As free agency has been going on, there have been some wild mood swings from the Nation, from Reggie-hating and calls for his firing, to a Reggie-fest that has entirely too much slobbering going on. Free agency is a process, one that occurs over time, especially for a team that has as many holes as the Raiders did going in. The plus was that after two years of hard work and good decisions, the Raiders also had a huge wad of cash to address those holes, as well as their own free agents. In this post, I am going to weigh how I see the losses as well as the additions in free agency, and where that leaves the team.
LT - This is a bit of a different view, since Reggie has said that Veldheer was seen as a RT. Looking at it in that way, it appears that Watson was the insurance plan, and bringing in Penn is a solid move, based on his history. Last year was a down year for him, but he is still young (especially for an OL), and has a number of solid/good years to indicate what he is capable of. It is an interesting question as to how much the situation on OL in Tampa had on his play; Veldheer also didn't look all that good when he had little help; not an excuse, just an observation. Despite Watson's upside, he has to prove that he can stay healthy; if he can't, Penn is a solid if not spectacular starter, if he can, Penn can be a bargaining chip. Verdict - upgrade. (If Veldheer was seen as LT, the verdict would be even; Penn has shown more, but is a bit older, with less potential, but again this is about the now.)
RG - I will assume that this will be where Boothe is going to compete, with both Nix and Bergstrom. Despite how many are down on Nix, his play improved over the season, and was actually quite competent at the end. Bergstrom has more to prove than Nix, because he has basically had two lost seasons. I think that Boothe can beat out Nix, although he is not as good at pass protection as I'd like, but he does give Nix more time to improve, and I expect that he may become the starter in the not too distant future. But, this is about now, not what may happen. Verdict - upgrade.
LG - I expect that this is where Barnes is going to compete with Brisiel. I actually expect that Brisiel may become a cap casualty if Reggie needs more money for players coming available from cuts, and even if not, I think that Barnes can win the position; he looked pretty good in somewhat limited play last year. And, if need injury forces the move, Barnes can also play OT in an emergency, although that opens a hole inside. Verdict - upgrade.
RT - Since this is where Reggie projected Veldheer to play, but lost him in free agency, that is who Austin Howard will be compared with. Although Howard has done well enough, he is not Veldheer, who has established what he is capable of, and improved consistently, enough to earn a solid offer from Arizona as a LT, rather than RT. We'll see how that works out; right now, it's just a guessing game how well he will play. Regardless, verdict - downgrade.
RB - The team let Jennings walk, but re-signed DMC to a very inexpensive contract, and also have brought in MJD on a three-year contract. Even though we don't have the numbers yet, I will guess that MJD signed for less than Jennings; Jennings is younger with less carries, but MJD has the accomplishments that Jennings has not even approached. There is always a question of how much 'older' RB's have left, but it may well be that injury was the issue with MJD, more than anything else. With the signing of MJD, it is fairly obvious that DMC will not be a feature back, but a complement that will get about 10-12 touches a game, which means that any injury will hurt less, and possibly be less likely. We'll see. There is also the signing of Sheets, which adds another player to the mix; there should be plenty of guys to provide competition, which is always a good thing. Verdict - upgrade.
WR - As a corps, it looks like the only player that will not be coming back if Ford, which is not a huge loss; he has not been particularly productive since his rookie year, whether as a WR, KR, or PR. On the other hand, the incoming Jones is currently probably going to fill the WR1 position that has been something of a black hole (pardon the pun), now giving the offense four solid/improving WR's to spread the ball to, and giving the team time to determine which of the younger WR's will develop into that position. Without a doubt, verdict - upgrade.
QB - The trade for Schaub brings in a QB that, at the worst, has more experience than Pryor and McGloin combined. Despite his bad season (which is his only bad season, although it was pretty bad), he is still a player that brings more than either of the two QB's that struggled through last season. Assume that he doesn't get back to where he was, but is better than last season, and he is still a better option than McGloin, and Pryor seems to be headed out. If he is as bad, he will at least be able to give McGloin (or Edwards, or whoever) the benefit of a previous starting veteran's guidance, something that wasn't available last year. And, the third possibility is that Schaub bounces back to his previous form. Verdict - upgrade.
By my count, that is upgrades at six positions on offense, possibly seven. The true strength, as I see it, is that there should be a definite improvement in the running game, down after down, which should give the offense a play-action threat. Coupled with that, if Schaub is even just competent with receiving threats at TE, WR, and RB, the offense should be able to grind out drives that it could only dream about last year. That new-found competence will give the defense a needed boost over the course of the season, not forcing onto the field for extended periods, or onto short fields.
So far, free agency this year has been a definite win on the offensive side of the ball.