Last Minute Guide to Oakland Raiders' Free Agency

Brian Flores@@Raiders_TrackerContributor IIIMarch 9, 2015

Last Minute Guide to Oakland Raiders' Free Agency

0 of 5

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders have been waiting for this moment for years. The 2015 free agency period will be stocked with big-name, game-changing players, and the Raiders are flush with cash.

    The only question now is: Who should they sign?

    General manager Reggie McKenzie isn't known for chasing big names, but that's something he has to be willing to do this year. Buying a winning team isn't the goal. The goal instead is to find the right mix of proven veterans that will complement the young players on the team and collectively build a winner.

    But McKenzie also has to get some big names in Oakland at key positions. The options are available to add immediate impact. With the cap space the Raiders have available, McKenzie has to be aggressive.

    Here's a look at positions McKenzie needs to address, the best options and some of the players the Raiders have already been linked to heading into free agency.

Plenty of Needs, Plenty of Cash

1 of 5

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The Raiders have plenty of needs. Fortunately, McKenzie also has plenty of cash to try to fix the roster. After the most recent round of player departures that included the releases of Tyvon Branch, LaMarr Woodley, Nick Roach and Usama Young, plus the retirement of Maurice-Jones Drew, Oakland has $67 million in cap space.

    History shows trying to buy a championship team isn't a smart approach. The most recent example occurred in 2011. The Philadelphia Eagles "Dream Team" that included the additions of big-name free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin and Vince Young finished 8-8. That was followed up by a 4-12 season.

    Big names should supplement good draft picks and be the finishing pieces to a winning puzzle, not the entire puzzle itself. But with a team as talent-deficient as the Raiders and with this much money to spend, McKenzie still has to be aggressive in upgrading as many positions as possible with proven performers.

    Given the options available, early rumors and team needs, these are the positions McKenzie should prioritize in free agency:

    • Safety
    • Center
    • Defensive Tackle
    • Wide Receiver

    There are plenty of options at these positions. McKenzie doesn't have to come away with the biggest name at any position. But he does have to make sure each of these positions is upgraded, and he needs to do so within the first few days of free agency while top players are still available.

Safety

2 of 5

    USA TODAY Sports

    The Raiders are going to depend on Charles Woodson for one more season, but the Hall of Famer is not the answer going forward. McKenzie doesn't just have to upgrade at safety—he has to rebuild the entire unit. There are options available, and the Raiders have already been connected to one of the better safeties available.

    OPTION No. 1: Da'Norris Searcy

    Pro football Focus has Searcy rated has the fourth best safety available in free agency (via ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Wilkening). And according to ESPN's Josina Anderson, the Raiders are among the teams "that made preliminary inquiries" regarding the safety.

    The 26-year-old safety finished 2014 with 65 tackles and three interceptions. He will add a playmaking element to the Oakland defense it desperately needs.

    Given Oakland's cap space and the team need, Searcy needs to be a priority signing for McKenzie. 

    OPTION No. 2: Rahim Moore

    Another young safety, Moore has the added benefit of having played under Jack Del Rio before. He understands the defensive approach of Oakland's new head coach, and Del Rio already knows how best to utilize Moore's skills.

    Moore is reported to be looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $5 million per year. For a team with as much cap space as Oakland, that won't be an issue. Other teams are reportedly also looking to sign Moore. But if the bidding stays within reason, McKenzie should have no trouble outbidding the competition and coming away with one of the better safeties available.

    OPTION No. 3: Brandian Ross

    In his first tenure with the Raiders, Ross was a disappointing performer. But he showed a lot of improvement when he returned in 2014. He might not be spectacular in any one area, but he showed last season he can actually be effective all-around.

    At only 25 years old, Ross could still be figuring out his game in the NFL, and what he showed last year could be a sign he's coming into his own. While not a flashy signing, another season of performances like he had last season would be a solid addition. It would also give McKenzie the opportunity to lock him in for relatively cheap.

    Honorable Mentions:

    Tashaun GipsonLike Searcy, Gipson is a young playmaker who would immediately improve the entire Oakland defense. He has dealt with some injuries in his three years in the NFL, missing a combined seven games. But six of those were in his rookie season, and he's played 31 of 32 games since. But the matter is more complicated with Gipson because he is a restricted free agent. For now, the most likely outcome is that the Cleveland Browns place a first- or second-round tender on him.

    Devin McCourtyMcCourty is going to get a massive payday, but is he really worth it? Is he truly the best safety available, or has he been the product of the system he played in with the New England Patriots? It might not matter as reports say he's reached a deal with New England. But even if he hasn't, this is a free agent McKenzie should pass on.

    Louis DelmasWhen looking at Delmas, there's only thing to keep in mind: he can't stay healthy. He's a good safety, but he's played all 16 games once in his six-year career. If McKenzie is going to spend big on a safety—and even if he doesn't—it has to be for a player who can be counted on for an entire season.

Center

3 of 5

    USA TODAY Sports

    With a young quarterback in Derek Carr and an unproven running back in Latavius Murray, the Raiders have to solidify the offense line. That starts at center. While not the most exciting of additions, securing a reliable center is one of McKenzie's top priorities. A good signing here will go a long way in the offense's success next season.

    And given how thin the market is with quality centers, McKenzie has to act fast.

    OPTION No. 1: Rodney Hudson

    As far as free agent centers go, Hudson is this year's best option. Solid both in run and pass protection, he'll immediately provide more reliable play at center while also improving the play of the offensive linemen around him.

    The biggest issue could be the price tag. The big man is reportedly seeking a deal that pays him about $7 million a year. The question is whether McKenzie wants to spend that much on a center. But that dollar figure doesn't seem to be an issue. According to Fox Sports reporter Mike Garafalo, the Raiders are continuing to strongly pursue Hudson (via CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair). 

    Hudson is worth it, and Oakland certainly has the money to pay him.

    OPTION No. 2: Brian de la Puente

    The underrated de la Puente once again finds himself looking for a team. After only one season with the Chicago Bears, he's once again available, and he's once again one of the top-rated centers available.

    He signed with the Bears for a surprisingly cheap minimum-salary benefit that paid him a base salary of only $730,001 according to Spotrac. That's a bargain-basement deal for a guy who, according to Pro Football Focus, is the third-best center available (via ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright). He's also an equally effective guard, which makes him versatile.

    He is coming back from a season-ending ankle injury, so he needs to prove he's back to 100 percent. But if he's healthy and can be signed for a similarly cap-friendly price, he'll be a huge steal in free agency for McKenzie.

    OPTION No. 3: Chris Myers

    At 33 years old, Myers in on the downside of his career. But he's still a capable center, and his experience will go a long way in solidifying a Raiders offensive line that's in need of leadership. Because of his age and the shorter contract it'll take to sign him, he'll also be a cap-friendly signing, which is something McKenzie has always looked for.

    The Raiders have already expressed interest in Myers, but he isn't a long-term solution. He can certainly do the job for now, but adding him means McKenzie will be looking for a center again in the next year or two. Still, Myers is a good immediate solution.

    Honorable Mentions:

    Stefen WisniewskiWisniewski underperformed in 2014, but he's still looking for elite money. It's understandable McKenzie isn't willing to pay that much. But if Wisniewski's market value isn't what he expected, he could choose to re-sign at a more reasonable number. It's a long shot, but it's still possible.

    Joe BergerSimilar to Myers, the 33-year-old Berger is a stopgap option. But he's not as effective as Myers, so he's more of a last-resort signing.

    Samson SateleCould Satele make a return to the Raiders? Maybe, if all else fails. Satele is what he is: solid run-blocker, suspect pass-blocker. He does just enough to not be a liability, but he certainly won't elevate the play of the offensive line either. With the limited options available, he's not the worst option. But he should only be considered as as third or fourth option at best. 

Defensive Tackle

4 of 5

    USA TODAY Sports

    For all of the issues the Oakland defense had last season, the most frustrating was its weakness in the middle. Rookie Justin Ellis played well, but the defensive tackles overall spent most of the season getting bullied. The defense has to be improved by a lot, and the process has to start in the middle.

    OPTION No. 1: Ndamukong Suh

    Suh is not only the biggest prize at defensive tackle, he's the biggest prize in free agency. His price is going to show that, and it seems that number might already be set. Reports have him as all but a lock to join the Miami Dolphins on a 6-year, $114 million deal that guarantees him $60 million.

    Nothing can officially be finalized until March 10. Regardless of the rumors, McKenzie still has to push to at least get the opportunity to present his proposal to Suh. Even with the amount of cap space Oakland has, topping that deal is out of the team's price range. But a comparable deal, along with the selling of the team itself, could possibly get Suh's attention.

    OPTION No. 2: Terrance Knighton

    With Suh seemingly off the market, the next best option is Knighton. While "Pot Roast" isn't as impactful as Suh, he's definitely still a great addition on the field. And with a deal in the $7.5 million-per-year range he's reportedly looking for, he's also much more affordable.

    Kinghton is also looking to get a deal done as quickly as possible, and Oakland has the people to make this happen. According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, Knighton had this to say about his impending free agency:

    There’s been a lot of talk about me going to Oakland because of coach (Jack) Del Rio. He and I have a great relationship. I know his defense. I know exactly how he wants his nose tackles to play and I am a very loyal person. He stuck with me...and he is a big part of me being in Denver. So if things don’t work out he is definitely the first person I would like to talk to.

    Signing Knighton to a reasonable deal in the 5-year, $35 million range gives McKenzie the ability to address a major need quickly and move on to other areas of the team.

    OPTION No. 3: Jared Odrick

    It'll take a deal similar to that of Knighton to add Odrick. He has the potential to be a major impact player. He's seen by some as a "tweener," but he's proven to be a very effective interior lineman.

    There are reports a deal for Odrick could already be in place. If that's true, it would be a good start for Oakland. While he hasn't been as publicized as Suh or Knighton, Odrick is considered by some to be one of the top three defensive tackles available.

    An added bonus is that given Odrik's cheaper price tag, which is reported to be about $7 million per year, Mckenzie has more room to spend. A possible scenario is for the price of Suh, McKenzie can actually instead sign both Odrick and Knighton.

    Honorable Mentions:

    Stephen Paea—Paea a work-in-progress against the run, but he's an excellent interior pass-rusher. That would make him a perfect compliment to Justin Ellis' run-stuffing ability. Paea finished 2014 with 24 tackles and six sacks. He's also a natural fit for a 4-3 defense. In Oakland, he steps into a plug-and-play situation, and the Raiders defense would immediately improve up the middle.

    B.J. Raji—Raji has great potential, but he's coming off of an injury to his right biceps that cost him the entire 2014 season. He's also not performed as well in recent seasons after an impressive start to his career. He could be looking for another 1-year "prove it" deal, which would make him only a temporary solution.

    Nick Fairley—Fairley has a ton of potential. The problem is he's never had the production to match. Signing him would be in the hope he can finally start producing consistently solid performances. This is the type of gamble McKenzie has made in recent years, and it hasn't worked. Now's not the time to try again.

Wide Receiver

5 of 5

    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Randall Cobb was the top name on this list, and reports suggested the Raiders were primed to aggressively pursue him. But his decision to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers forces McKenzie to scramble and find another option. The Raiders desperately need a proven, big-time pass-catcher. With options available, now's the time for McKenzie to spend big at the position.

    OPTION No. 1: Jeremy Maclin

    The top of the wide receiver free-agent class was going to be defined by Cobb and Maclin. Now that Cobb is out of the picture, Maclin will be left to single-handedly set the ceiling on price for the group. Like Cobb, Maclin is looking for a big day. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane, that number is in the range of $11 million per year

    For McKenzie, Maclin is a better option given he's actually been a team's No. 1 receiver before, and he got the job done. As the Eagles' top option in 2014, Maclin finished with 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. And that was with Philadelphia's unreliable quarterback play.

    The Raiders were reportedly ready to offer Cobb a contract worth $11 million per year. A similar offer to Maclin makes sense.

    OPTION No. 2: Torrey Smith

    Smith finished with 11 touchdowns while averaging over 15 yards per catch, but he did it on only 49 catches. He's shown to have big-game potential, but he's never had to perform at that level consistently. As something of a situational receiver, the question is whether his low catch totals are the result of the offense he played in, or if that's really the most he's capable of.  

    The talent is there. But the Raiders need a receiver that can step in and carry the bulk of the receiving responsibility, and it's risky to give that responsibility to a guy who's never had more than 65 catches in a season. Still, Smith has averaged 16.9 yards per catch throughout his career, and he's never averaged lower than 15.7. Maybe all he's been missing is more passes in his direction.

    OPTION No. 3: Kenny Britt

    How good can Britt actually be? In six seasons, he's yet to answer that question...or maybe he has. With prototypical size (6'3, 223 pounds), he certainly looks the part of a No. 1 receiver. But he's struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. Last season was the first time since his rookie year he played all 16 games. In the four years in between, he missed 23 out of 64 games.

    But while playing with journeyman Shaun Hill and little-known Austin Davis as his quarterbacks, he still put up a respectable stat line of 48 catches, 748 yards and three touchdowns in 2014.

    An advantage to signing Britt is he will be substantially cheaper than Maclin or Smith. But he could prove to be too much of a gamble given his unreliable production, and he's certainly not the big name fans expect from free agency.

    Honorable Mentions

    Cecil Shorts IIIShorts has begun to earn a reputation for garbage-time production, and that's not a good thing. While his stats aren't terrible, he hasn't proven to be a No. 1 receiver when it matters. He might work as a second option as a receiver, but he's not a top target at this time.

    Percy HarvinFor all the talent he has, Harvin has never lived up to expectations. Following four good-but-not-great years to start his career, he's been a largely ineffective player. Since 2013, he's totaled 52 catches and one touchdown. Until proven otherwise, he's no more than a depth receiver and a return specialist.

    Hakeem NicksWhich version of Nicks is going to show up next season: 2011's 76-catch, 1,192-yard version, or 2014's underperforming, forgotten-man version? He's struggled with injuries throughout his career and played all 16 games only once in six seasons. He might bounce back in 2015. He might not. But unless he agrees to sign at a discounted price, the Raiders can't be where we find out.

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.comFollow and share your thoughts and opinions @BrianJ_Flores.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.


X