The tenure of deceased owner Al Davis left a lot of strain on the cap room for the Oakland Raiders. Stanford Routt got a 3-year, $31.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed; Michael Huff: 4-years, $32 million with $12 million guarantee; Javon Walker inked a 6-year, $55 million deal with $16 million guaranteed; and Richard Seymour was paid $15 million over two seasons. And don’t forget the heavy contracts of Tommy Kelly, Rolando McClain and Darrius Heyward Bey.
Coming into the 2012 season, rookie general manager Reggie McKenzie inherited a pretty bad situation: he only had about $13 million in cap space. He had to replace one of the league’s worst defenses, replacing the entire cornerback position with bargain basement options such as Ron Bartell, Coye Francies, Joselio Hanson, Pat Lee, and Shawntae Spencer. He signed other veterans like guard Mike Brisiel and defensive end Dave Tollefson, while cutting the overpaid Routt and Kamerion Wimbley.
In the 2013 offseason, Oakland was $4.5 million over the cap. They cut Heyward-Bey, Huff, Kelly, Seymour, and McClain. This cleared the majority of the old, inflated contracts, but left the Raiders with over $60 million in dead cap room for the 2013, meaning they had to field another team of bargain basement members. He traded away Carson Palmer and let Mike Goodson, Brandon Myers, Matt Shaughnessy, Desmond Bryant, Phillip Wheeler, and Mike Mitchell walk in free agency due to the lack of cap room.
For 2014, McKenzie will have some relief. He has nearly $70 million in cap room to work with. Their only major free agents are defensive end Lamarr Houston and left tackle Jared Veldheer. Resigning Veldheer and bookending him with Menelik Watson and Stefan Wisniewski at center are solid building blocks. Signing a quality free agent guard like Jon Asamoah or Geoff Schwartz to pair with Brisiel/Lucas Nix/Tony Bergstron cluster bomb could lead the potential for a top offensive line.
Using free cap space, he can restock his defensive backfield from the poor 2013 combo of Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins. Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner are talented young options to pair with 2013 first round pick DJ Hayden.
Unless they want to give Charles Woodson a veteran minimum deal, they can look for a better option at safety in Usama Young, Jarius Byrd, Mike Mitchell, or Stevie Brown.
With only Marcel Reece and Latavius Murray under contract, McKenzie can resign productive runner Rashad Jennings to a reasonable deal. He can also look from the decent crop of free agent running backs like LeGarrette Blount or Donald Brown.
However, if the Raiders want to both bring a cornerstone player to the team, and make the late Al Davis proud, they should make an impact signing. Luckily the best free agents on the market are defensive players. Greg Hardy, Michael Bennett, or Michael Johnson would resurrect the anemic pass rush that only had 38 sacks.
To whichever quarterback the Raiders trot out, getting a receiver with sure hands signed would help the team with the 11th most drops in the league in 2013 Although its likely New England doesn’t let him go, Julian Edelman would help out a lot.
The one advantage McKenzie has over most GMs is that he was trained under Ted Thompson in Green Bay, who never went after a big name free agent unless he knew it would only help the team.
Reggie McKenzie has done a good job bringing a culture change to Oakland. Owner Mark Davis knew the rebuilding would take a few years and will give Mckenzie and head coach Dennis Allen at least a few more seasons to bring wins to Oakland. Now that he has offloaded the bad and overpaid talent, he can sign and draft some quality players and attempt to build a solid team to compete in the the AFC West.
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