by Paul Wanecski
The Raiders are always a fun team to pay attention to, primarily because they have the ability to make great or simply awful decisions. Really, very little middle ground exists and they are nothing if not polarizing. With new/old head coach Jon Gruden at the helm, steering the 2018 Raiders is going to be, as it always is, an unpredictable adventure.
Oakland has never been one to shy away from taking risks in free agency. Let’s start with the obvious. The team had some issues to deal with, releasing LB Aldon Smith (come on, we all knew that wasn’t going to be a long-lasting relationship), WR Michael Crabtree, P Marquette King, waived TE Clive Walford, released Marshall Newhouse and did the same with CB Sean Smith. New to the Raiders will be RB Doug Martin (this is really a great signing for them), WR Jordy Nelson, DE Tank Carradine, CB Shareece Wright, and resigned S Reggie Nelson and DT Justin Ellis. Of course, they have more signings but these are the highlights. They also traded for Vikings project WR Cordarrelle Patterson to the New England Patriots with a sixth-round selection to move 51 selections up the draft board into the 5th round. They did the same with the Cowboys, shipping FB Jamize Olawale and the 192nd pick in exchange for the 173rd overall selection. These trades are both smart moves as neither are impact players. Remaining unsigned in ILB NaVorro Bowman.
At this time, some contracts were not available (example: Doug Martin), but let’s just assume his one-year contract is for $3million. That brings the Raiders to have around $18m in salary cap space entering the draft, where they are projected to spend another $10m to sign those players. This brings them to about $8m in actual salary cap space, just looking very broadly at the roster. That is going to create some major problems for them since DE Khalil Mack is entering his contract year. So is CB Rashaan Melvin, TE Jared Cook and newly signed SS Marcus Gilchrist and RB Doug Martin. The money is quickly drying up for Oakland who is going to need some major reshuffling done entering 2019 since 5 players will have over $9.25m in cap hit (the top five will combine for $66.224m in cap space, equal to 35% of the team’s cap space this year).
In total, the Raiders walk into the NFL Draft with 12 selections and they really need them. Last year they bet the long game on CB Gareon Conley who should be ready to go this year, but with the holes at RB, TE, LB, and the secondary, not to mention the possibility of losing both Mack to free agency and Bruce Irvin to release due to salary restrictions, Oakland has plenty of needs. The line also played pretty poorly last year, so nearly every position could see improvement.
The team could address a lot of areas with the 10th overall selection. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey could be the target since the team has basically a swinging gate on the right side of the line. If he is gone, Connor Williams from Texas could be next up but last year we saw the tackle position slide to the 20th overall pick, the lowest in NFL history. It is possible that one of the two top Cornerbacks will still be on the board, likely Denzel Ward from Ohio State. Yes, the team invested in the secondary last year but they need to double down on that bet early in the draft. The might also target an ILB like Georgia’s Roquan Smith, but that position is another that is typically undervalued. They would be able to trade down a handful of spots and probably still secure Smith, especially if Bowman remains unsigned prior to the draft. After that, the needs will swing to the Defensive Line and the team will have a wide variety of options. If they feel that resigning Mack isn’t going to be an option, they might draft an edge rusher, but assuming they are addressing the need, a player like Vita Vea (this would be a reach at this pick since he could easily fall lower) could plug that interior up.