Oakland Raiders general manager, Reggie McKenzie is preparing to enter his second free agency as the man in charge. After spending a number of years in the Green Bay Packers front offices, he was finally given the opportunity to be a general manager when Mark Davis hired him in January of 2012. Now that we are just hours away from the start of free agency in 2013, let's take a look back at how the Raiders' 2012 free agent class fared.
At the start of 2012, the Raiders found them selves in dire straights with regards to their cap situation. Former owner, Al Davis, had saddled the Raiders with a number of unreasonably high contracts that had made it difficult for the team to do much in McKenzie's first year. However, after several roster moves, McKenzie made enough cap space to sign a few guys to come in as starters for the Raiders. Here is a list of the players signed as free agents by Reggie McKenzie last off season:
Pat Lee, CB
Ron Bartell, CB
Philip Wheeler, OLB
Shawntae Spencer, CB
Mike Brisiel, G
Dave Tollefson, DE
Andre Hardy, TE
Duke Calhoun, WR
Ed Wang, OL
Colin Miller, C
In addition to these free agents from other teams, the Raiders cut and then re-signed Cooper Carlisle to a much cheaper contract and also tagged then re-signed Tyvon Branch and re-signed Matt Giordano.
The Raiders clearly signed more than just these free agents last year, but I am only discussing the players signed between the start of free agency and the draft. The reason being that these tend to be the best players and the guys who make the biggest impact. When the draft rolls around, I will have another Raider Review looking back at the rookie class that will include the undrafted free agents.
Clearly, the theme of last year's free agent period for the Raiders was salary cap issues. The Raiders were looking at needing to clear more than $20 million from the books just in order to get under the salary cap before the league year began. That meant cutting players who had been big members of the team the previous year, which in turn meant they had to clear even more cap space in order to sign cheap replacements for those guys.
McKenzie knew, perhaps better than everyone else, that this would mean a lackluster free agent class and a likely, a lackluster season record. Because of that, almost every contract he signed was a one year deal that would not bury the Raiders with more unwanted contracts in 2013. Of the free agent class, there were five names that would be considered the most important signings.
Those five guys are Philip Wheeler, Mike Brisiel, Dave Tollefson and the CB duo of Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.
Of those five guys, only Wheeler stood out and is now one of the key free agents that the Raiders would really like to bring back. Brisiel, the guy thought to be the prize of the class, and the only one to get more than a two year deal, was a huge disappointment and has already agreed to a significant pay cut for the 2013 season. Tollefson was also a huge disappointment and might not play the final year of his two year contract with the Raiders.
The corner back duo never really got a chance to be judged fairly because they both missed significant amounts of time due to injuries. At times, Spencer looked like a solid pick up that the Raiders might be interested in keeping around long term, but he just couldn't stay healthy. Bartell on the other hand, never really looked like he was fully healthy and did not play particularly well for the Raiders.
All in all, it is fair to say that the 2012 free agent class for the Raiders was pretty much a failure. Out of the five main guys to be signed, only two will likely be back, and if Brisiel had been signed to only a one or two year deal, Wheeler would be the only guy coming back. Assuming, of course, the Raiders can re-sign Wheeler.
However, while last year's free agent class was not very successful, much like Dennis Allen gets a pass for his first season because he didn't have anyone on his defensive roster, McKenzie should get a pass for his first free agent class because of the cap issues he had to deal with.
McKenzie still has some work to do on the Raiders' cap, but his year, they will not have the same cap problems. So while the Raiders still will not be able to target any big name free agents, McKenzie will have much more leeway to find some impactful players to fill out the roster this season. But with more ability, comes higher expectations. There are no more passes for the second year GM, he will need to show his worth this off season or questions of his abilities will start to arise.