That’s how many offensive snaps Khalif Barnes played this season for the Oakland Raiders. That pretty much sums up the offensive line in Oakland in 2013. 1,034 out of 1,036 snaps. 99.8 %. To have an underwhelming player like Barnes play all but two snaps is asking for trouble, especially if most of them are at left tackle. Barnes was whipped on almost every play.
Granted, the team did not have many options. Stud left tackle Jared Veldheer was injured in the preseason and wasn’t available until late in the season. Second round rookie Menelik Watson battled a knee injury and didn’t play until November. Tony Pashos was a right tackle only who did serviceable. Matt McCants is a backup caliber talent. The team’s idealistic situation would’ve been Veldheer at left tackle and Watson at right tackle, a potential 10-year tandem to build on. However, Watson needs to prove to the coaching staff he can be healthy and earn the starting job.
Veldheer is currently a free agent, and should be the highest priority for general manager Reggie McKenzie. Veldheer has been one of the most underrated tackles since he became a starter, excelling in pass protection. There should be no excuse that Veldheer is not under contract come the start of free agency.
Barnes proved he should not be resigned, except for emergency depth. By emergency, that means “the entire offensive line was struck with a case of the plague and no one but Khalif Barnes knows the playbook.” Tony Pashos, who started 12 games at right tackle, could be resigned as veteran depth, but having a backup who can only play one position might be foolish. McCants should be tendered as an exclusive rights free agent, and allowed to develop further.
Guard is the big problem area for Oakland. Tony Bergstrom and Mike Brisiel were remnants of the failed attempt at a zone blocking scheme from the 2012 season, but due to lack of options elsewhere on the team, both stuck around. Bergstrom was young and talented enough that he could have done well, but seriously injured his foot in the 2013 preseason and was placed on injured reserve, leaving former undrafted free agent Lucas Nix to start at left guard. Brisiel started 15 games at right guard and might retire this offseason, according to ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez. The only free agent is veteran Andre Gurode. While Gurode was a five time Pro Bowler, he showed he had nothing left in the tank, and Oakland will let him walk freely.
If Bergstrom can get healthy and prove he was worth the third round pick in 2012, he could become a productive cornerstone at left guard. However, expect Oakland to invest a mid round pick or late free agency signing on a guard to compete on the right side. Veteran options include Zane Beadles and Shaun Lauvo, while some draft options might include Anthony Steen from Alabama or Ryan Groy from Wisconsin.
The one position the Raiders know they are set at is center. Stefan Wisniewski has been the consistant starter for the team since being drafted in 2011. he has been a strong run blocker, and able to communicate protections to whichever signal caller the Raiders trot out.
The Raiders do have good pieces in their current offensive line, but know they need something drastic at guard. Offensive line can be a foundation piece in a team rebuilding like the Raiders, but they cannot afford to give up another 44 sacks, which were 10th most in the NFL. However the group did help the Raiders rush for 2000 rushing yards, 12th most in the league.
Assuming the Oakland Raiders do resign Veldheer, the 2014 offensive line would most likely be from left to right: Veldheer, Bergstrom, Wisniewski, Nix, Watson. The only question mark in the group is Nix, who could develop into a servicible starter over the offseason.