I won't take much time reviewing the season here, I want to get down to business. This is my favorite part of the season, the offseason, which unfortunately, has started early for Oakland yet again. However, there's some good looking FA's out there at areas of need for Oakland.
With I believe three or four draft picks (depending on compensatory picks for Miller and Nnamdi), this team will definitely have to build through free agency. It'll be interesting to see what the new coaching staff will have in mind whenever they're assembled. Maybe a 3-4 defense? Maybe a West Coast offense? Who knows? So I'll just delve right in on with my preferred possibilities.
First thing I would do, and I know this will be very unpopular, trade Darren McFadden. Look, I love the guy and love what he does on and off the field. However, this guy cannot stay healthy. Darren is a top-3 running back when healthy, but he's still never put in a full year and injuries begin to stockpile. He hasn't been so injured that teams wouldn't trade for him, but he's injured enough that we can afford to do so.
With Adrian Peterson seemingly out for half of next year (as well as needing time to readjust to NFL football), I think Minnesota would be a viable trade option. Go after that high second round pick and maybe throw in a fifth or sixth. If not Minnesota, maybe Cleveland would be interested due to Hillis possibly leaving and health concerns with their backfield.
I'm sure the Raiders could easily find a trade partner, but I wouldn't settle for less than a mid-second plus a late round pick.
Next would be either re-sign Michael Bush cheap or let him walk. Yes he nearly got 1,000 yards, but he's so horribly inconsistent and has the frequent issue of running into his own blockers. Bush just can't find the holes. I think he has all the potential in the world, but he's not worth whatever his next contract will pay him.
"So wait, you want to blow up the backfield?" Yes. The defense has personnel issues everywhere and we need both the money and the picks to rebuild it. And it's not like it'd be too difficult to get a good backfield. Miami got rid of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams but managed the 11th best ground game in football. Good running games are made by good offensive lines, and the Raiders certainly have that. If Miami can be 11th. with Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, and Steve Slaton, then I'm sure Oakland can find the pieces at RB to manage.
Here's my preferred options at tailback for Oakland:
He did well filling in for the injuries in Kansas City's backfield averaging 4 ypc and racking up 597 yards. At 6'2", 238 pounds, Battle has plenty of power to his game which would help with replacing Bush. PFF gave him a +5.4 rating and he's overall a solid running back who would come very cheap.
2. Ryan Grant
Only if he comes cheap. Injuries are a concern for Grant but he's a good back when healthy. Between James Starks and Brandon Jackson, he didn't get much play for Green Bay. He's still a good all-around back and I think would fit in very well in Oakland, but like I said, injuries are an issue.
He'd cost more than the other two and had injury issues, but Hillis doesn't have a large history of injuries and is a talented back. Powerful runner with good hands and good pass protection. Hillis knows how to find the holes unlike Bush. Definitely a starter in this league. Had a bit of an off-year, but Cleveland had no threat of a passing game.
Could be hard to get, but would be well worth it. He barely sees any carries in New England. This is the epitome of a balanced back. Doesn't excel at anything, doesn't lack in anything. The New England O-Line didn't really help much in that it's not a run blocking line by any stretch of the imagination. However, Green-Ellis managed the most of his limited opportunities and would probably like to get more. Can't see New England going after him given they hardly ever run.
5. Mike Tolbert
It would be nice to steal him away from San Diego, though I have my doubts on this. San Diego loves to pass and Ryan Matthews seems like he's finally the guy at RB. However, Tolbert is a good rotation back and has some of the better hands out there for a RB. 5'9", 243, he has plenty of power and is a mismatch out of the backfield. Had a 4.1 YPC average and could do even better behind a good O-Line. San Diego might look for a cheaper power back option, and I think Oakland should try hard for Tolbert.
Ideally, we'd end up with a Green-Ellis and either Hills or Battle. If not, there's still the young Taiwan Jones and options in free agency and the draft. RB's aren't hard to find in the NFL.
What is hard to find, is some good O-Line play. Oakland was a mixed bag last year. Either great or horrible, there was hardly much consistency. Jared Veldheer is the only guy to write home about, though Stefen Wisniewski looked good towards the end of the year. It's time to say goodbye to Cooper Carlisle though, and Khalif Barnes might not be far behind. It'd be nice if Bruce Campbell would finally step in at either area on the right side of the line, but if not, here's some options I like at RG and RT.
Bell had a good year for Buffalo and blocked for the great Fred Jackson. Buffalo might not know what they have in Bell (after all, they do start Erik Pears on the other side). A balanced all-around tackle, Bell's 6'5", 311 pound frame would fit in nicely at RT in Oakland. Oakland should push hard for Bell, who could also rotate over to guard if needed.
2. King Dunlap
Served well in limited snaps in Philadelphia, Dunlap has good potential having blocked for LeSean McCoy. He's an absolute animal at 6'9" 330 pounds, and would surely come cheap. Only four years in the league, Dunlap is still growing and developing. I think he'd be a good starter at RT in Oakland.
Another guy with limited snaps, Collins is another young, developing tackle. Cincy's got two good tackles in place, so Collins is basically a third wheel. I doubt they give much effort in signing him. Collins is definitely the third option here, but is a good third option.
This guy played a lot of snaps (1072) for Carolina, and managed a solid season. He's a bit small at 6'5", 301, but he's deceptively strong. Carolina had a good O-Line last year, and Hangartner was a foundation of that.
2. Ramon Foster
I don't like picking up anyone from Pittsburgh's O-Line, but he wasn't a bad option at guard. The epitome of average, he's at least a step up from the horrors of Carlisle. He's still young though, and I'd like to see what Wylie could do with him. Kid has potential.
Getting Hangartner or Bell would be fantastic, Bell being my top free agent priority. That guy is legit. In a perfect world it'd be Bell at RG with either Dunlap or Collins at RT. Sadly, this isn't a perfect world in Oakland. The thing farthest from perfect was the defense.
There's been a lot of speculation as to whether or not to switch to a 3-4. Personally, I prefer the 4-3 as it requires fewer personnel moves. However, for those 3-4 fans, here's how the defense would be as a 3-4.
LE: Lamarr Houston
RE: Richard Seymour
ROLB: Kamerion Wimbley.
Immediately we see a lack of guys with 3-4 OLB experience and a NT. Some will say John Henderson for 3-4 NT, but he's a tad too old for that and gets tired quick. So we would need a NT and an OLB. Broderick Bunkley is a FA but I guarantee Denver will do everything to re-sign him. That guy is an animal.
Anonio Garay did well in SD at NT, but again I see them trying hard to resign him. I think Garay could be gotten, but the chances are low.
Aubrayo Franklin is the real prize if the Raiders switch to 3-4. He was dominant beast in San Fran before coming to New Orleans and their 4-3 where he had an off year. I think a return to a 4-3 would be just what he needs, and due to that off year and even lack of interest last year, Franklin could come cheap. Plus Kelly Gregg is a FA again.
As for OLB, Ahamd Brooks might be the only guy worth a look, but the Niners will probably do their best to keep him. He also has no real reason to walk. Clark Haggans is the absolute last resort option.
Staying 4-3 gives us more options and continuity. I think the Raiders will stay as a 4-3 next year, though a 3-4 wouldn't upset or surprise me. Staying 4-3, we still have some holes to fill defensively.
It may be time to finally trade Tommy Kelly or Big Rich. There's no way this team can win using two UT's at DT. In fact, I don't think any team could win like that. Either way, a spot needs freed up at DT for a consistent run stuffer. So who might we be looking at for such a role?
At 301 pounds, he's not your traditional run stopping DT. But this guy is incredibly strong. Bernard brings the savvy of another smart veteran D-Lineman. The emergence of Thompson might lead the Giants to let him walk, but I think they'd be stupid to do so. If he does indeed become a FA, the Raiders would be smart to go after him. Sadly, we don't have Waufle to lure him over.
2. Gary Gibson
The moves St. Louis has made might convince Gibson to give them another try. The young animal of a run stuffer would be great to have. I think Seymour could do wonders tutoring him. All 3 of his career sacks came last season, so it would seem he's starting to develop some pass rush on the side. Doesn't get much recognition as he's a block eater, but that's just what Oakland needs.
3. Sammie Lee Hill
Restricted, but with Corey Williams, Suh, Cliff Avril, and Nick Fairley, I don't think Detriot would try too hard at matching offers. I loved this kid coming out of college and was hoping Oakland would draft him. He's massive at 6'4, 329 pounds and would definitely play the role of the space eater. Very young and still growing, Hill would be an amazing pickup.
Then we move on to OLB. Maybe this will be fixed one day. Aaron Curry was a mix of great and terrible and is god awful in coverage. Wimbley is too slow to play OLB and should just be moved to DE. Ideally Goethel learns to stay healthy and mans one of the spots. If not, two OLB might be needed. I'd like a high draft pick here, but there are good free agents to be plundered.
1. Leroy Hill
Seattle was the top rushing defense in the NFL, and LeRoy Hill was certainly a factor in that. His speed and agility make him great at sealing the edge and shooting through the gaps. The latter also being true in terms of pass rush as he racked up 4 sacks. His coverage isn't great, but it is better than his former teammate's. With hopefully more blitzing next year, Hill would be an amazing addition if Seattle is dumb enough to let him walk. They did go into this year with Whitehurst and Jackson at QB after all.
2. Manny Lawson
Perhaps more likely is a guy I wanted last year in Manny Lawson. Between Maualuga, Rivers, and Howard, the Bengals have linebackers to burn. Lawson is an all-around good OLB who's best attributes are his intelligence and instincts, two things the linebacking corps are sorely lacking. Lawson would be worth every penny.
3. Phillip Wheeler
The Colts may look to blow up that horrible defense with everyone but Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis hanging around. Wheeler was actually a pretty good LB. The woes of Indy's run D can be placed on one of the worst run stopping D-Lines in the NFL, and Wheeler's rep suffered for it. So much so that he might be overlooked and left hanging for cheap. Whoever ends up with Wheeler is getting a steal at OLB. Guy also does wonders in coverage.
Finally we reach the crux of the matter, the secondary. CB was weak last year, but has potential even with its current group. Van Dyke was great early on and horribly underrated. I was actually surprised at the fact he was allowing less than half the passes thrown his way to be completed. There's also Chimdi Chekwa, who played well when healthy and has lots of potential. Chris Johnson isn't a bad corner, and Routt was a great corner until he was called for an ungodly amount of penalties.
So what lies out there at corner for the Oakland Raiders?
With the Jags banged up corner, two players stepped up to give them solid corner play throughout the year. Ashton Youbouty, and William Middleton. Middleton had a surprisingly good year having a higher PFF rating than the Niners' Carlos Rogers. Though in half the snaps, Middleton showed he has great potential. In only his third year, Middleton could come cheap with the Jags getting back players like Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis. Underrated, even by his own team, Middleton could be a great help to Oakland's cornerback group.
He didn't have the best year for Cleveland, but Patterson did get better as the year went on. Filling in for Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown at different points, he's a young, raw player. He has shown potential for being a playmaker having a four interception year with Philadelphia in 2010. Definitely worth a look.
3. Tim Jennings
Though he played Tampa 2 with the Bears, Jennings is an agile, physical corner who could come in and play man with Oakland. Jennings had good year as the nickel corner in Chicago, though they would have been smart to start him beside Charles Tillman. Jennings is definitely starter quality, but his nickel days show he can play in the slot, which the Raiders could use. Corey Graham had a good enough of a year that he might warrant a re-sign to play nickel over Jennings, leaving him for Oakland.
I doubt the Raiders could lure Cortland Finnegan over, though it would be great if they could. But I think Tennessee knows that they had the best group of corners last year and will try to keep it that way.
I don't believe safety is too much of a need for the Raiders, especially not if McKenzie is smart and keeps Branch and Giordano. Huff and Mitchell still worry the heck out of me and are greatly overrated in my book. I know I bring about a lot of moves and ideas for change, but we must remember this team was lucky not to be 5-11. Teams kept getting injuries at just the right time for Oakland. Whether it was Peterson going down against the Vikings, Caleb Hanie starting for the Bears, not having to play Jamaal Charles all year, Dombrowski starting at LT for San Diego, etc. There was also the fact that Seymour had to block two field goals for the win over Kansas City.
There's been a few people who have talked of trading Jacoby Ford for much the same reason as Darren McFadden. Personally, I'd keep Ford, but I can see where they're coming from. Just to humor this, here's some options for what's out there at WR (I think Oakland could use one anyway)
Huge and sure-handed, his attitude is a major concern and is why I'd pass on him. However, if the team feels they can manage him, Burress could be a great weapon for the arsenal.
2. Deion Branch
This one might be hard to pull off, but I could quite frankly see New England letting him walk. Branch is still a solid receiver who could give Oakland another threat.
This is the guy I really want, whether Ford is traded or not. Cotchery is a tough receiver with great hands. Pittsburgh's depth at receiver might lead them to letting him walk, in which case, Oakland should be all over him. The team could use a possession receiver like Cotchery.
4. Ted Ginn Jr.
The only guy out there similar to Ford's skill set. Had a bad year but is still a true gamechanger like Ford.
These are just my preferences as to some early FA's that I feel Oakland should be looking into. I feel Oakland should re-sign Tyvon Branch, Matt Giordano, Samson Satele, Marcel Reece, Chaz Schilens (cheap), Desmond Bryant, Jarvis Moss, Michael Bush (only if cheap), and Rock Cartwright (special teams purposes).
Here's a couple other guys at random positions I wouldn't mind having brought in:
2. Larry Grant
Limited snaps as a MLB in San Francisco playing behind the great Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Good depth, good competition for Rolando McClain, could even make starter. Nice 3-4 ILB option if we were to switch to it.
Not a good runner, but great hands out of the backfield and good blocker for a RB. Steelers have bit of a RB logjam and might move on from Moore.
FB who blocked for Cedric Benson in Cincy, why not?
But these are just my thoughts, what are your's?