A preview of what’s ahead in the 2018 offseason for the Oakland Raiders, including how to approach free agency and the NFL Draft.
The NFL is a year-round, cyclical business, which means the end of the 2017 season marks the start of the 2018 offseason. With Jack Del Rio’s departure and the anticipated arrival of Jon Gruden, it will be a busy offseason for the Oakland Raiders.
The focus will be on assembling a new coaching staff and also on Reggie McKenzie, who has some personnel problems to solve. This is a roster that is one year and a Derek Carr injury removed from being a Super Bowl contender. At the beginning of the season, many believed that this was a top five roster in the NFL, but after some brutal injuries to the draft class, underperforming veteran play and an underwhelming year from the franchise quarterback, Reggie clearly has his work cut out for him. Here is what McKenzie has in front of him from a roster standpoint from now until the draft:
- Analyze the current players under contract and decide who remains in future plans, whose contract does not match their value and who no longer has a role on the team.
- Prioritize and negotiate with in-house free agents due to hit the open market.
- Prioritize, negotiate and sign free agents on the open market.
- Get the draft big board together and prioritize positional targets.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these four stages.
1) Current Roster Review
The first thing that I would do and the first thing I expect Reggie to do is to review the current players under contract and decide who will and who will not be in the future plans. Here are the two players that I would cut bait with immediately:
2018 Salary: $8.5M
Dead Cap Hit: $0
Sean played better under John Pagano but his best days are well behind him and he is not worth the $8.5M he is due next year, regardless of how well he may have played to end the season. Releasing him would have zero negative effect on the salary cap.
2018 Salary: $6M
Dead Cap Hit: $0
David has not been able to match his 2015 performance after the Raiders picked him up off waivers after the Washington Redskins released him, and it’s hard to imagine he ever gets back to that. He is due $6 million next year and there is also no dead cap hit if he is released.
2018 Salary: $7.75M
Dead Cap Hit: $0
Crab was a late addition to this list. By late I mean after the last game of the year against the Chargers where initial reports stated he elected to take himself out of the game in the second half. That’s not a good look for Crab as Reggie and the new coaching staff review the current roster. Following the game, Crabtree had a different story, explaining that he was taken out of the game and was not in the game plan whatsoever. So perhaps it was a move made to avoid having to pay him in the event he suffered a serious injury in the season finale.
Either way, Crab — like the entire WR group — regressed in 2017, and his salary jumps up to $7.75M next year, which the team can avoid without penalty. I expect the Raiders to do that and search for a new WR option in free agency.
These are the three players with the largest impact on the salary cap who are likely to either need to take a pay cut or will be released. There are others who were on the 53-man roster this year that will probably be kept throughout the offseason but will be fighting for their jobs come training camp and will have a high probability of not making the team:
- OT Marshall Newhouse – 2018 salary ($1.75M), dead cap hit ($0)
- WR Seth Roberts – 2018 salary ($4.45M), dead cap hit ($2M)
- DL Jihad Ward – 2018 salary ($1.259M), dead cap hit ($2.373M)
- TE Clive Walford – 2018 salary ($0.9M), dead cap hit ($0.4M)
- LB Cory James – 2018 salary ($0.66M), dead cap hit ($0.6M)
- CB Antonio Hamilton – 2018 salary ($0.63M), dead cap hit ($0.1M)
If the Raiders cut Sean Smith, David Amerson and Michael Crabtree, they would have $49.65M in cap space heading into free agency.
2) Prioritize In-House Free Agents
This will happen in parallel with the review of current players under contract. The Raiders will have some time to negotiate with 2018 free agent players before they are available on the open market. Here is how I would prioritize this list of players and what I would be willing to spend on them:
- DL Justin Ellis – 4yrs/$16.25M with $8M guaranteed.
- DL/Edge Denico Autry – 3yrs/$9M with $4.5M guaranteed.
- LB NaVorro Bowman – 2yrs/$7M with $3.5M guaranteed.
- QB EJ Manuel – 2yrs/$2M with $1M guaranteed.
- LS Jon Condo – 1yr/$1M.
This is the list of restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents that I would re-sign and bring back to compete for a roster spot in order of priority:
- K Giorgio Tavecchio
- S Erik Harris
- OG Denver Kirkland
- Edge James Cowser
- Edge Shilique Calhoun
This is the list of free agents I would not be interested in retaining:
- S Reggie Nelson
- CB TJ Carrie
- TE Lee Smith
- K Sebastian Janikowski
- S Keith McGill
If the above scenario plays out, the Raiders would have around $34M+ in cap space for additional free agents.
3) Free Agency
At this point in the process, if the aforementioned situation plays out, I would be looking to upgrade at WR, RT, EDGE, LB and CB. The market is pretty thin at EDGE and RT, so I would focus my spending in free agency on bringing in a weakside linebacker, a slot cornerback and a wide receiver on a “prove-it” contract looking to re-establish himself as one of the best in the NFL. The three guys I would make a priority are:
- CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, age 25 – 4yrs/$22M with $11M guaranteed.
- LB Nigel Bradham, age 26 – 2yrs/$10M with $6M guaranteed.
- WR Allen Robinson, age 24 – 1yr/$8M with $5.5M guaranteed.
If these guys come in over budget or if an agreement cannot be worked out, here is a list of other free agents I would keep an eye on:
- CB Aaron Colvin, age 26
- CB Kyle Fuller, age 25
- CB Bashaud Breeland, age 25
- LB Tahir Whitehead, age 27
- LB Todd Davis, age 25
- LB Avery Williamson, age 25
- EDGE Alex Okafor, age 26
- WR Terrelle Pryor, age 28
- WR Taylor Gabriel, age 26
- WR Marqise Lee, age 26
4) 2018 NFL Draft
At this point in the offseason, McKenzie will try and round-out and strengthen his roster through the draft and rookie free agency. Reggie has had some big hits and some big misses during his run as the GM. I think this year’s draft is his most important since 2014. He has to hit on his first three or four picks or this roster is in danger of slipping back into mediocrity.
If the hypothetical we’re running with pans out, this would be my approach in the draft with an emphasis on taking the best player available at each pick that addresses a roster weakness. The Raiders will pick 9th or 10th and will have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, six 6th’s (assuming four compensation picks for departurses of DJ Hayden, Latavius Murray, Malcolm Smith and Nate Allen) and a 7th.
Round 1 – someone that can help the defense (CB, EDGE, DL) in the passing game or an offensive tackle.
Round 2 – whichever isn’t addressed in Round 1 or an offensive weapon (WR or RB).
Round 3 – another player that can help the defense in the passing game (CB, EDGE, DL).
Round 4 – another offensive weapon (WR or RB).
Rounds 6/7 – take a couple of high-risk/high-upside players, a few special teams contributors and a QB to develop.
I will follow up throughout the offseason with updates, prospect rankings, targets and mock drafts.