The Oakland Raiders have often been a laughing stock in the NFL. However, the team has been trending upwards ever since drafting Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and even Amari Cooper. The Raiders 2016 offseason was a talking point for many people within the NFL media because of the team’s potential for success. Here we look at their free agency moves and grade how well they have maneuvered through the FA market.
Grading the Oakland Raiders 2016 Off-Season
1. Resigning (Restructure) of safety Nate Allen’s contract
Safety Nate Allen is not a superstar player but he will contribute with good pass defense and decent tackling from the position (62 TOT, 1 sack in 2014). He has played both strong and free safety and is coming off a knee injury that hampered him almost all of last season (only five games played). The Raiders decided to cut him to ensure his $4.9 million would not become guaranteed and then gave him a new, more cap friendly deal. Smart moves like maneuvering cap room for an above average player have not been so commonplace in Raider nation, and for that they get a high mark.
2. Signed punter Marquette King to extension
Signing a punter never seems to be a flashy deal. But Marquette King has proven to be a good punter in the NFL. He has vastly improved from the 2013 big leg and no control version as last season he led the NFL in net punting average and only four of his punts went for touch backs. He has become very good at pinning opponents inside the 20 and his stock is only rising. He just may be the best punter in the NFL but his $5.05 million cap hit hurts the mark.
3. Signed linebacker Bruce Irvin
Coming over from the Seattle Seahawks, Bruce Irvin was a skeptical first round pick by head coach Pete Carroll. While Irvin has shown flashes he has yet to find a way to turn his great athletic potential into on field success. Irvin played 71.5 % of the snaps last season primarily as a pass rusher, and he only accumulated 5.5 sacks. The Raiders are hoping he can be paired with Khalil Mack and ensure opposing offensive lines cannot focus two men towards him on every play. However, paying a player over $6 million with a $12 million+ cap hit to essentially be a decoy is not fiscally wise. There is better value out there, like Brandon Graham from last year, who signed a four-year contract extension with the Philadelphia Eagles and was good for a sack every 132 snaps last season to Irvin’s 129. The difference is Graham’s cap hit will be $5 million to Irvin’s $12 million. Irvin is not even close to $7 million more valuable than Brandon Graham. Not to mention Irvin’s best attribute is his speed, which will be the first thing to go at the tail end of his deal.
4. Signed cornerback Sean Smith
The Raiders made a great move in signing CB Sean Smith away from the Kansas City Chiefs. The tall, long, and athletic corner was inked to a four-year, $38 million deal and is a great compliment to David Amerson on the other side. Smith is a big, physical corner while Amerson has the speed to keep up with anybody. Smith can play on an island against almost any team’s number one receiver so safety help can rotate to Amerson’s side and give him more confidence as he continues to develop. This move makes the defense better as a whole and should give Khalil Mack more time to pressure the quarterback, which is a very scary thought. Also the Raiders didn’t break the bank to bring him to Oakland. Fantastic Signing.
5. Signed offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele
Osemele is a young, athletic, and versatile offensive lineman. He was a second round draft pick and while he was hampered by injuries in his second season, he came back last year and started every game for the Baltimore Ravens. While he is still young and has some development to do, it is a plus signing because of his ability to play both guard and tackle as well as his ability to pull on power runs. His average base salary of $11.7 million may seem a bit high, but the value of protecting Derek Carr and providing good run support cannot go understated for this offense.
6. Released linebacker Curtis Lofton
Curtis Lofton will be turning 30 years old this season and has been on a steady decline in terms of athleticism for a few years now. He has become a two-down linebacker which are easy to come by and cheaper than what his base salary would have been. Good move to part ways.
7. Signed linebacker Daren Bates
Bates has been a good special teams performer for the Los Angeles Rams for multiple seasons. His addition shows that the Raiders organization is intelligently adding talent to special teams by signing a good player to a good contract and not by spending a first round pick on a kicker. Bates also had a good locker room presence during his tenure with the Rams. Simply a wise move that will make the team better.
8. Re-signed wide receiver Andre Holmes
The tall wide receiver has seen a serious decrease in production since the arrival of Amari Cooper. However, he still has potential and with a one-year $2 million deal with $750,000 guaranteed, it’s worth the risk to see if he can have a somewhat productive season like he had in 2014 (693 yards, 4 touchdowns).
9. Re-signed offensive tackle Donald Penn
Donald Penn is a premier left tackle in the NFL and the Raiders were smart to sign him as Derek Carr’s blindside protector. He received a two-year extension at age 32 and it may be the last multiple year contract he gets, so he has incentive to play as much as possible and to the best of his ability, which is very good. Penn himself only missed 17 snaps last season and the Raiders were 13th in sacks allowed as well as fourth in hurries allowed last season. Both numbers are trending in the right direction because of Penn’s extension, Osemele’s signing, and another year and off-season for Derek Carr to acclimate to the NFL. Good left tackles are hard to come by in the league, and even though Penn may be in the twilight of his career, this is a good deal.
10. Signed safety Brynden Trawick
This is another small money special teams signing. However, Trawick is famous for injuring his own player on a punt return. He also has had character issues stemming back from College. Hard to see his impact on the team.
11. Didn’t overpay for Eric Weddle
Eric Weddle was a big prize in free agency, and signing him seemed to be a priority for the Raiders as it was reported they were one of the four teams truly interested in his services. This could have been another player taken away from a division rival. However, Weddle went after the money and went back on his word of wanting to play for a contender. Good job by the Raiders for not giving an aging safety $13 million guaranteed with a cap hit of $9 million for 2016. Weddle is a very good player but the Raiders believe renting the younger Nate Allen for one more year and signing Sean Smith to a multiyear deal was the way to go, and that approach may start to pay dividends this year and not just in the future.
It’s rare to see the Raiders make so many financially sound moves in one off-season, especially considering the team was already trending upwards before the offseason began. They now have a good quarterback still developing, an offensive line and weapons around him to go along with a more than serviceable defense. These additions and re-signings make the Raiders a serious playoff threat, not like the Cincinnati Bengals who show up and are one and done every year. The Raiders haven’t had potential like this for about 15 years and they can really make some noise in the playoffs, like AFC Championship type noise.
Overall Grade: B+