The Oakland Raiders have finally hired their new offensive coordinator, which was step one in my series of off-season requisites articles. Now that they have found their man at OC, they can begin taking a look at the players currently on the roster in order to decide who to keep, step two in my off-season requisites articles.
It is not until the coaching staff has an opportunity to look at and decide how they will handle the players currently on the roster, that they can start developing a plan for handling free agency. I, on the other hand, have no such restrictions.
Since the Raiders have not yet dealt with their free agents, nor have they made any decisions on what to do with players currently on the roster, the needs of the team may very well turn out to be different come free agency. But the biggest team needs as I see them are as follows (in no specific order): RG, LG, RT, DE, DT, MLB and CB.
The reason I do not put these in any order of importance is because that is not how I believe free agency should be attacked for a team like the Raiders. If your team is only missing a few parts, then clearly, you go after the biggest need you can afford and have a shot at in free agency. If, however, your roster is more akin to swiss cheese, you must be more thoughtful in your approach to free agency.
What the Raiders need to do is look at what positions they are unlikely to draft players with the ability to contribute right away. For example, typically, there are relatively few offensive linemen who can come into the league and contribute right away. On the other hand, due the the fact that many defensive lines work in a rotation, it is much easier to find defensive lineman who can contribute right away in one aspect of the game, while sitting and learning the other aspects at the same time. I know he is a linebacker, but think Aldon Smith, who only played on passing downs as a rookie, before becoming an every down back in his second year for the San Francisco 49ers.
Clearly for the Raiders, their biggest needs have to be on defense. The unit was made thin before last season as the result of an attempt by Reggie McKenzie to get below the cap. That lack of talent was clear throughout the season, as the Raiders defense looked terrible for much of the year.
That being said, the Raiders should focus their first free agency efforts on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive line to be exact. The Raiders are in drastic need of upgrades at three different positions on their offensive line, and while they may be able to find one or two players capable of contributing as a rookie, the chances of finding three in the same draft are slim to none.
After addressing their offensive line needs is when the Raiders should start looking to the defensive side of the ball. However, while defensive line is arguably the area that needs the most attention, I believe the Raiders must first address the corner back position.
Similar to my thinking with regards to the offensive line, the Raiders are in need of multiple CBs, not just one. In addition, it would be preferable if the Raiders had a veteran CB and not just field a cast of young CBs. Much like with the offensive line, the Raiders will likely still draft a CB, but this way, they can draft one in later rounds and do not need to feel compelled to draft an impact CB high in the draft.
After addressing those two needs through free agency, the Raiders should take a careful look at what is still available in the free agent market, and add as many impactful pieces as they can leading into the draft. From that point, I would make signings based on a combination of need, availability and cap space.
As I noted above, when a team has as many holes on their roster as the Raiders do, free agency is not just as simple as signing the players who fit your biggest needs. If the Raiders want to compete next season, they will need to find contributors both in free agency and through the draft. But the only way to do that is by planning for free agency with the draft and its possibilities in the forefront of your mind.