Oakland Raiders' Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2015

Oakland Raiders' Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

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    Free-agency talk is in full swing after the 4 p.m. ET deadline for teams that are planning to use franchise tags.

    The Oakland Raiders can hit the jackpot this year—with all the impending and potential free agents it's time for Oakland to make pivotal moves. 

    ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter highlighted a few players who will be up for bidding via Twitter; a few of these players will also likely garner huge interest from the Raiders.

    General manager Reggie McKenzie will make a big splash in the coming weeks, with some moves obvious and others not so obvious. What’s certain is Oakland will significantly upgrade the roster via free agency, a stark difference from last year.

Oakland Raiders Free-Agency Overview

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    According to ESPN.com's John Clayton, the Raiders must spend enough to satisfy the minimum threshold:

    The question heading into the 2015 free-agency period is how the minimum spend provision, in its third year, will affect spending. For the Raiders and Jaguars, the impact could be huge.

    The system pretty much mandates the Jaguars and Raiders to be the biggest players in free agency. After two years of the minimum spend period, the Raiders are at 80.19 percent of the 2011 and 2012 caps. The Jaguars are at 82.19 percent. Currently, the Jaguars are $66.8 million under the cap for 2015. The Raiders will be at $56.5 million under once the termination of safety Tyvon Branch's contract becomes official.

    Basically, the Raiders have to spend a good portion of their cap space, and if they’re forced to spend it, why not go big?

    Oakland’s priority needs are widespread: wide receiver, center, guard, defensive end, defensive tackle and safety. The team should address some of these voids during the draft, while other positional needs have a strong pool of options in the free-agent market.

    This year’s draft class is deep at the wide receiver position. Why should McKenzie pay Randall Cobb $9 million per year, via Kevin Patra of NFL.com, when it’s possible to draft two quality receivers from Rounds 1-5 for a combined yearly salary far less than Cobb’s asking price? 

    He shouldn’t.

    According to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, it's only a matter of time before Jeremy Maclin and the Philadelphia Eagles agree to terms as both sides seem to be closing in on a deal. 

    That leaves Torrey Smith, aka Mr. Dropsies. In 2014, he tied for the second-most dropped passes in the league with 11, per Pro Football Focus.

    On the other hand, it’s a very weak draft and thin market for safeties. Safety help will be crucial for Oakland with two inexperienced cornerbacks atop the depth chart.

    McKenzie has ample cash to spend, but he cannot be careless.

    Oakland has some pressing needs and some positions that could be upgraded if the replacement is significantly better than the former. Expect big splashes mixed with strategic moves from the front office.

    Here are some realistic expectations as to where the team will spend the money.

Ndamukong Suh Signs with Raiders

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    ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein discussed the organization's decision not to franchise-tag star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

    It would have cost the Lions $26.9 million to franchise Suh, per Rothstein. However, it could be a fatal blow for Detroit’s run as a playoff contender. Suh’s agent Jimmy Sexton has all the leverage at this point, and it’s likely his client will go to the highest bidder.

    Before the season ended, Suh was honest about his agent choosing the next team to acquire his services, per Rothstein:

    "It'll be Jimmy's decision, so we'll go with that," said the Detroit Lions defensive tackle, who has steadfastly not discussed his contract throughout the season. "You can call Jimmy."

    Jimmy refers to Suh's agent, Jimmy Sexton, whom he signed with in the offseason after firing his old agency, Relativity Sports. Whenever Suh has been asked about his contract this season or even dollar amounts he might be looking for, he has been consistent in saying "Ask Jimmy."

    If this decision is truly left to Suh’s agent, expect him to go for the money grab—a financial situation the Lions aren’t equipped to win against cap-space friendly teams like the Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Second, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report, Suh expressed interest in the Seattle Seahawks or a playoff-contending West Coast team. The Seahawks will have to prioritize re-signing Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch before even considering inking a big free-agent contract.

    The Raiders aren’t a playoff team as it stands, but if McKenzie can sell the franchise as being on the rise and reach down into those deep pockets, it should be enough to entice Suh’s camp, specifically Sexton.

    Currently, the Jaguars are the only team with more cap space than the Raiders per spotrac.com, but Jacksonville's roster is far less impressive than Oakland's. In full rebuild mode, the Jaguars need volume to fill a plethora of needs. Volume is just as important to rebuilding that roster as quality.

    Oakland is certain it has a franchise quarterback, a running back, a pair of young capable cornerbacks, a centerpiece on defense and a few talented pieces on both sides of the trenches.

    Adding Suh provides three benefits: He bolsters the run defense and adds pressure to opposing QBs, and the need to constantly double-team him will elevate the play of surrounding players like Justin Ellis and Khalil Mack.

    Unless the Lions and Suh’s camp are able to come to an agreement within a week, or the team decides to use a transition tag to at least remain competitive, Oakland should be considered a front-runner for acquiring the defensive tackle. The transition tag allows a team first refusal to match an offer from another team.

    If there was ever a chance to overbid on a player to change the direction of the Raiders’ franchise, now would be the time with a rare talent like Suh. 

Orlando Franklin Signs with the Raiders

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    Signing Orlando Franklin will be another major free-agent splash that will help the Raiders climb the ranks of the AFC. The Denver Broncos have several key players set to hit the free-agent market, and it’s very possible Franklin’s price may be too high for the Broncos to accommodate.

    Mike Klis of the The Denver Post expects the Broncos to move on with a less expensive but still effective guard:

    Expect free agent Orlando Franklin to get handsomely paid by another team. Top free-agent candidates for the Broncos might be Mike Iupati and Chris Bolling. Ben Garland and Michael Schofield would be the top in-house candidates. Cameron Erving and A.J. Cann would be potential rookie starters from the draft.

    It should also be noted McKenzie wants to move Austin Howard back to his natural position at tackle, per the team’s official website: "My checklist...I’ve got a big checklist. It’s not just receiver, but receiver is one of the guys, one of the positions, that I want to try to upgrade. I want to move Austin to tackle, so I want to get an interior player."

    Adding a big bruising guard will allow the Raiders to rearrange their line protection for optimum performance. Franklin would add size (6'7", 320 lbs), toughness and grit to the offensive line. Furthermore, he would widen the running lanes for running back Latavius Murray.

    Franklin also offers versatility. He excelled as a starting tackle for three years before switching over to an interior lineman as a guard.

Rahim Moore Signs with Raiders

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    One name that hasn’t heavily circulated around the rumor mill is Rahim Moore. Safety wasn’t much of a need until the Raiders decided to part ways with Tyvon Branch, per CBS NFL Insider Jason La Canfora via Twitter.

    Jack Del Rio is familiar with Moore, and it’s likely Charles Woodson’s 18th year in the league will be his last.

    Brandian Ross was solid filling in for Branch the past two years. However, a proven talent like Moore keeps the Raiders secondary formidable without missing a step after Woodson retires.

    The presence of safety T.J. Ward in Denver makes Moore expendable. For the Raiders, he can become a valuable asset as a defensive back who plays well in coverage, as Oakland’s inexperienced cornerbacks continue to develop.

Tramon Williams Signs with Raiders

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    This isn’t an earth-shattering deal, but it’s necessary.

    Tramon Williams will likely become a cap-room casualty as the Green Bay Packers work to re-sign Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga as top priorities.

    Williams is beyond his peak performance years, but he’s still a proven talent at cornerback. Both D.J. Hayden and Travis Carrie performed well in 2014, but neither has a full season as a starter on his NFL resume.

    The seven-year defensive back has extensive experience as the lead corner of a secondary, unlike impending free agents Byron Maxwell, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox.

    Williams brings on-field veteran leadership. His ties with McKenzie in Green Bay make the negotiating process that much easier.

Stefen Wisniewski Signs with Division Rival

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    The writing is on the wall for Stefen Wisniewski’s departure. After rejecting a few offers from the Raiders, it’s clear he feels he’s undervalued in Oakland and is poised to test his market value in a week or so.

    Subsequent talks with Raiders' brass have yet to happen; two AFC West rivals have emerged as strong candidates to sign Wisniewski.

    ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan indicates the four-year offensive lineman could be on Denver’s radar, via Twitter. Rodney Hudson will hit the free-agent market after two impressive seasons starting at center in Kansas City, so the Chiefs could be on the lookout for a center.

    Oakland seems content to part ways with Wisniewski after a subpar 2014 season, which will leave a void to be filled during free agency or the draft.

Rodney Hudson Signs with Raiders

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    The best replacement for Wisniewski is the previously mentioned Hudson. In 2014, he was ranked as the overall third-best center in the league, per PFF.

    Ironically, the Raiders may have to pay the approximate figure Wisniewski requested, per ESPN.com's Michael Wagaman. Hudson's price tag will likely equate to an average salary closer to $6 million per year, especially if the offensive lineman receives offers from other teams in need of a center. 

    Clearly, Wisniewski’s contract year in Oakland hurt his leverage when negotiating. The Raiders will likely side with analytics on Hudson’s production over a homegrown talent with strong bloodlines entrenched within the franchise.

    McKenzie is intelligently deviating from favoring old tradition and the archaic “Raiders Way” with a focus on speed to a cerebral approach he has carried over from his involvement with the Green Bay Packers—and it's likely the right approach to bring the Raiders back to relevancy.

    Advanced statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com and Pro Football Focus.

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