by Mario Granata
Now, I will admit there are some articles or stories that I just don’t ‘feel’ when I start to write. Ray Rice, Johnny Manziel, and Tom Brady are just players that I don’t want to even approach for various reasons, but when it comes to the current article that you are about to read, I circled the date on the calendar. Why, you ask? Because the Raiders are on the verge of being a potential powerhouse, yes, powerhouse in the NFL and I am pushing all my chips to the center of the table on that. Am I foolish for such a prediction? Maybe. However, Mel Kiper Jr. is wrong all the time, and he still manages to hold down a steady paying job, so I am not too worried if the Raiders fail me, but I have a feeling that they won’t. Here is why:
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio
Career Record: 75-80
Offensive Coordinator (Rank): Bill Musgrave
24th YPG, 16th Pass, 28th Run
Defensive Coordinator (Rank): Ken Norton Jr.
22nd YPG, 13th Pass, 26th Rush
Finish. The word for the 2016 Oakland Raiders going into camp should just be finish. Oakland went 7-9 and housed the division that had the Super Bowl Champion (going 1-1 against Denver) but the most interesting part of their record is that 6 of their 9 losses were by 7 points or less. The Raiders are on the verge of something great in 2016 if they can stay healthy and close out games. They have a very young team that GM Reggie McKenzie has built, and from the top down they have an eclectic mix of coaches and players who have suffered from tough times and others who have championship gold. Jack Del Rio, commonly referred to as a player’s coach, has a 75-80 career record, impressive seeing as most of that time was spent in Jacksonville. They have Pro Bowl talent, young developing players, and a division that is not going to take it easy on them.
The Raiders currently sit at 74.2 million under the salary cap, and only the Jaguars have more to spend. They don’t have to restructure any of their current contracts, as many of their young talent are going to be coming up for contracts in the next few years, so it would be wise of them to roll over some of that money to future years. However, there is one glaring player who has to do something with his contract and that is Michael Crabtree. Now, I don’t predict that the Raiders will do anyhitng with this contract for the 2016 season. They could certainly afford the 28-year old wide out and if they chose to cut him, they could break even with cap savings and dead money, however if he doesn’t have the year that he had this past season, he could be on the chopping block. If the Raiders were able to trade him, they would save another 11 million with no dead money against the cap. Highly unlikely, since Crabtree runs just a shade under 5 second 40-yard dash, however has proven to be a very nice safety net for Derek Carr…until they get some consistent tight end play. Details of his contract are below:
The most amazing thing about Crabtree is that he is set to make 11 million dollars this season. The combination of the Raiders ‘triplets’ of Carr, Latavius Murray and Amari Cooper are making 7.1 million TOTAL. Wait what?
The Raiders have their pick to resign everyone that they have in free agency, and given that McKenzie spent 17 years in Green Bay under Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson and if you did your homework on those two guys, they like to build through the draft and take care of their own.
However the problem that McKenzie faces is that the top four free agents that they have are Aldon Smith, Charles Woodson, Donald Penn and Justin Tuck. Woodson and Tuck have announced their retirements while Smith is a nutcase and LT Donald Penn is 32 and unless he is willing to take a pay cut or move positions, his time might be done as well.
A name to keep on your Raidar if you are a fan is S Taylor Mays. Now, in his 6-year career, Oakland is his 3rd team and he has a combined 15 starts in those seasons, but you have to think that sitting 16 games behind Charles Woodson has to rub off on a young player. Mays is a physical specimen standing at 6’3” and weighing 230. That is the type of player that you are going to need to take on Ladarius Green (6’6” 238), Travis Kelce (6’6” 260), and Vernon Davis (6’3” 250). DC Ken Norton Jr. also had a front row seat to see what having a physical presence at safety can do for a defense.
McKenzie has a lot of options ahead of him, but the problem is that a lot of those options might be taken before the Raiders select at 14 in this year’s NFL Draft. The top names for the Raiders are Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson, Ezekiel Elliot, RB Ohio State, and Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame.
One of the biggest threats in the AFC West (outside of the imposing defenses) are the wide receivers that are in the division. Denver (Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders), Kansas City (Jeremy Maclin), and San Diego (Keenan Allen) all pose threats to any defense, and with the addition of Alexander the Raiders could have a nullifying player for those playmakers.
Ezekiel Elliot. No. Just no. Latavius Murray is coming up for contract in until next season, and has proven that he could shoulder the load, and with the way that running backs are viewed and shipped from place to place, picking one with the 14th overall pick, isn’t and #1 need.
Smith poses an interesting pick for the Raiders. They might want to have another presence on the team opposite of Khalil Mack. Mack had a breakout year this season tallying 15 sacks, and with the departure (from all three dimensions) of Aldon Smith, they might have to have Smith to fill the void on the other side in Norton’s 4-3 look. Build through the draft, and keep the players on the team. That is what McKenzie is building with the Raiders, and the players know it.
As mentioned earlier, the Raiders have just north of 74 million to play with in free agency and the only reason why they won’t seek any high name free agents is either because of McKenzie’s philosophy or the fact that they have a lot of players in the upcoming years that are going to demand expensive contracts. The Raiders were just a few scores from being a 10-6 team, and perhaps feel that they are in a comfortable spot going into 2016. But, for the sake of argument, lets take a look at some names.
DE Mario Williams recently said that he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay in Buffalo. Yeah, that’s like yelling at your parents, and then 2 hours later, asking to borrow the car. If that relationship (with the Bills) is too fractured to mend, Williams could be a nice fit for Norton’s 4-3. It would allow him to play primarily with his hand in the dirt, and on the opposite side of Mack, the Raiders could have one of, if not the best duo of edge rushers in the NFL. The Raiders could certainly afford his contract.
They could also go for a double bonus and snag S Eric Weddle from San Diego. The selling point for Weddle would be easy since he has voiced his displeasure with San Diego and what better way to ‘stick it’ to them then to sign with their AFC West rival?
Oakland has two of their own at wide receiver that are free agents in Rod Streeter and Andre Holmes. Streeter and Holmes fit the ‘typical’ mold of the previous Raiders before them; pure speed. Bill Musgrave was there when the Atlanta Falcons had Roddy White and then drafted Julio Jones. So another viable threat (if they move on from Crabtree) opposite Cooper could be in the cards if they are able to sway, really, the only receiver worth mentioning in free agency, Alshon Jeffery.
If the Raiders are all in, they could conceivably sign all three of these players and still have cap room, but they will run into some trouble a couple years down the line. But, come on, it’s the Raiders. Just Win, Baby.
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On the Clock: 2015 Oakland Raiders