Day 1 of free agency opened with a flurry and the perception was that Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie fumbled the ball, even with the NFL's largest purse of $65M plus in cap space. He was widely panned for letting fan favorite Jared Veldheer go in favor of signing ex Rams OL Rodger Saffold instead....for more money than Veldheer.
Day 2 of free agency and a failed physical later, Saffold's returning back to St. Louis. Word came out that Mark Davis wasn't comfortable with giving the oft-injured Saffold all that money. The hounds were shortly released, with most media outlets calling out McKenzie saying he was out of his depth. So called "information" was released that Davis doesn't trust McKenzie calling the shots.
I beg to differ. First things first, Rodger Saffold has only played a full season once in his four year career. He's missed a total or part of 17 games in the last 3 seasons. This is purely speculation, but I think the Raiders' hesitance with Saffold's shoulder holds more weight of why the deal was voided than the reported rift in judgement in personnel between Davis and McKenzie.
Saffold is a nice player, but in the grand scheme of things, this may have worked out better for the Raiders. Saffold last year played more inside than he did at the position the Raiders were paying him for. He was better playing inside than he did as a LT. The Rams came out and said there was nothing wrong with Saffold's shoulder, trying to make the Raiders look foolish. In reality, the Rams had the same concerns about Saffold's health on top of his performance protecting the blindside. If they didn't they would have never signed Jake Long to a big money contract. Why would they if they had someone in house who was more than capable of playing LT....with a more than affordable team friendly 2nd round rated rookie contract? One of the key reasons most people took negatively to Saffold's signing besides the departure of Veldheer was what was seen as a downgrade at the position. More money for a more versatile, yet less talented left tackle. Money guaranteed to a injury-prone player. After taking that into account, losing Saffold is easier to stomach.
I think the truth is that the Raiders really wanted to retain Veldheer and when things went south with Veldheer's brother, McKenzie had no choice but to go search for a replacement. Its not that McKenzie is not to blame because he certainly is. I'm sure most UFAs don't want to deflate their value by exposing any existing injuried until after they get their money. The more McKenzie and Davis talked it through, at least in my opinion, they both came to the conclusion that the money could be better served elsewhere.
So who will play left tackle for the Raiders in 2014? Here are some options:
1. Anthony Collins (Bengals) - As much as I think Saffold is overrated, Collins is the exact opposite. Collins has played both tackle spots for the Bengals, last year playing very well at left tackle after LG Clint Boling tore his ACL. Andrew Whitworth slid into Boling's position and all Collins did was not allow a sack in any of the games he played in 2013. Anthony Collins deserves to start and he'd be a great fit at left tackle for Oakland. He's best in pass protection, but he helped bolster the running game after he took over at LT. Collins is still young (28), and if McKenzie liked Saffold for his skill set and versatility, Collins should be just as attractive, minus the injuries. Best of all, Collins could probably be had for considerably cheaper than what the Raiders paid Saffold. Hopefully the voided contract doesn't detract Collins and his agent's willingness to come to Oakland.
2. Michael Oher (Ravens) - At this point in Oher's career his name recognition comes more from his well chronicled life than his actual play on the field. The "Blindside" star had a pretty good rookie season and since then his play has been shaky and inconsistent at best. The reason why the Raiders should be interested is because Oher is still young at 27. Up to this point, Oher has been a better RT than a LT. The thought of Austin Howard playing LT scares me to be honest. I believe that Oher's struggles on the field does not outweigh the sheer potential and ability that he possesses. If there is anyone who could coach up a player who has the type of talent Oher has, its assistant HC/line coach Tony Sparano. If Oher can harness his ability and play with consistency, he could be a surprise to many, with the main point being that he could be had with a team friendly contract.
3. Draft a Lineman - If the Raiders stay put at #5, there is a pretty good chance that either Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson will still be available when the Raiders pick. Though Robinson possesses a far higher ceiling than Matthews, he also presents a bigger risk. Its a risk that Reggie McKenzie may not be willing to take given that the seat he's in could get hot very quickly if the roster and the product on the field doesn't improve. If the Raiders trade down into the early teens, a prospect like Michigan's Taylor Lewan could be a viable option. Lewan surprised many people at the Combine with his athleticism and agility, both traits many scouts thought he lacked. Other options at left tackle between the late 1st round and early 2nd are: OT Antonio Richardson (Tennessee), OT Morgan Moses(UVA), and Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama). Joel Bitonio (Nevada), Jack Mewhort (Ohio State), James Hurst (UNC), Seantrel Henderson (Miami), Billy Turner (North Dakota) and Cameron Fleming (Stanford) are also post Day 1 possibilities.
The Raiders are not in dire straits. No need to panic just yet. There are still many free agents and teams are also going to be cutting players post June 1. McKenzie has plenty of time and money to turn the Raiders' free agency around in the eyes of its fan base and the NFL at large. There are still many opportunities available for this team right now, and even post draft. This team needs MULTIPLE players at MULTIPLE positions. One botched FA contract would not have filled the lack of talent on the roster. It remains to be seen if something comes from the visits of Lamar Woodley and Justin Tuck, and if the Raiders can sign either one or both of them, it could lift the spirit of many Raider fans very quickly. There are plenty of talented players out there, with more becoming available (like recently cut Chris Clemons) every day.
There's still plenty of drama and suspense left for Raider nation.