I've heard a lot of whining about our cap situation and people being pissed that Reggie McKenzie didn't just cut the whole team his first season or even this season. These people feel the Raiders should have taken the cap hits sooner rather than later and guaranteed the tank position this season.
I do not agree. With the mess Al left behind (and his kicking the can down the road philosophy/scholarships ideals) he guaranteed that the franchise would be hamstrung for years. This is what happens when you:
Whiff (consistently) on top ten picks
Trade them away
Compound those mistakes by overpaying sagging or overrated talent
Or trade high picks for that sagging or overrated talent and then overpay it.
The "out of whack" contracts have been a problem since Bruce Allen left the building. That's why the team lost Woodson in his prime, and later Nnamdi Asomugha as well. Other guys would follow -- Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, etc. Again, the lack of nailing drafts, continually offering bloated contracts and fielding underachieving talent doomed this franchise to what must and is happening now.
RM has done the right thing. He took last year to evaluate what he had in players, he's ditched the ones that were overpaid immediately (in both years). He's restructured those player who were of value (managing to keep a few while losing others).
With the picks he had he tried to mine gold at positions of need. This season he's managed to sign some good Free Agents at the long term (at a cheap rate) while he again drafts for the future, filling positions of need. He's identified and kept the guys still under contract that he feels are part of that future and he's slowly building a core with them and the guys he drafts. That's how you build a team long term. Then, when you need to add someone specific, you can because you're not cash strapped.
Keep in mind all this has been done without much cap space and lacking a full stack of draft picks. So, I honestly think next season will be the tipping point where we see some real positive progress because he'll finally have some decent cap space and all of his draft picks AND his previous acquisitions will be comfortable in their roles and schemes. I hope RM does the impossible and trades down securing a second round pick and hopefully more. There's also the possibility that Carson Palmer and/or Tommy Kelly and perhaps others could get dealt for picks. Again it's the smart thing to do long term.
This season will be the first season which the new regime will have it's fingerprints all over the team. Most believe they'll be worse than last year but I actually expect them to be a tad better. The reason? They've been able to add superior talent to last season in terms of FA at more than one year deals and cheaply -- and they aren't done yet --, the guys drafted last year will be more familiar in their roles and will improve (in some cases start), the bulk of the bad apples have been kicked to the curb and those remaining realize the new direction of the team and understand their days are numbered. Changing back to the Power Blocking Scheme will help the run game and offer the balanced offense this team needs and a second year in the defensive scheme should equate some improvement as well.
So what remains?
Carson Palmer - If Palmer is retained he'll either be cheaper or on a very short lease. If the Raiders are forced to pay him $13 million I just can't see him lasting the whole season as the starter. Pryor will be nipping at his heels from day one and if he struggles I could see him being benched. There's also the possibility that Pryor wins the job outright and that would be a blessing in disguise. This would allow us to use Palmer as a back up until the right deal came along. Now on the other hand, Palmer knows he's got one contract left and I wouldn't be surprised if he does everything in his power to build up his value this season and that would make him a nice trade chip as well.
Tommy Kelly - Kelly falls into the same boat as Palmer IMO. Either he, takes a pay cut, plays out to max his value or he's gone (and that's if either of these two aren't cut soon).
Darren McFadden - He's the enigma. If he plays well this season (and manages to stay healthy) I could see him staying part of our future as he's only 25. If the new regime likes someone else next season he could be dealt as next draft will be stocked full of bigger prospects (Next season would make more sense as his value is at an all time low now). Personally I'd love to pair him with a bruiser taking some of the pressure off and some of the hits as well. I feel this is when he's most effective.
Terrelle Pryor - He's the wildcard. If he blows Palmer away in camp and steals the starter's job RM's plan will be expedited.
The remaining roster holes - I suspect most of our picks will cover this area and those that don't will be met with undrafted FA's and FA's remaining on the market.
Overall, I feel like we are making much needed progress towards building a solid foundation for the future. These things take time but I believe we are doing it the right way and it was the only way we could do it while retaining some guys, allowing for continual roster evaluation and adding to our talent pool cheaply.