AFC West: Oakland Raiders
Andy Reid saw the Oakland Raiders at their best in 2014.
Even though Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs easily dispatched Oakland in the two teams' final meeting of 2014, Reid is clearly moving forward in his thinking that the Raiders will be more like the team the Chiefs ran into on a rainy Oakland night in November. The Raiders played inspired, determined football, beating the Chiefs in front of a national Thursday night audience for their first win of the season after starting 0-10.
Speaking at the NFL owners meeting, Reid was asked about the competitiveness of the AFC West. He did not forget to praise the Raiders, who went 3-13 last year.
“Oakland, even though their record wasn’t as good as they wanted, they brought in some good, young players,” Reid said. “You can see this foundation starting to build there with the things Reggie [McKenzie] has done. He goes and hires Jack Del Rio, and I think that’s a pretty good situation. They have a ton of cap space and an opportunity to build. All of a sudden you look at the AFC West, and they’re kind of on the rise and you’re very familiar with the AFC West so you know. It’s very competitive.”
Reid also went out of his way to praise second-year quarterback Derek Carr.
“Jack's got a good situation,” Reid said. “That kid [Carr] can play. Like, really play.”
Carr and the Raiders hope Reid sees more of the November Raiders than the December Raiders in the future.
One of the Oakland Raiders’ biggest needs is defensive end. The team did not address it this offseason, but they are expected to use an early draft pick on an edge pass-rusher.
The Raiders, who had 22 just sacks last season, tied for the second fewest in the NFL, do have an in-house option – Khalil Mack. he No. 5 overall pick played outside linebacker as a rookie last season, but he did line up at defensive end in some packages. New Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said that should be the case this season as well.
“He plays defensive end for us already in sub packages,” Del Rio told reporters Tuesday at a breakfast at the NFL owners meetings. “So, I think it would be natural for him to be able to play whatever we decide is best for him, how it helps the team best. The number of sub snaps in the league has gone up dramatically each year. Up to 70 percent of your snaps you’re facing three- and four-receiver sets and so a sub packages where Khalil is an end is the one that really is the most prominent. He’s definitely shown he’s got ability to be an edge rusher, a defensive end, he is that in that capacity. I feel like it’s how we best want to utilize him and who we have around him as well.”
While a new stadium deal in Oakland for the Raiders is still a long way from reality, a good step was made Friday.
The Oakland city council voted unanimously to add Alameda County to the joint agreement the city signed with the New City Development. The development’s goal is to finance two new stadiums at the proposed Coliseum City complex in Oakland. It would house new stadiums for both the Raiders and Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics.
The proposal is in the early stages, but the agreement between the city and county is a solid step in the right direction toward keeping the Raiders happy in Oakland. In February, the Raiders joined forces with the San Diego Chargers on a proposal for a new stadium in Los Angeles. Both teams told their respective cities that they have until the end of this year to get a stadium secured or they will move forward with the Los Angeles stadium plan. The Raiders recently signed another one-year lease to play in Oakland for the 2015 season.
In other Raiders’ notes:
The Raiders have $22.4 million in salary-cap room. It’s the fifth-most in the NFL.
The league is expected to disperse compensatory draft picks at the NFL owners meetings this week. The Raiders aren’t expected to get one.
We recently looked at the remaining cornerbacks on the free-agent market. That group is now completely dried up.
There is little chance Oakland can get significantly better in free agency, barring an unforeseen release. The Raiders can, of course, add a cornerback in the draft. But with several other pressing needs, there is no guarantee the Raiders can find an impact cornerback in the draft. Yes, the Raiders signed former Carolina cornerback James Dockery, but he’s considered a special-teamer and backup.
That means the Raiders are going to rely on their young players unless they change course and bring back either Tarell Brown or Carlos Rogers in free agency. Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said in February that the team will rely on youngsters DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill . And it is just about a sure thing that those three will be a big part of the picture after the lack of free-agency activity. But McKenzie also said other help is needed, whoever that might come from.
“I think they’re ready now,” McKenzie said in February. “I don’t think you can just say those three names and expect to go through the full season. I still think you need one or two more. My point is, I don’t think you need that old cagey, savvy veteran to help bring along.”
I’d expect Hayden and Carrie to get the chance to start, with McGill being a key backup. All have flashed, but none have proved to be ready for the rigors of every-play NFL passing defense. Another cornerback currently on the Raiders’ roster is Taiwan Jones. But he also is mostly a special-teamer. As of now, this is Oakland’s least experienced area.
Perhaps Brown or Rogers will come back and perhaps a rookie will be thrown in the mix. But it’s clear Hayden, Carrie and McGill will be expected to take the next step and be major contributors in 2015.
Fast forward four days and Oakland -- which will almost certainly take either Alabama receiver Amari Cooper or West Virginia receiver Kevin White with the No. 4 pick -- still has a need for a veteran receiver. The problem is, the less-than-stellar class has gotten even less impressive now that veterans Stevie Johnson and Cecil Shorts III have signed elsewhere.
The Raiders tried to get in the big-ticket receiver market but couldn’t get traction on Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin or Torrey Smith. The Raiders haven’t been connected to a receiver lately despite the big need at the position. Oakland was one of two teams not to have a 700-yard receiver in 2014, a mark achieved by 62 players last season.
But there aren't any sure-impact receivers on the market, and the top receivers available all have big question marks. That group includes Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks and Wes Welker. Most of these players are older and in decline.
I still think the Raiders, who have about $24 million in salary-cap room, should add one of these players as a short-term solution. I think the best bet is Crabtree, although I wouldn’t expect him to be a game changer by any stretch. But he could help an offense that needs it.
Majority owner: Mark Davis, 60
Minority owners: There are several low-profile investors, but Davis controls the franchise.
Source of wealth: Inherited from his father, Al Davis, who operated the Raiders from 1963 until his death in 2011.
Net worth: $500 million (chatsports.com)
Residence: Oakland, California
Marital status: Single
Family: No children
Education: Chico State University
When purchased team and for how much: Inherited from father in 2011
Franchise valuation: $970 million (Forbes)
2014 revenue/rank: $244 million/32nd (Forbes)
Owns stadium: No
Ownership philosophy: Has been far more hands off than his father, but he has fired a coach already, showing he isn’t extremely patient.
Defining moment in ownership tenure: The men he hired, general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen (who was fired four weeks into the 2014 season), haven’t righted the ship.
Regular/postseason wins-losses during tenure: 17-42/0-0
General managers during tenure: Reggie McKenzie (2012-present)
Coaches during tenure: Hue Jackson (2011), Dennis Allen (2012-14), Jack Del Rio (2015)
Playoff appearances: None
Super Bowl appearances/championships: None
NFL committees: Super Bowl advisory
Williamson thought Richardson was solid as a rookie, but ever since Williamson said he has no idea why Richardson has become a shadow of himself. After flaming out with both the Browns and the Indianapolis Colts (who traded a first-round pick for Richardson in 2013), Williamson is not sure Richardson can salvage his career even though he is just 24.
“I loved him coming out of Alabama, but he has been utterly woeful since,” Williamson said. “I don’t know if it is added weight, lack of desire, too many lower-body injuries or what, but he shows me nothing now. Can he get it back? Perhaps, but a long shot.”
In other Raiders notes:
- The NFL Network reported tight end Jermaine Gresham realized he has a back injury that needs to be surgically repaired while he was in the free-agent process. The hope is that he's going to be ready for training camp. The Raiders had a visit last week with Gresham, who played his first five seasons with the Bengals. There are also other teams interested in him. Perhaps a resolution is coming after his surgery.
- New England hosted free-agent cornerback Tarell Brown on Tuesday. He was a starter in Oakland before getting injured in December. The Raiders let Brown hit free agency in an attempt to get younger at the position.
Tuesday, minutes after signing with the Oakland Raiders, Richardson, the former No. 3 overall draft pick, repeated that mantra. He expects to be the Raiders' starting tailback.
"Most definitely. If a guy is coming in and doesn’t expect to be a starter, why is that guy here?" Richardson asked. "For me, I expect to be a starter wherever I’m at. I just can’t wait for the opportunity."
Latavius Murray will likely get as much of a chance as Richardson, who flamed out in Cleveland and in Indianapolis, to be the starter. But it’s clear the Raiders -- who had the 32nd-ranked run offense in the NFL last season -- aren’t completely sold on Murray. They want to see him improve his football IQ. But Murray, who has 82 career rushes, is much more explosive than Richardson, who reportedly signed a two-year, $3.9 million deal.
The Raiders are planning to use a run-first offense, so Richardson will get a chance to salvage his career even if he is a backup. Richardson, who will turn 25 in July, averaged 3.3 yards per carry for the Browns and Colts, both of whom invested first-round picks for Richardson. He said he wants his career flux to end.
"Hopefully this is my last stop, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make this my last stop," Richardson said. "Until I’m ready to walk away from the game, I don’t want to leave here."
Richardson thinks he fits Oakland offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's system. Musgrave plans to use a fast-paced approach and often go into the no-huddle.
"We went over the offense and saw a lot of stuff that I saw in college. I know this playbook already, especially when it comes to the run," Richardson said. "I know what they expect and how they’re going to spread the field, putting me in a position to be successful. With that, in talking to coach [Jack Del Rio], he just said there is just a lot of opportunity out here. He said he isn’t going to promise me anything, but if I come in and work, I can be that bell cow."
With Murray and Richardson, it's doubtful Oakland will add a running back early in the draft, especially since they have other needs. Oakland also signed Roy Helu as a backup. He will help in the passing game out of the backfield.
Last season with Murray, the Raiders had Maurice Jones-Drew (retired) and Darren McFadden (signed with Dallas). This year’s group is not established, but it is younger, which gives the Raiders more of a fighting chance for ground success.
Most significant signing: The answer here is two-pronged: the combined additions of defensive tackle Dan Williams and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Williams is a fine run-stuffer and Lofton is a solid pro who has compiled at least 123 tackles in each of the past four seasons. Neither of these players are elite, but they are both solid and will help Oakland's run defense, which will set the tone. They are both a big upgrade over what Oakland had last year. While former Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson is a fine player and was the Raiders' most expensive signing (he will be the highest-paid center in the NFL with a five-year, $44.5 million contract), the Williams and Lofton acquisitions will have a chance to be more powerful for Oakland.
Most significant loss: This category really doesn't apply to the Raiders. They had no must-retain free agents. They secured team leader Charles Woodson in January, and that was it for Oakland's in-house priorities. Their best free agent is center Stefen Wisniewski. But the new staff isn't a big fan of Wisniewski, and it determined early in the offseason it wanted to upgrade with Hudson. Oakland lost running back Darren McFadden (Dallas Cowboys) and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (New England Patriots) in free agency, but it didn't have plans for either player.
Biggest surprise: In the Raiders' fan base, there's no doubt it's that the team didn't land a top free agent. Oakland entered free agency with nearly $70 million in salary-cap room and a lot of needs. The Raiders did try to get several top free agents, including defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and receiver Randall Cobb, but they were unable to land them. Oakland has failed to get a weapon for young quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders have spent an estimated $40 to $45 million in cap room, so they are spending, but the lack of an impact player on offense is surprising.
What's next: The Raiders have about $20 million to spend in free agency, if they wish. Of course, there is motivation because the Raiders need to get to the minimum spending threshold after the 2016 season. While the big-ticket portion of free agency is in the rear-view mirror, the Raiders still could add at several positions, including receiver, right guard, defensive end and cornerback. Because they have a lot of cap room, if a player becomes available through a release or trade, the Raiders can be players.
After signing an NFL-high nine free agents in the first four days of the open market, the Oakland Raiders have not agreed to terms or even been linked to any players in the past three days.
Oakland has about $25 million in salary cap room. It will continue spend, but they are clearly being measured in their approach at this point.
It seems highly unlikely Oakland will spend any of its cap room on receiver Denarius Moore. According to a source close to the situation there is currently “not a chance” that Moore will return. Of course, things can always change, but it was not expected that he would come back. Moore, who flashed early in his career, had just 12 catches last season for an offense that was crying for receiver production.
However, the Raiders have failed to land a receiver and another potential target, Cecil Shorts, signed with Houston on Monday.
- At some point in free agency, it wouldn’t surprise if the Raiders used some of their leftover money on extending the contracts of some restricted free agents. The candidates include receiver Rod Streater, punter Marquette King, safeties Larry Asante and Brandian Ross and receiver Andre Holmes.
- Three Raiders -- linebackers Sio Moore and Miles Burris and cornerback TJ Carrie -- are among 20 NFL players taking part in a finance camp program at the University of Miami this week.
They’ve tried. They were planning to court Ndamukong Suh and Randall Cobb but couldn’t get in on them before the pair was spoken for in the three days before free agency officially started.
Once free agency got going and his market was soft, the Raiders tried to swoop in on defending NFL rushing king DeMarco Murray by offering a chunk of their substantial room under the salary cap. But Murray opted for the Philadelphia Eagles, noting he had bigger offers elsewhere.
The Raiders have spent money, committing about half of their nearly $70 million of cap room by signing several players. The list starts with center Rodney Hudson. He will account for $13 million of the cap this year, a large number for a center. Hudson, now the highest-paid center in the NFL, is a fine player. He will make Oakland’s offensive line better. But centers aren't usually free-agent prizes. No other team got close to Oakland's price, although the Kansas City Chiefs did try to keep him.
Oakland, which has signed a league-high nine players from other teams, also did nicely by getting a trio of likely defensive starters in tackle Dan Williams, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Nate Allen. The Raiders are lengthening their roster and making it deeper. That’s a solid, smart approach, especially after they signed several older players last year. Many of those players failed to help as the Raiders went from 4-12 in 2013 to 3-13 in 2014. None of the eight players Oakland has signed this time around is older than 28, so this approach is better.
But Oakland has been unable to get a big fish to bite. Davis joked to the San Jose Mercury News just before the start of free agency that he was getting the “Brinks truck” ready. Last month, new Oakland coach Jack Del Rio made it clear he was excited for Oakland to be in on big players.
"Those are things I talked about in the interview process that were important, and they’ve been followed up with actual commitment of capital, which I’m excited about," Del Rio said. "So as you go into this phase of free agency and acquiring players, we have cap space and we have a new staff full of teachers. We have a young quarterback. We have a good, young man off the edge in Khalil Mack. We’ve got a good left tackle. We’ve got corners. The things that we need to get started, we have. So now we have to start adding good, quality people that are fired up to be part of the Raiders."
Oakland can still participate in the big-ticket market if a player gets unexpectedly cut later in free agency, which is possible. The Raiders could have a surplus of cap room while others are struggling to stay under the cap. That could be an advantage. It also could help them in the trade market if a team decides to unload a player. If the Vikings end up trading running back Adrian Peterson, the Raiders (whose offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave worked with Peterson in Minnesota) could emerge as a possibility.
So there are still opportunities for Oakland to spend. But for two straight offseasons, the Raiders have had chances to land big-time players. And they haven't come. It is an open secret in the player agent world that Oakland is a tough sell. A recent history of losing, poor facilities and an uncertain future for the franchise are all factors.
Several agents surveyed are not surprised Oakland hasn’t landed a highly-sought-after player. Agents believe it will take one star to dip into the Oakland pool to show others that it’s OK.
This could be an issue as the Raiders try to reach the league’s minimum spending floor of 89 percent of the cap in cash from 2013 to 2016. The Raiders will likely need to spend big in the next two years to get there.
Oakland likely will have a lot of cap room next year as well. Once again, their ability to get a big-money player to make the Raiders an option will be brought into the question. All the Raiders can do is continue to try to convince stars to come and hope the players they have start winning. That would make Oakland an attractive option for free agents in the near future.
After signing an NFL-high nine free agents from other rosters and committing an estimated $40-45 million of their $64.5 million salary cap, the Raiders are very much need of a receiver. Yes, they will likely draft either Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White with the No. 4 overall pick. But Oakland still could use a veteran. The Raiders were interested in Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin and Torrey Smith in the first phase of free agency, but never got close to signing them.
The remaining market for receivers is not overly appealing. There some interesting names, but most of the available receivers are showing signs of decline: San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree, former 49ers receiver Stevie Johnson, Indianapolis’ Hakeem Nicks, former Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe and Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts.
An argument could be made that Oakland would be better with any of these receivers. But with James Jones, they already have a veteran in the mold of a lot of these guys. If I had to say the best fits for Oakland, I’d probably go with Crabtree or perhaps Shorts, but it’s doubtful anyone in this group would be a big-impact addition for the Raiders. They’d simply be filing a short-term void. But that’s where the Raiders are in their search.
They got him this year. Terms of the contract have yet to be disclosed, but Allen said he is joining the Raiders -- he is expected to be the starting strong safety -- on a long-term contract. Last year, the offer was short term, so he went back to the Eagles.
Allen had a career-high four interceptions last season and 62 tackles. He is considered an average player around the league. Allen is thrilled to get going with the Raiders.
“I had always known there was interest there, and then this year, right when free agency started up, they were there again, knocking,” Allen said. “The interest has always been there and I just needed to come out here and visit and see what was going on. I fell in love with everything out here.”
In the conference call, Allen sounded like he will be a solid, grounded member of the locker room. I got the same feeling from the previous six players Oakland signed in free agency. The Raiders had a strong locker room last year and it should be the case again this year. Of course, talent rules, but having a group of solid people often pays off for NFL teams.
In other Raiders notes:
- There has been no news on Oakland’s pursuit of Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham. He has been visiting the Raiders. If Oakland is looking for another tight end, perhaps Scott Chandler, just cut from Buffalo, could interest them.
- The Chiefs cut receiver Dwayne Bowe. The Raiders need a receiver, but Bowe will be 31 in September and he has been on the decline.
The Raiders have secured six players so far: Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, Washington Redskins running back Roy Helu, Buffalo Bills tight end Lee Smith, Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Dan Williams and former New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton.
All of these players will fill a role. I think the highest-impact players will be Hudson, Williams and Lofton.
I see the early signings as an indication of the Raiders concentrating on improving in the run game and against the run. Hudson, Helu and Smith should all improve the Raiders’ run game. which was ranked 32nd in the NFL in 2014.
Defensively, Williams and Lofton are both stout against the run. The Raiders were often gashed in that area in 2014.
None of Oakland’s pickups are older than 28. That’s smart. Last year, Oakland shopped in the geriatric department and it didn’t work. This team needs some players who will stick around, and these moves are a step in the right direction.
The Raiders still have a lot of salary-cap room and have yet to make a big splash. They are still in the DeMarco Murray chase, however. Getting Murray would be big commitment financially and would show Raiders fans that they can land a top player. There is still plenty of competition for him. But if the Raiders want Murray, they should be able to outbid everyone.
Lofton reportedly signed a three-year, $18 million deal with $10 million in guaranteed money. The Raiders probably have roughly $35-40 million in cap room after committing to the six players. They have plenty of space, with few high-ticket players available. However, if in a couple of weeks a top player unexpectedly becomes available, Oakland might have an advantage against teams that are capped out.
The Raiders are reportedly visiting with Eagles safety Nate Allen. He is a starting strong safety, but is considered average. Still, it is a weak safety class in free agency and in the draft. Allen could be an option. Oakland is also visiting with Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham, and could soon get a deal done.
Former Oakland center Stefen Wisniewski is visiting Tampa Bay. The Raiders opted to let him walk in fee agency and go with Hudson.
Both players are expected to be starters. Both additions should help the Raiders’ interior front seven against the run. Williams, a former first-round pick, is an above-average run stuffer and was a big part of the Cardinals’ run defense, which was elite. The Raiders turned to Williams after talks with Denver’s Terrance Knighton broke down. Williams is not quite the player Knighton is, but he will improve Oakland at the position.
Williams and Justin Ellis, who played well as a fourth-round pick last season, should combine to be a solid pair at defensive tackle.
Lofton, 28, is a tackling machine. He had 144 tackles last season and has had at least 123 tackles in each of the past four seasons. The knock on Lofton is he is not great in coverage, but he is a good, solid signal-caller for a defense. The Raiders were looking for a new middle linebacker after cutting Nick Roach because of health concerns. In 2014, Miles Burris played for Roach, who was out all last season with a concussion, and struggled.
Lofton is an upgrade. These additions will not make Oakland elite on defense, but they are improvements to the starting lineup, and that’s vital.
The Lofton addition means Malcolm Smith, who the Raiders added from Seattle on Tuesday, will either compete with Sio Moore at weakside linebacker or back him up. Moore is recovering from hip surgery and the team hopes he is ready by training camp. Smith was known as a solid rotational player and core special-teamer in Seattle, where he played for new Oakland defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.