The bad news: same outcome for the Raiders in GM Reggie McKenzie's 2nd year as GM finishing at 4-12. The good news: Reggie was true to the plan and has washed most (if not all) of the bad contracts that has plagued this team for over a decade. That means the Raiders can now go out and really lay down the foundation of this team from the bottom on up. This is why Reggie was brought in and this is where he's going to be ultimately judged as a talent evaluator and team builder.
The Raiders will have the most cap space of any team this offseason with an estimated $60M plus. Reggie's philosophy mirrors that of his former employers and like the Packers the Raiders probably will refrain from the big money contracts offered to FAs at the onset of the free agency period unless there is a player the team covets.
I don't think that there is any one big name free agent out there that can turn around Oakland's fortunes. There are a lot of big names out there this offseason such as Jared Allen, Hakeem Nicks, Jimmy Graham, etc. Of the bunch, Graham is the only true gamechanger worthy of a big payday. Reggie's pedigree with Green Bay says that he'll most likely look to sign guys who have plenty left in the tank but are up in age, or buy low candidates who have talent.
So its time to put the Reggie McKenzie hat on and give 5 offseason moves in free agency:
1. Take Care of Your Own: Jared Veldheer has already gone on record to say he wants to be a Raider for life. Pay the man. He's the closest thing to an All-Pro on the roster and is a top 10 player at the key left tackle position. Aside from this season with the torn triceps, Veldheer has been a model of consistency producing on the field. Lamarr Houston has said the opposite, thinking the team will probably look elsewhere so he's probably on the outs. It was disappointing to hear that, but Houston is a bigger risk for the type of money he's expecting. He's not a big sack numbers guy, but he does get plenty of pressures and plays the run pretty well. But he's the ideal candidate for a team to offer big money for a guy who's in his prime. It could come back to bite the Raiders in the butt, but giving Houston top 10 DE money doesn't sit well with my gut. Aside from Veldheer, there are some other pieces on the team that need to be re-signed to reasonable contracts and if the aforementioned players on the defensive side of the ball want to return to Oakland, bring 'em back.
2. Sign DE Brandon Graham (Eagles): Almost 10 years ago, the Raiders signed a promising FA who couldn't catch a break with the Eagles. That man was Derrick Burgess. Due to injuries, Burgess flashed promise but couldn't stay healthy enough for the Eagles to hand him a new contract. Brandon Graham is facing a similar situation. Chip Kelly's conversion to the 3-4 base left Graham as the odd man out playing out of position at OLB. Graham plays best with his hand in the ground and last season he had 5.5 sacks as a rotational end in the wide 9 scheme in Andy Reid's last year. Graham has a $3M cap number that the Eagles will most likely look to dump. So why Graham? It has more to do with fit than talent when it comes to Graham. He is a very explosive DE similar in size and skill to Burgess (Graham 6'2" 265lbs vs. Burgess 6'2" 260lbs). He uses his leverage very well and combined with great leg drive, Graham can be very disruptive rushing the passer. He's still young (25) and would be a low risk signing with plenty of upside. All he needs is a chance and a team like the Raiders would be a perfect fit. Graham is the type of signing that would be low risk- high reward who isn't in his current team's future plans due to fit.
3. Sign RB Maurice Jones Drew (Jaguars): The RB position has been devalued in today's pass happy NFL. Rashad Jennings played admirably well when his number was called, but it remains to be seen if he'll re-sign with Oakland or price himself out of town. DMac's litany of injuries have sapped what was once a promising career. Maurice Jones-Drew may not be the same MJD he was before his injury, but typically it takes a full calendar year to really shake off any lower extremity injury. There is a likely scenario MJD doesn't sign at the onset of FA. Much of that will be due to teams' reluctance to pay any RB a sizable amount of guaranteed money and MJD's injuries. MJD is still very effective in the passing game and in pass protection. If Oakland signed him, he'd be playing for his hometown. He's a higher risk signing due to his age, but with another year separated from his injury, he's a prime buy low free agent who could pay big dividends.
4. Sign OG Richie Incognito (Miami): This offseason, there will be a good amount of offensive linemen with talent. The obvious guys like Alex Mack, Brandon Albert and Eugene Monroe will get new contracts from someone. Enter Richie Incognito. Now before anyone tells me I'm crazy or dumb...separate the business of football versus personal beliefs. Incognito is rough around the edges and may be a bit of a neanderthal, but he's the kind of player every fan would love if he were on the team. He was arguably the best lineman on the Dolphins before everything went south. IMO Jonathan Martin is the first of how many of his former teammates to come out and put out to the public what is mostly things that go on behind closed doors all the time in any team locker room. Incognito needs a team to give him a chance and if the Raiders do, I'd expect it to pay off big on the field. The Raiders need a guy or two that's an enforcer. Incognito is still only 30 and has a lot of good football left in him. Again, this would be a case of a very good football player who needs to rehab his image and stock in the league.
5. Sign Josh Freeman (Vikings): Going back to the "another man's trash" idea, 6 months ago, Josh Freeman was the undisputed leader of the Bucs. Some of it was recently ousted HC Greg Schiano's doing, and equal blame can be laid on Freeman's shoulders. Once he got to Minnesota, there were rumors of him being late to meetings, not knowing the playbook, etc. Truth is that it was a wasted opportunity for Freeman. But let's look at the facts. Josh Freeman played his best football in his pro career under current OC Greg Olson. He completed over 60% of his passes while Olson called the plays. As bad as Freeman has been this last year, he is clearly a superior passer to any of the QBs currently on the roster. Freeman's familiarity with Olson's offense would make his transition seamless. Don't offer him any guarantees, just the opportunity to compete.
The approach here is obvious. Play it smart. No more bad big money contracts. The plan isn't perfect but its a decent blueprint that if combined with key draft picks like a stud WR or defensive freak like Anthony Barr or Jadaveon Clowney, could turn the fortunes around for this team rather quickly. The goal is to rebuild this team via the draft and bring in veteran FAs who are still productive yet may have a few question marks.