The Oakland Raiders didn't target any of their free agents in free agency, yet they did agree to terms with defensive lineman CJ Wilson and three players, running back Darren McFadden (Dallas), defensive tackle Pat Sims (Cincinnati) and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (New England), have departed in free agency.

Here is a look at Oakland’s remaining free agents and where they stand.

C Stefen Wisniewski: Wisniewski is the Raiders’ best free agent. It is a surprise he hasn’t signed elsewhere, although he has been connected to Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.

CB Tarell Brown: Brown was a solid starter last year. The Raiders wanted to get younger. He has had limited interest on the open market. I guess it wouldn’t be a huge upset if the Raiders brought him back on a team-friendly deal.

CB Carlos Rogers: He has had virtually no interest. I don’t expect him back.

TE David Ausberry: The Raiders could use another tight end, but I doubt it’s Ausberry.

WR Vincent Brown: The Raiders are trying to get better at receiver.

WR Denarius Moore: Moore’s market has been dormant.

RB Kory Sheets: The Raiders have had no interest in re-signing him.

An ESPN panel assigned grades for each NFL team on the two-week free-agency period. The group likes the work done by the Oakland Raiders, who have been the most active team in free agency.

The panel gave the Raiders a B-plus grade. It was tied for the fifth-highest grade in the league. ESPN scout Matt Williamson lauded Oakland for using its salary-cap wealth (the Raiders had the second-most cap room to start free agency) on volume. He liked the way the Raiders shored up the core of their team.

"The Raiders got way stronger at the two pivots, right up the middle with their big guys, which was a huge problem," Williamson said. "Both (center Rodney) Hudson and (defensive tackle Dan) Williams are really good players in their primes. (Middle linebacker Curtis) Lofton and (outside linebacker Malcolm) Smith are upgrades, but not great. (Safety Nate) Allen is worth the risk as a free safety. But you see Oakland in that Jaguars/Browns category with a ton of money to spend, no one to spend it on and difficulties finding guys to go there. Ideally, they would have landed a Randall Cobb or Ndamukong Suh."

I was bit surprised Oakland received this high of a grade. We’ve discussed the Raiders’ free-agency efforts extensively. I liked what they did because the roster got better, but the truth is, their two biggest need areas – receiver and pass-rusher -- went unaddressed. But there is no doubt the Raiders’ roster is stronger now than it was at the end of last season because of some smart additions.

The NFL’s most active team in free agency ended a week of no activity by bringing back a familiar name.

Versatile defensive lineman C.J. Wilson announced on Twitter Wednesday night he is re-signing with the Oakland Raiders. The team has not officially announced it, but there are reports he signed for two years.

Wilson is the 11th free agent Oakland has secured in the 16-day-old free-agency period. He is the first in-house player Oakland has retained since free agency opened and just the second the Raiders have re-signed this offseason. Safety Charles Woodson re-upped in January.

Wilson wasn’t a priority signing for Oakland, but he is a good value player. Signed as a free agent from Green Bay last year, Wilson had 23 tackles and two sacks in 2014. Wilson, who turns 28 Monday, started seven games for the Raiders last season.

He can play all four spots on the defensive line and should continue to be a solid rotational player for Oakland.

Last week, we looked at what the Oakland Raiders’ starting offense and defense looks like as of now. Of course, the Raiders could add a piece or two in the latter stages of free agency (although there aren’t many sure starters currently on the market) and the Raiders should find starters in the draft, starting with the No. 4 overall pick.

Let’s take a look at the starting lineup broken down in different categories, beginning with the more urgent issues:

Need to upgrade:

[+] EnlargeKevin White
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesNeeding a talent upgrade at receiver, the Raiders could target Kevin White in the NFL draft.

Receiver: The Raiders need an impact receiver. Expect to see them draft Amari Cooper of Alabama or Kevin White of West Virginia at No. 4. If so, this becomes a strength area.

Defensive end: The Raiders have no pass-rush punch from this spot. They could go for Leonard Williams or Dante Fowler in first round. If not, it could be a big need area all year.

Right guard: They have Khalif Barnes, but they are looking to upgrade. Perhaps they could do it in the middle rounds, but there’s no guarantees.

Cornerback: The Raiders are young at cornerback with DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill. They are going to have to hope two develop quickly. It’s iffy.

Position filled, but there are question marks

Receiver: James Jones was their No. 1 receiver. He’s productive, with 73 catches for 666 yards and six TDs last season, but probably a lower-level No. 2 rather than a No. 1.

Running back: Latavius Murray will try to hold off the newly signed Trent Richardson. Murray has big potential, but the team wants to see how he handles a heavy work load. He had only 82 carries for 424 yards and two TDs last season.

Tight end: Mychal Rivera will make his share of catches. He had 58 receptions 534 yards and four TDs last season. But the Raiders are unsure if he can be an impact tight end.

Right tackle: Austin Howard is back to the position where he played with the Jets after struggling as a big money-making guard.

Defensive end: Justin Tuck is still productive, but he is aging and he is probably best served as a rotational player.

Cornerback: See above.

Safety: Newly signed Nate Allen, who had four interceptions last season, is getting paid a lot. He is a serviceable starter, but he will probably frustrate his coaches at times.

Solid starters

Quarterback: Derek Carr has a chance to be a good player, especially when he gets some help. As a rookie, Carr threw for 3,270 yards with 21 TDs and 12 INTs. This is not a problem position for Oakland.

H-Back: Marcel Reece has a chance to flourish in the Raiders' offense.

Left tackle: Donald Penn is an above-average player who is a nice anchor to an improving line.

Left guard: Gabe Jackson is a second-year player who has big potential.

Center: Free-agent prize Rodney Hudson is a perfect fit for the Raiders’ new offense and is an upper-level player at this spot.

Defensive tackle (2): Free-agent Dan Williams and second-year player Justin Ellis have a chance to be anchors to the defense. Williams is solid against the run and Ellis has a chance to shine.

Inside linebacker: Free-agent addition Curtis Lofton makes a ton of tackles. He is not without his flaws, but he is not a detriment.

Outside linebacker: Sio Moore us growing into a nice player.

Safety: Charles Woodson had four interception last and has 60 in his storied career. Future Hall of Famer.

Elite starter

Outside linebacker: Khalil Mack, who had 75 tackles including four sacks as a rookie, looks like he is special. Folks around the league are in love with him. He’s the guy in Oakland.

Conclusion: Half the starting lineup is on solid ground. That’s a positive change for Oakland. Yes, there are holes and I believe the defense is in slightly better shape than the offense. This is still very much a work-in-progress roster with as many questions and answers, but it’s not an empty deck in Oakland.

The Oakland Raiders are on the clock with the No. 4 overall pick in exactly five weeks and a day.

Unless they trade the pick (which is seemingly more unlikely with all the chatter that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota may go No. 2 to Tennessee), the Raiders are likely to take a receiver. Sure, Oakland could use the pick on its other top need – a pass-rusher – but the odds are strong Oakland will look for a playmaker to help promising young quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders have yet to give Carr an impact player this offseason.

Of course, the two prime candidates to be given the chance to solve Oakland’s receiver problem are Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White. Both are considered top-tier players.

I’m sure I will continue to write about these two often as we head toward the draft, with the odds being that one of these two players will end up wearing the Silver and Black.

In an Insider piece, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper made another case why Cooper is the perfect fit for the Raiders. Here is some of Kiper’s reasoning: "[Cooper] has 'work ethic' tied to his name as much or more than any other great player in the draft. I think he's your best bet to be a No. 1 wide receiver against seasoned NFL defensive backs early in his career as any wideout in this draft."

Receiver has long been known as a “diva” position. I’ve never heard that word assisted with Cooper, who is extremely polished at just 20 years old. Over the years, supremely talented receivers who also come with a strong work ethic usually are sure bets to have a long, impactful career.

That’s why I continue to think the Raiders need to bring Cooper and his work ethic to Oakland. Of course, this not suggesting White doesn’t possess a strong work ethic, too. But Cooper is known for it and, along with all his other qualities, to me he seems to be the perfect choice at No. 4.


PHOENIX -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters at the conclusion of the league owners meetings Wednesday that speed is not driving the process in the inevitable return of professional football to Los Angeles, but rather finding the right fit that will work in the nation's second-largest market long-term.

"Right now our focus is on the process, making sure we're evaluating the opportunities in their existing markets and making sure we understand that," Goodell said. "And also making sure that we understand what it takes to be successful in Los Angeles long-term."

Goodell said that owners discussed the possibility of moving up the time frame during which teams can apply for relocation -- currently set for Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 next year -- to sometime in 2015 in order to give teams relocating to Los Angeles a better chance at transitioning for the 2016 NFL season.

"We have some discussions within our committee of whether that time frame -- if there was a relocation -- whether that's the appropriate time frame to do so," Goodell said. "There's a lot to do when you relocate a franchise. And if a decision is made earlier, would that give the teams a better opportunity to properly transition to a new marketplace, which is the goal if there a relocation.

"So that's been discussed. I know we certainly have not come to any conclusion on that. We haven't ruled it out, though."

(Read full post)

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.

PHOENIX -- Throughout the process of relocation and the various attempts to either bring football to Los Angeles or keep the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders in their current markets, many have been left to wonder what would happen to team or city on the outside looking in when it comes to this game of billion-dollar musical chairs.

It stands to reason that somebody is not going to get what they want, though it's still unclear which team or city that will be. All three of the current home markets could step up, or maybe none will. In the many permutations of how it could all play out, somebody is probably going to be left without a chair, or at least not the chair they most would like to sit in.

[+] EnlargeRams, Kenny Britt
Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesIf the Rams leaving St. Louis, don't expect St. Louis fans to be cheering for an expansion franchise.

That's left some questions about whether expansion would be a possibility? The answer, according to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, is no.

"I think expansion would be very difficult," Kraft said. "Look, I know. I bought my team 21 years ago, and I was so privileged to do it. If any ownership group puts their heart and soul into it, the local people will support it. It’s a product that the public wants, but they have to feel that you’re serious and want to do what you want to do. I don’t see expansion being an option. Any community that is privileged to have a team, love them up."

It's been no coincidence that during this whole process, the St. Louis stadium task force has made it clear they are working to keep the Rams in town but also have made it a point to refer to St. Louis as an "NFL city" on multiple occasions as well. The task force's Twitter hashtag even includes the NFL mention over something specifically related to the Rams.

That's because there are some factors beyond their control. Even if St. Louis can come up with the money to help finance a stadium, there's no guarantee Rams owner Stan Kroenke will be on board to chip in the $250 million being asked of him. So if he were to take the unprecedented step of moving away while a city is offering him public money, the NFL would still be hesitant to turn away from that offer.

Which is why, even as Kraft made it clear that the home markets should be given a fair shake, he also chose his words carefully when it comes to preserving current teams in their markets.

"My point of view, if they come up with a plan that looks pretty good and a strong financial package, we the NFL have an obligation, in my opinion, to have a team in St. Louis," Kraft said.

That team could be anybody, but it almost certainly won't be an expansion franchise. At this point, the NFL has reached a saturation point and though an expansion franchise would mean expansion fees, those fees would have to be astronomical to help offset the decreased size of the piece of the pie that 32 teams currently share.

So no matter who is sitting where when the music stops, don't expect any new players in the game.

Raiders have spent money in free agency

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25


ESPN Raiders reporter Bill Williamson talks about the misconception that the team hasn’t been a big player in free agency.

PHOENIX -- While the Oakland Raiders continue their quest for a permanent home, be it in Oakland, Carson, or Parts Unknown, the door for them to jump into a 1-year-old stadium 34.3 miles down I-880 remains cracked open.

The Raiders, sharing what is undoubtedly the 49ers’ yard at red-clad Levi’s Stadium, may be beyond a last resort for the Raiders, but Niners CEO Jed York said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings the latest news of his team sharing the Santa Clara digs with another team remains status quo.

“It’s been the same answer all along,” York said. “The building has been approved for two teams. That hasn’t changed, and it’s not specific to who the team is, and it’s really out of our control.

“The Raiders, and whoever else is considering new stadium possibilities, they’re controlling their own destiny on where they want to go, and what they want to do.”

In other words, Levi’s remains an option for a team like the Raiders, albeit, a far-fetched alternative.

Niners fans, though, will be happy to know that team officials are working on improvements for those who sit on the sun-spashed east side of the stadium.

York and 49ers chief operating office Al Guido said the Niners, after consulting with the Jacksonville Jaguars -- no, the Niners will not be installing a swimming pool in the stadium -- will institute a couple of fan-friendly features for game days.

“Cool” seating benches will be installed in the concourse area of the east side while “misters” will be in the plaza. The team is also considering passing out hand-held misting fans to spectators on especially warm days.

Parking, specifically egress, a bane for so many fans in the early weeks of the stadium, is also being addressed. York and Guido said the time to exit certain lots at the stadium took as long as 1 hour, 20 minutes early in the season, but dropped to as little as 45 minutes by the end of the year. The average time to exit Candlestick Park, they said, was 90 minutes.

The Oakland Raiders have seven selections in the 2015 NFL draft, which will be held April 30 to May 2 in Chicago. Here’s a breakdown of the Raiders' selections:

First round: 4th overall selection

Second round: 35th overall selection

Third round: 68th overall selection

Fourth round: 102nd overall selection

Fifth round: 140th overall selection

Sixth round: 179th overall selection

Seventh round: 221st overall selection

New Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio spoke about several topics at the NFL owners meetings Tuesday. Here is a sampling:

On Oakland’s offseason thus far:

"We’ve felt like we’ve had a good, solid offseason. It wasn’t the sexy, get-the-name receiver that everybody’s clamoring for. It’s not what it was. But it was a very effective, methodical approach to going out and filling some needs and addressing some other issues that we thought we had with the roster."

On role for Malcolm Smith?

"We’ll see. Sio’s (starting outside linebacker Sio Moore) rehabbing, so Malcolm will get a lot of those reps in the offseason, but I believe in making it competitive wherever we can. There’s some guys that you can pencil in at this point and say, yeah, that’s their spot, but even those guys are going to be pushed. They’re going to be pushed hard. It’s not like they’re going to walk in. It’s not like we’re returning from the Super Bowl and have things figured out. We have a lot of work to do, and competition’s going to be a big part of it.”

Role for Marcel Reece if there is no need for a FB?

"We’ll see where that goes. I would say there are good roles for good football players everywhere, so I think we’ll let [offensive coordinator] Bill [Musgrave] and his staff, let them go through and start working with our guys. Let’s see what our staff can put together to utilize the talent we have and the talent we’re bringing in."

Are Justin Ellis and Dan Williams starting defensive tackles?

"We’ll see. There’s no reason they can’t be on the field at the same time ... it starts in the trenches in this game."

Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said he expects Lavatius Murray and Trent Richardson to compete for the starting tailback job.

With Maurice Jones-Drew retiring and Darren McFadden going to Dallas, Murray is the incumbent on an offense that ranked dead last in the NFL in the run game. Murray has just 82 career carries and two touchdowns.

Richardson, the former No. 3 overall pick who floundered with Cleveland and Indianapolis, was signed to a two-year deal with Oakland last week.

"I think it will be a competitive situation," Del Rio said.

Del Rio likes Richardson's potential.

"What I saw when we brought him in and talked to him was a young man that was hungry to kind of leave that portion of his career behind him and start fresh," Del Rio said. "My challenge to him was, 'Look, I don't want you to worry about anything other than coming in here and competing your butt off every day. Come in here and be a great teammate. Come in here and find a role on special teams. Come in here and just grind every day with the hunger you had as a freshman at Alabama.'"

PHOENIX – Jack Del Rio played linebacker in the NFL for 11 seasons. Before that, he was an All-American at USC.

And in all that time, how many concussions do you think the hard-hitting Del Rio was diagnosed with in the entirety of his football career?

“One,” the new Oakland Raiders coach said Tuesday morning at the AFC coaches breakfast to kick off Day 2 of the NFL owners meetings.

“One in college, and that was it. My helmet never popped off, either. Not one time did my helmet ever come off.”

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesJack Del Rio talked about player safety at the owners meetings and said his pet peeve is seeing helmets pop off.

The key word here, of course, is “diagnosed” as the medical definition of a concussion has evolved from merely getting one’s bell rung to neurological damage when it comes to the brain. So of course Del Rio, who spent about two decades banging heads, has opinions when it comes to what many see as a concussion crisis in the NFL.

And something that bothers him is the frequency with which helmets come off players in the course of games.

“You want to talk about player safety issues? Let’s see if we can stop the helmets from popping off,” said Del Rio, who added that his helmet fit so snug he had to use Vaseline under his ears to slide it on.

“Helmets have gone to comfort, and not necesarrily to safety. That’s my pet peeve. These things, when they pop off, how do you have a helmet that pops off? Man, I always wanted to make sure that my head had a shell around it. I didn’t ever want to be vulnerable and have my helmet off in a pile. That could be bad.”

Del Rio did say, though, that the culture has changed from his playing days to take better care of players’ health. He specified the teaching of players where to hit, how to hit and tackle and greater awareness among coaches, players and doctors.

In fact, San Francisco 49ers co-chairman Dr. John York, who is chairman of the NFL’s Health and Safety Advisory Committee, told three reporters on Monday that concussions in the league were down 25 percent in 2014 from 2013 and down 37 percent the past two seasons. York said there were “about .46 concussions per game” in 2014.

And being a linebacker, surely Del Rio had a thought or two on Niners linebacker Chris Borland retiring last week after one NFL season, fearing future brain injuries.

“I think every individual can make his own decision for how they feel and what they want to make of thir potential career,” Del Rio said. “I didn’t have the same reaction as a lot of people; I kind of feel like it’s a shame a young man came to a place where he doesn’t feel like he can play. I feel bad for him. I played a long time and enjoyed every bit of it. I was very blessed. So it’s very unfortunate, you know?

“I think it’s a league of men and it takes a lot to come in and sacrifice and discipline yourself and do things that need to be done to play at a high level. You’re talking about grown men that are trying to feed their families and so it’s a very competitive, very competitive job. And if you’re heart’s not in it or you don’t feel like you can continue, then you’re doing the right thing (by) stepping away. Because it’s got to be miserable to come to work every day and spend the time that we spend if you’re not really dialed in and excited about being here.”

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.”