Tarell BrownCB29FA
Carlos RogersCB32FA
overthecap.com

Ideally, the Raiders would bring in players that will play most of their contracts on the underside of 30. The problem is that many of these young free agents either are flawed, re-signed or tagged before they hit the market.

Wide receiver Randall Cobb doesn’t turn 25 until August. As such, he’d be a huge get for any team if the Packers don’t re-sign him. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin doesn’t turn 27 until May, so he’d also play the first three years of any deal under 30. Cecil Shorts would be another option, albeit with slightly less name recognition.

Stefen Wisniewski is a priority re-signing, but if he wants to walk, the Raiders could actually upgrade by stealing center Rodney Hudson away from their division rival. Since that’s probably unlikely, Wisniewski is likely to be back. The Raiders shouldn’t worry about paying a young and productive player.

It’s a thin market at tackle, but the Raiders could bring back Joseph Barksdale, whom the Raiders drafted in 2011. He was cut by McKenzie in 2012 as the team transitioned to the dreaded zone-blocking scheme. Barksdale fits the scheme a lot better now and has made something of himself with the St. Louis Rams over the past three seasons. Best of all, he just turned 26.

If the Raiders are unhappy with Austin Howard at right guard, they could look at Mike Iupati or Orlando Franklin. Both are young, experienced guards coming off down seasons. Franklin can also play right tackle if needed.

If the Raiders want to bring in a running back to pair with Latavius Murray, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Mark Ingram have been most productive in a two-back system. All of them are young with low enough miles to merit consideration in free agency if the Raiders have doubts about Murray after just a handful of carries in 2014.

Of course, the Raiders could shoot for the stars and try to get DeMarco Murray or Adrian Peterson. Under Raiders new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Peterson had his 2,000-yard season.  

Aside from Suh, the Raiders should consider Knighton and Jared Odrick at defensive tackle. Odrick is younger than Knighton. The Raiders don’t really need more than one as long as Justin Ellis continues to develop.

The Raiders like their young cornerbacks, but bringing in a veteran or two again is probably wise. Re-signing Tarell Brown or bringing in Tramon Williams or Terence Newman would make sense.

Whichever of Parrish Cox or Chris Culliver the San Francisco 49ers don’t re-sign is also a possibility. Culliver won’t be 27 until August, but age matters a bit less in this case.

Everyone wants youthful wide receiver Randall Cobb.
Everyone wants youthful wide receiver Randall Cobb.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

There are hundreds of possibilities at this point, so this is just a sampling. As teams tag and re-sign players, the pool of candidates is going to shrink. The young and productive are always the players that come off the market first.

Last offseason, McKenzie thought he needed quantity. This year, he has a chance to take a different approach. McKenzie has a chance for redemption after everyone expected so much last offseason.

Not much will change in 2015 as far as expectations. If you have that much cap space and stink, fans should expect the team to spend it to get better. The Raider Nation will continue to expect big-name signings. Only this time, they actually might get one or two of them.

Unless otherwise noted, all salary-cap data via OvertheCap.com

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