Here is my analysis for what the upcoming salary cap for free agency and the draft may look like. I say 'may' because while it is based on current contracts for similar players, the team may value a player higher or lower than I am projecting, and may bring back more players, or fewer than I project here. So, I am not pretending that this will be exact, because I don't claim to know what is going through the minds of those folks in the front office or on the coaching staff. Still, I hope that this might be sufficient for people to see that some of what is being called for as far as free agent signings, is simply pie-in-the-sky dreaming, based more on fantasy than reality.
We currently have twenty-five players that are going to be free agents, and all but two will be unrestricted. Those players, in no particular order, are: RB McFadden, DT Walker, S Woodson, LT Veldheer, CB Jenkins, WR Ford, DB Porter, DE Houston, S Young, DE Hunter, CB Adams, TE Mastrud, C/G Gurode, RT Barnes, CB Chekwa, RB Jennings, RT Pashos, LB Kaelin Burnett, FB Olawale, S Ross, RB Stewart, RT McCants, DT Muir, OG Mady, and LT HIlls.
I believe that at least ten of these players will be brought back, maybe more, maybe less. Some may be brought back simply to compete in camp, without being seen as necessary. Here are the ones that there has been some agreement that should be brought back, with their projected numbers, based on current contracts at their respective positions.
Veldheer: an improving player that is almost certainly seen as a building block. If he is given a salary commensurate with being the #10 LT in the league (which may be a bit high, but I think he will outplay that contract before all is said and done), then his salary will be about $8.5m.
Woodson: a gimme, the steadiest player on the defense last year, wants to return and eventually retire as a Raider. If he is given a slight raise over last year's contract (1.8), $2m.
Houston: not a sack producing DE, but one of the best 4-3 DE's against the run, with some pass rush ability as well. If he is paid at the level of a Red Bryant or Wimbley, his contract will be about $7.5m.
Jennings: should be brought back to keep some continuity at the RB position, and also because he has earned it, in my opinion. If so, at the salary level of a Reggie Bush, MJD, or DeAngelo Williams, his contract would be about $5m
Barnes: should be brought back to be moved inside to shore up the weak point of the OL. If he is given more than a one year contract, which I feel he has earned at this point, the salary for the #30 OG in the league would be about $2m (Brisiel is currently making $3.75m).
Porter: bring back to provide depth until young DB's from the draft shake out in a few years, should be more of a nickel back than a starter. The salary for the #50 DB is $2m; he may want more than that, but while there can be some negotiation, I don't see his play netting a big offer from outside.
Jenkins: best suited for dime based on the last few years, but still has value as depth. I would think that a contract of about $1.5m should be sufficient.
Young: definitely a better player than Ross, and showed that he can provide quality depth. A contract of about $1.5m should be enough to bring him back, I think.
Pashos: provided excellent depth with a minimal amount of preparation time after being signed last year. A raise of $160k, and a two year contract, for about $1m per year should be enough, although I could see going a bit higher, with playing time incentives to sweeten the pot.
McCants: showed well in limited time this season, should be solid depth or even moved inside eventually. A raise to $800k and an extended contract should be enough to bring him in, although it may take up to $950k or so.
Adding these together, we arrive at approximately $31.5m (I know, I rounded it off to make it easier). Given that our cap is expected to be about $63m, this leaves approximately $31.5m for next year, for both the draft and free agents. However, I have not included whichever of our feee agents that are not brought back. If my guess on our free agents coming back is more or less right, that would leave fourteen positions to be filled on the roster, although the two lowest salaries on the team do not count against the cap. So fourteen open positions, free agents, and draft class. Let's assume that ten positions will not be 'big' signings, and that the twelve that would count against the cap would average out to $1.5m per (not a lot, really); that leaves $16.5m available for draft class and 'major' free agents. Unless Reggie is going to use every bit of the salary cap in the first year that it is available after suffering through the process of cleaning it up, which I seriously doubt, we are looking at probably ONE fairly big signing; the most expensive guys that we are likely to look for will likely be DE's, so I don't expect that as our big move, but rather a DB in the $9m range.
This doesn't take into account what might be saved by cutting some players, restructuring, or any other moves. To be honest, I didn't take the time to look all those possibilities up; I wanted to get this out there to give folks some sort of an idea of what we are looking at to bring back some of our more valuable free agents, even before we start concentrating on outside guys. Thinking that we simply have $63m to throw around at free agents without having to address our own needs is just not paying attention to reality, and will result in people being pissed off and wondering why we 'didn't do more'. I expect a number of good solid signings that will improve some starting positions and give us the depth that we have lacked for over a decade. Add in a few draftees to add some impact and we will be in a much better position than we have been in for some time, and with cap room for the future to boot.