An in-depth look at the Oakland Raiders offseason to-do list — cap casualties, contract extensions, re-signing players, team needs, free agency, and the draft. All in one place.
The 2017 Oakland Raiders season did not go according to plan — not even close. Following a breakout 12-4 season the year before, the expectation for the Silver and Black was to take the next step forward and become legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But following a 2-0 start to the season, the team faltered in a big way. From top to bottom, there was no shortage of issues the Raiders experienced in 2017. They stumbled to a 4-10 record the rest of the way, effectively cutting their win total from the season before in half.
The team’s performance led to the end of the Jack Del Rio era, who was fired minutes after the season finale against the Chargers. And with his exit came the return of Jon Gruden, who finally ended a decades worth of offseason rumors predicting this would one day happen.
Reggie McKenzie is still around, declining an opportunity to interview for the GM job with the organization he came up in. And per words from Mark Davis himself, it has been his “dream” since the passing of his father to pair McKenzie with Gruden to revive this once great franchise.
With that being said, McKenzie and Gruden have plenty of work to do to get the Raiders back in track in 2018 and beyond. As always, it is going to be a busy offseason as the NFL never sleeps. From beginning to end, let’s go through what the Raiders have on their offseason to-do list.
The first order of business for the Raiders is going to be to cut dead weight — something McKenzie has not been shy in doing over his tenure. Thanks to his always team-friendly contract negotiations, Reggie will always leave himself with salary cap flexibility.
Oakland will have somewhere between 7 to 10 notable players under contract for 2018 who are no guarantee to return. With the record-setting payday for Derek Carr last offseason and another potential record-setting contract coming up for Khalil Mack, McKenzie is going to have some tough decisions to make to ensure the team doesn’t become financially crippled while also maintaining a competitive roster. Certainly no easy task.
Starting with the most obvious cap casualty, Sean Smith is the most likely player under contract for 2018 that will be sent packing. After signing a four-year, $38 million dollar deal as a marquee free agent in March of 2017, Smith has been a major disappointment. To be fair, he was often misused and eventually did prove his worth — at least under John Pagano — but regardless, his price tag is not justified. Not to mention the pending legal case against him, as he was accused of assaulting his sister’s then-boyfriend on the Fourth of July. Smith has two years and $17M left on his deal, with no dead money if released.
Michael Crabtree is another player under contract for 2018 where it seems the writing is on the wall — he won’t be back in Silver and Black. After signing a one-year deal with the Raiders prior to the 2015 season, Crabtree impressed enough to be rewarded with a four-year, $34M extension after Week 13. Crab put together strong campaigns in back-to-back seasons, posting 85 catches, 922 yards and 9 TDs in his first season in Oakland and 89 catches, 1,003 yards and 8 TDs in his second.
Despite some struggles with drops, he was the most reliable pass-catcher on the team and the go-to target in the red zone. But like the rest of the offense in 2017, Crab struggled in a big way with first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing in charge. Plus his continued battle with Aqib Talib led to accusations of a selfish, me-first attitude, and his benching in the finale didn’t help his case to return. Crabtree has two years and $15,937,500 left on his contract with no dead money if released.
The third notable player who might not return in 2018 is Bruce Irvin. Having played ‘Robin’ to Khalil Mack’s ‘Batman’ in his two years in Oakland, Irvin showed major signs of slowing down in 2017. At least for the first three-quarters of the season, because Irvin finished quite strong under Pagano and may have played well enough to save his job in 2018.
Irvin recorded 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in 2017, and he had 7 sacks and 6 forced fumbles in 2016. So the numbers say his season wasn’t as bad as what the perception is, but will it be enough to hang onto him for another season? Irvin will be 31 roughly halfway through the 2018 season, and he is owed $8.25M next year and $9.25M the year after that — with no dead money if he’s cut. As important as having a secondary pass rusher is, perhaps the better question is — if the Raiders do get rid of Irvin, what’s the plan? That might be the best argument that he has a chance to come back for at least one more year.
Here are a handful of other players under contract who could be potential cap casualties:
- David Amerson – $6M cap hit, no dead money
- Marshawn Lynch – $6M cap hit, no dead money
- Jared Cook – $5.3M cap hit, no dead money
- Seth Roberts – $4.45M cap hit, $2M in dead money
- Cordarrelle Patterson – $3.25M cap hit, no dead money
- Marshall Newhouse – $1.75M cap hit, no dead money
Amerson, who has had both problems with inconsistent play and durability, seems like a sure-fire cut. He was never able to regain the form of his revival season in 2015, and Gareon Conley is poised to take over the no. 1 CB spot.
Marshawn Lynch, who is both revered and disliked among certain parts of the fan base, is an intriguing case study. He was truly one of the bright spots of the offense in 2017, and even with a handful of poor performances, still managed 891 yards and 7 TDs with 4.3 yards per carry average. But he does carry a sizable price tag and Jon Gruden prefers a back who can also be a pass-catching weapon, which Lynch is not.
Jared Cook should be safe, as he was a pleasant surprise in 2017. But most any player with a decent price point and no dead money is in jeopardy of not returning. Seth Roberts is likely also safe thanks to the dead money hit he carries, but his performance fell off of a cliff in 2017 and his drops have been a major problem for three years running. Patterson should also be safe, but only if Gruden feels he can better use Cordarrelle than Todd Downing — which shouldn’t be tough.
Lastly, Marshall Newhouse might be the easiest decision of all. He started off playing quite well, but the honeymoon phase was quickly over. He struggled mightily for much of the season, and the Raiders have a rotation of potential in-house options that can fill the void at right tackle if they don’t bring in another player to compete for the job.
Contract Extension for Khalil Mack
One offseason removed from dishing out a record-setting extension for Derek Carr to the tune of five years, $125 million, Reggie McKenzie will once again have to break out to Brinks truck to pay Khalil Mack.
The 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, Mack has been arguably the most dominant player in the entire NFL since he hit the scene in 2014. His rookie numbers don’t properly measure the impact he had, but he enjoyed a breakout season in 2015 with a whopping 15 sacks, trailing only JJ Watt for the league lead.
Mack’s sack numbers took a step back in 2016, recording an admirable 11 on the year, but he was the subject of double and even triple teams on a weekly basis. Still, he managed to be a force as a pass rusher while also maintaining himself as a dominant presence against the run, earning DPOY honors at the end of the season. Khalil continued to solidify himself as one of the best in the business in 2017, posting similarly strong numbers for the year and doing it with little help from his supporting cast.
In the middle of his prime, Mack is going to be turning 27 years young at the end of February, and he’s due for a mega payday. His fifth-year team option has been exercised, of course, but the Raiders can negotiate an extension with him as soon as this offseason, rather than let him hit the open market at the end of the 2018 seasons.
Expect the starting point for negotiations to be the deal Von Miller received in July of 2016 — six years, $114.5 million with $70M of that being guaranteed. Massive numbers to say the least, but outside of the quarterback position itself, the most important position in football is the role in which Khalil Mack is the cream of the crop — getting after the quarterback.
Negotiations will likely be drawn out, as both sides will be drawing a hard line to try to win any inch possible in getting their way. Mack will surely, and deservingly, become the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. But McKenzie, as he always tries to gain any team-friendly advantage he can, will try to save any money he can to give himself as much flexibility as possible to keep this team competitive.
But eventually, this deal will get done. And the numbers will be staggering once it is.
Re-sign Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents
Per Over The Cap, the Raiders have 11 unrestricted free agents and five EFRA’s — Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
Aldon Smith can be safely scratched off the list, as his indefinite suspension will technically keep him under contract until Roger Goodell makes a decision. Regarding the other 10 unrestricted players, there is a case for most to be both brought back as well as let go, so McKenzie and Gruden will have some decisions to make.
Reggie Nelson should be one of the easier decisions, at least on paper. He’ll be 34 in the early part of the 2018 season, and he was simply a disaster in coverage last year. The team really values his leadership and locker room presence, however, and maybe he’ll come back in a limited role because of that. His old defensive coordinator in Paul Guenther is now in charge of the defense as well, but even if Nelson does return, any playing time he gets is only going to lead to problems for the defense. So hopefully he either retires or finds a new employer in 2018.
Sebastian Janikowski is a major dose of nostalgia, as he is the last holdout from when Gruden was traded prior to the 2002 season. Giorgio Tavecchio started off strong when Seabass was placed on injured reserve, but he tailed off and missed several big kicks down the stretch. Neither player seems like a great option in 2018, but it’s hard to see the team going in a direction other than one of these two. My guess is they go back to the status quo — keeping Tavecchio around as a camp leg and giving Janikowski the first crack at the job — just on a cheaper deal.
NaVorro Bowman is a player that all of Raider Nation should want back in the fold in 2018 — perhaps with one caveat. That caveat being that bringing Bowman back should not rule out McKenzie bringing in some help at the position. Linebacker has been the most consistent weak spot on this roster since Reggie took over in 2012, and although Bowman can fill this void in the short-term, a long-term solution is needed.
Lee Smith wasn’t the same high-end blocker in 2017 that he’s gained a reputation for being, so his roster spot is certainly in jeopardy. This one could go either way, depending on if Gruden wants to bring back some of his old-school, jumbo sets or not.
Jon Condo has been with the Raiders since 2006, in an unheralded yet important position — just ask Travis Goethel. Condo will be 37 next August, and his time as the team’s long-snapper is undoubtedly winding to a close. But the question is if that time will be now, or if there is a little bit left in the tank. He’s still playing at a fairly high level, but Andrew East is signed on a reserve deal as the potential successor.
EJ Manuel doesn’t seem likely to come back, as Jon Gruden has gushed in the past over Connor Cook — the likely 2018 backup. Keith McGill has been valuable on special teams but has no worth at safety, and his position on the team is easily replaceable.
That leaves Autry, Ellis and Carrie as the remaining question marks. All three have had their ups and downs in Oakland, serving as quality rotational players and occasional spot starters. Whether or not they come back is completely dependent on the value they find on the open market, as anything can happen in free agency. Expect McKenzie to set a maximum price tag on each, and if the market dictates they go over that price, he’ll comfortably let them walk. Whatever happens with these three won’t make or break this roster in 2018. Each would be welcomed back at a reasonable price, and each should be worthy of that price as long as they aren’t asked to log major playing time.
Lastly, regarding the five EFRA’s, Kirkland and Cowser could come back on minimum deals but neither should justify more than that. Harris will be a camp-invitee but nothing more than that, and we’ll see what happens with the Tavecchio and Janikowski battle. Shilique will likely be coming to training camp but will have an uphill battle to play his way back onto the 53-man roster.
The Raiders have more holes to fill than previously thought, judging by the team’s performance in 2017. Of course, many of the team needs are dependent on what happens with the aforementioned potential cap casualties and in-house free agents, but either way, there is plenty of work to be done.
Starting on offense, Gruden will have to decide what the plan is at backup quarterback. Connor Cook is expected to get the job, but that was the case last season as well before EJ Manuel beat him out in camp and preseason. At running back, as we just discussed, Marshawn is a potential cap casualty. If he comes back, don’t expect the Raiders to make any changes at the position with both Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington still under contract, plus Elijah Hood on the practice squad. But if the Marshawn era does end after only one season, a new primary option becomes a pressing need.
Since Crabtree is another possible cap casualty, wide receiver would be a position that needs to be addressed. And even if he does come back, he’ll soon be on the wrong side of his prime and a long-term option to pair with Amari Cooper will be needed at some point. Plus, Seth Roberts isn’t winning over any fans in Raider Nation. The free agent class doesn’t inspire much confidence, but the draft class has some intrigue.
The offensive line will need a new right tackle as Marshall Newhouse appears to be on the way out, but between Vadal Alexander, David Sharpe and Jylan Ware, that void will likely be filled by an in-house candidate. And if Lee Smith isn’t brought back, a new blocking tight end will surely enter the fold.
On defense, the Raiders need plenty of help. With the status of Autry, Ellis, Irvin and Bowman up in the air, the front seven is in influx. Eddie Vanderdoes tore his ACL in the season finale, and he may not be ready to start the season as a a result. So addressing the defensive line is going to be a major priority for McKenzie and Gruden.
Going back to Bowman, with or without him, the fan base will be praying that Reggie adds an inside linebacker. Marquel Lee was up and down in the early parts of the year, but in his small sample size of playing time, he didn’t inspire hope that he’ll be a quality NFL starter.
The secondary is where most of the issues with this defense lie, particularly at cornerback. Smith and Amerson seem likely to be gone and TJ Carrie is an unrestricted free agent, which would leave Gareon Conley as the only cornerback under contract that is even worthy of being on an NFL roster. That means that McKenzie should look to add three cornerbacks to this roster during the offseason, ideally two through the draft and one via free agency.
Lastly, we’ll have to wait and see how the kicker spot is handled. It seems likely that either Tavecchio or Janikowski will be handed the job rather than a fresh face, but anything can happen.
In conjunction with the aforementioned team needs, here are a handful of potential options that could be added to fill those needs in free agency.
Jerick McKinnon and Dion Lewis stand out as free agent options to fill the potential void at running back, and both fit the usual Gruden prototype of pass-catching threats out of the backfield.
Terrelle Pryor and Sammy Watkins will headline the WR class, but several others will draw some intrigue. Names like Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, John Brown, Donte Moncrief, Danny Amendola and Jordan Matthews should all command decent money on the open market. But it’s hard to see McKenzie diving into the free agent class — or at least, it’s hard to see him opening up the checkbook if he does.
A number of names could be brought in to replace Lee Smith as a blocking tight end if he isn’t brought back, so this is a spot where some action should definitely be expected. And as already discussed, right tackle is a need, but that role will likely be filled in-house.
On the defensive line, hopefully Autry can come back at a reasonable price. But if he doesn’t, the Raiders will need a quality rotational piece to replace him. A proven asset that won’t break the bank — perhaps a player like Alex Okafor or John Jenkins. Nothing flashy, but rather a player who can be effective in small doses.
Defensive tackle is a major need, and even more so if Justin Ellis doesn’t come back. Dontari Poe, Sheldon Richardson and Benny Logan highlight the positional group that will be on the open market, but those players should all command fairly big dollars. The mid-range guys like Shemar Stephen, Tyrunn Walker and Quinton Dial are more realistic options.
At inside linebacker, it feels like Bowman or bust for the Raiders. Zach Brown is a free agent again, but we’ve already been down that road — he’s not coming here. Kevin Minter and Demario Davis are some of the under-30 names to look out for, but few names in this linebacker class are anything to get excited about.
Since Smith and Amerson should both be on the way out, that will free up a good chunk of cash — cash that could be used to dip right back into help at this spot. Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler will surely be over the planned budget here, but Aaron Colvin, Nickell Robey-Coleman, EJ Gaines, Bashaud Breeland, Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are a few under-30 prospects that won’t break the bank. And if McKenzie wants at least one established veteran, Patrick Robinson just had a career year at age 30.
2018 NFL Draft
Finally, the 2018 NFL Draft. Reggie McKenzie has had most of his success here, although the 2014 class has easily carried most of his success. Outside of that, it’s been a mixed bag, but he’s done quite well finding value in late rounds and with undrafted free agents.
With the 2017 class being riddled by unfortunate injuries, particularly with top picks Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu, McKenzie really needs some good fortune in 2018. If he can hit on a healthy chunk of his draft picks, plus get Conley and Melifonwu ready to rock for next season, it’ll feel like a loaded draft class.
A coin toss with the San Francisco 49ers at the combine will determine if the Raiders pick 9th or 10th, but either way, they are in a good spot to land a top-rated talent. With QBs such as Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield expected to go early, that will slide several players who would fill needs for the Raiders down the board.
Bradley Chubb, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Saquon Barkley would be dream picks, but barring a miracle, all three will be gone before the Raiders are on the clock. No worries, though, because there is plenty of other talent that will be there for the taking.
Roquan Smith is going to be the fan favorite — he’s both a highly-regarded prospect as well as a player that will fill a major team need. But McKenzie has shown his hand here, and that hand is he does not value the position all that highly. So I fully expect Roquan to be passed on, even if he were to be available.
It’s early in the draft process so there is a lot that will change between now and draft day, but in the early parts of watching film and learning about this draft class, Vita Vea and Josh Jackson have emerged as personal favorites. Vea is a monster on the interior of the defensive line, and a player like him will make Khalil Mack’s job much, much easier. Josh Jackson has the size, length and athleticism that McKenzie covets at the cornerback position, and his ball skills are as good as any in this class.
A few other potential first-round options include Maurice Hurst, Da’Ron Payne, Denzel Ward and Orlando Brown. But again, it’s early and a lot will change.
As for beyond the first round, McKenzie may once again going back to the well of the late rounds to find a running back — perhaps Kalen Ballage or John Kelly. Rashaad Penny is a popular name for a mid-round back. And if a WR is addressed in a mid-round, DJ Moore and Michael Gallup are intriguing options.
At cornerback, beyond the top prospects, Isaiah Oliver is gaining plenty of recognition as a potential mid-round option, while Kameron Kelly is someone to keep an eye on as a player who could get picked in the later rounds depending on how he tests out.
Stay tuned here to Only 1 Nation for more in-depth Raiders coverage on everything we just covered here and much more as we continue on into the offseason. And after the combine, we’ll have the third annual “Reggie McKenzie’s draft type” article, which uses data from his past draft classes to try to predict his draft board and potential picks in 2018.