by Mario "Game" Granata
If there was any team during the 2014 season that didn’t seem as bad as their record indicated, it was the Oakland Raiders. They went 3-13 this past season, but were able to travel to both Seattle and New England and only lost both of those games by a combined score of 13 points. That speaks to their defense, which received an upgrade in the form of new head coach Jack Del Rio, and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. The Raiders play in a division that has some quality quarterbacks, so if they are to make some noise and get into the playoffs for the first time since 2002, their defense will have to be key.
The Oakland Raiders were able to get two viable starters last year in the first two rounds with Khalil Mack and Derek Carr. With the inconsistencies at running back and wide receiver, and a shaky offensive line, it’s staggering to see that Carr managed a 21-12 touchdown to interception ratio. The Raiders will be the Raiders as they went out and got James Jones, who was a legit #3 in Green Bay and didn’t live up to the #1 billing. The combination of MJD and Darren McFadden also disappointed, but a bright spot on the offense was Latavius Murray, who will see an increase in touches this season. Along with Del Rio and Norton, the Raiders also added Bill Musgrave, who has had success grooming a young Matt Ryan, and witnessed first hand what Adrian Peterson could do in Minnesota. It seems, on paper, that the Raiders are ready to roll in 2015, and started from the top down to do so.
The Raiders have a lot of cap space in 2015 to work with. Around 52 million to be exact, but if there was an area that they would like to save a few bucks, it would be with Tyvon Branch. Branch is set to make 9.6 million this season, and hasn’t lived up to his contract, playing in a total of 5 games over the past two seasons. Charles Woodson was brought in to ‘groom’ Branch, but he can’t do that if Branch is not on the field. Justin Tuck might also have to restructure as he is due 5 million this year, but again, with the cap space, it will not be a necessity.
IF the Raiders do not go after a wide receiver in either free agency or the draft, they would have to sign Andre Holmes (47-693-4) or Rod Streeter (9-84-1). Both are 26 years old, and do provide some play-making ability, but the big money that they have won’t lie in resigning the players that are free agents, it will lie in the free agent market.
The Raiders could go with either the offensive line, or a wide receiver with the 4th overall pick. If Amari Cooper is available, he should give the offense, and Derek Carr a nice new toy to play with, given what Musgrave has done with another Alabama product, Julio Jones. If the Raiders do decide to go with an offensive lineman, then Mike Tice will shoulder the responsibility to get them ready before week one, to both protect Carr, and give Murray some running lanes. Gabe Jackson was serviceable at guard last year, but the line does need some help.
As mentioned earlier, the Raiders have 52 million to work with, and that number might increase as the Raiders currently have only 1 million in dead money for 2015, and could look to cut ties with Matt Schaub and Lamarr Woodley. Cutting both of them would give them another 10.5 million in cap space, and allow them to make a splash in the free agent market. Greg Hardy heads the list, and seems to be the quintessential ‘Raider’ with his off the field antics. Also, the Raiders might target Demaryius Thomas, who has some familiarity with Del Rio, and would allow the Raiders some options with the 4th overall pick.
Charles Woodson at the tender age of 38, accounted for a team high 111 tackles and 4 interceptions during the 2014 season, and if Branch and DJ Hayden can play a full 16 games, the Raiders might make some noise in the AFC West. Look for Mack to have another great year, and keep Keith McGill on your radar as well.