A rundown of everything that has involved the Oakland Raiders thus far in free agency, along with some added thoughts on the moves (or lack of moves).
Following the legal tampering period, NFL free agency is officially underway. The Oakland Raiders have made a few moves and there are plenty of moves they haven’t made as well.
Here’s a rundown of everything that has happened that affects or involves the Raiders in some capacity, along with some added thoughts.
Raiders Re-Sign Justin Ellis
To start things off, Reggie McKenzie successfully kept Justin Ellis off of the open market, re-signing the defensive tackle to 3-year deal worth 13.5M, with $6.25M of it guaranteed.
Recent 3-year extension for Raiders NT Justin Ellis worth $13.5 million, source said. Team pays as it goes. Ellis to count $4.25M vs. cap in 2018. His 2019 salary and roster bonus (each worth $2.25M) are protected by injury. Otherwise team can opt out by 3rd day of ‘19 league yr.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 14, 2018
In classic McKenzie fashion, the contract is structured in a team-friendly manner. The Raiders can part ways with Ellis after his first season with no dead money, as long as they do so before the third day of free agency next offseason.
This was a wise move for the franchise. Ellis had a quality year in 2017, regaining the form that impressed many in his rookie season. He makes his money as a run stuffer, occupying gaps and taking on multiple blockers. Comparatively, other defensive tackles of similar or less skill have been getting paid more on the open market, so this was a job well done by McKenzie.
Staying Out Of Bidding Wars
Going into free agency, most of Raider Nation had their eyes set on Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. He emerged as one of the best young cornerbacks in the league in 2015 and 2016, and with the Rams adding Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib this offseason, Trumaine was going to hit the open market.
The truth is, the Raiders were never going to be in on him. He was widely considered the top cornerback on the market, if not the marquee free agent in the entire class, and his price tag was bound to be too rich for McKenzie’s blood.
Low and behold, that’s exactly what happened. The Jets are giving him a 5-year deal worth $72.5 million, with $34 million in guarantees. Steep.
The Raiders had somewhere around $24M in cap space before cutting Sean Smith and re-signing Justin Ellis, per Over The Cap. With an entire draft class to still sign and then the eventual extension of Khalil Mack, Oakland simply did not have the money to get anywhere near this price. Not to mention still needing to add a few misc. players for depth.
Which is fine. Trumaine is going to be 29 years old before the 2018 season is over, his 2017 season was already a bit of a decline, so this feels like a deal that is going to look bad halfway through it.
Similar things can be said for other well-known names on the free agent market — Wilkerson, Breeland, Butler, Bradham, etc. Even Ndamukong Suh and Tyrann Mathieu, who are new additions to the market. Don’t expect the Raiders to be serious contenders for any of the top free agents.
Two Blocking Tight Ends
Per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Raiders signed tight end Derek Carrier to a 3-year deal worth $7 million.
New Raiders TE Derek Carrier to sign three-year deal worth $7 million, source said. Includes $2.3 million guaranteed. He and Lee Smith part of position group where Jared Cook is coming off wrist surgery, sources have said.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 14, 2018
Nothing flashy, but as a blocking tight end, the addition of Carrier surely spelled the end of the Lee Smith era.
After inking Carrier to a deal, the Raiders also decided to bring back Lee Smith via a 3-year deal.
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) March 14, 2018
The addition of Carrier and the re-signing of Lee Smith paint a clear picture of what Jon Gruden is trying to do with his offense — bring it back to the old days. Gruden was famous for using jumbo sets, marching out a massive o-line and two blocking tight ends, and the running the ball at will. It seems he is trying to recreate that same offense once again.
As long as Jared Cook comes back, he can serve as the primary pass catching tight end, while Smith and Carrier will rotate blocking duties (or be used on the field at the same time). Both are low-dollar moves that will help the offense in ways where neither player will get the glory, but will be effective in helping improve the box score numbers of their teammates.
Goodbye Denico Autry and TJ Carrie
Denico Autry was an undrafted free agent that developed into the third best pass rusher on the team and an expert in blocking field goal attempts. He could play anywhere on the defensive line as a bonus.
TJ Carrie was a 7th round pick that turned out to be quite versatile, playing outside corner, slot corner, safety and also served as an occasional punt returner. For the most part, he played well when called upon.
Both Autry and Carrie impressed enough around the league that they were each rewarded with handsome paydays, giving the Raiders additional holes to fill this offseason. Autry received a 3-year deal worth nearly $18M from the Colts, while the Browns inked Carrie to a 4-year deal worth a whopping $31 million. Good for them.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, these price tags were too high to justify bringing them back. The Colts and Browns are paying both to be starters, and Oakland couldn’t justify that sort of coin. But now, two premium positions that already needed help — interior pass rusher and cornerback — are even more glaring holes to fill.
Ideally, a player will be drafted in each spot in the first three rounds or so, but given McKenzie’s history, that may not happen. He found Autry as a UDFA and Carrie in the 7th, and perhaps he is confident enough that he thinks he can repeat that success. We’ll see in late April.
Hello Griff Whalen
The first splash of free agency for the Raiders was the signing of Griff Whalen. And by splash, that would be the kind you get when you skip a small rock across a pond.
Whalen has accrued six years of NFL service — four seasons with the Colts, one with the Chargers and one with the Ravens. In those six seasons, he has totaled 51 catches, 532 yards and 3 TDs. He also pitches in as an occasional return man. More specifically, he has amassed a total of 6 catches for 45 yards and 0 TDs in the last two seasons (10 games played).
He should not be a threat to the job of Crabtree, Roberts or Patterson. At the most, Whalen will compete for WR5 along with Holton and a handful of others, and he may be asked to return punts here and there.
Don’t expect Whalen to change any draft or free agency plans at the position.
Rumors From Real Sources
Per Ian Rapoport, Jon Gruden arranged a meeting with Doug Martin and came away impressed with the veteran running back. With the fate of Marshawn Lynch still to be determined, there was plenty of speculation as to what the meeting with Martin meant.
Whatever that meaning is, it’s a bad idea. Muscle Hamster has logged six seasons in the NFL, and four of them have either been bad or injury-plagued — or both. In the last two years in particular, Martin has carried the ball 282 times for 827 yards (2.9 YPC). That’s bad.
That is not even a running back who has shown he can perform in a complementary role, yet alone as a lead back. The solution here is to keep Lynch, ideally at a pay cut, and draft a running back earlier than McKenzie is accustomed to — and hopefully that back can be a long-term answer. Because neither Jalen Richard nor DeAndre Washington have shown they are ready to step up to the plate.
In other news, Jordy Nelson was in Alameda for a visit at Raiders HQ. After an outstanding career with the Packers, they decided to part ways with him.
Jordy Nelson talks will continue through dinner. So your next update will come from an East Bay waiter. Nelson is not flying out tonight. Very good signs. #Raiders
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) March 15, 2018
Nelson’s resume speaks for itself, but he also will be 33 over the summer with a recent torn ACL and a lingering shoulder issue. His best days are behind him.
There is also word that if Jordy joins the fold, Crabtree is out. I think that would be the wrong decision.
Crab has had some problems with drops, and then there is the Talib drama, but he’s been largely reliable and the numbers show he has been Carr’s best target the last three seasons. He also has youth on his side, comparatively to Jordy at least. It’s hard to see Jordy being more productive than Crab at this point of their careers.
If Nelson can come cheap enough, pairing him with Cooper and Crabtree would do wonders for this offense. So hopefully that would be the end game here.
Vic Tafur debunked a rumor that the Raiders were in trade talks with the Bengals for Vontaze Burfict. On the other hand, Michael Gehlken has thrown one name out there for a possible reunion with new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther:
As Raiders work to assemble defensive line in Paul Guenther's mold, one name to watch: ex-Chargers DT Tenny Palepoi. Been interest there, sources have said.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 14, 2018
Lastly, the Raiders have been linked to cornerback Rashaan Melvin. After Johnson, Butler, Breeland, Robinson and others were taken off the market, Melvin may be one of the best two cornerbacks still available — alongside EJ Gaines. For that reason, his price tag may end up being higher than McKenzie is willing to pay.
But whether the Raiders go with Melvin or another cornerback, someone capable has to be signed in free agency. That’s a must. Right now it’s Gareon Conley and several warm bodies, so even if two CBs get added in the draft, a veteran with some credibility at the position needs to be in the mix.