It's been rough times for the Raiders the past couple years. Their salaries against the cap have been a complete mess. And while the team was $22 million over the cap last year, they are experiencing an equally difficult task this year - dead money.
At present, the Raiders have astounding $49 million in dead money. For those unfamiliar, dead money is that which is paid out to players who are no longer on the team. When a player is cut or traded, any remaining signing bonus, that would have been prorated, immediately figures into the current salary against the cap.
For the Raiders, the major dead money was left behind by the voiding of Richard Seymour's contract, the cutting of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff, Rolando McClain, and Tommy Kelly, and the trading of Carson Palmer.
The salary cap is set at $123 million this season with a $4.5 million rollover from last season. This means 38% of the team's salary cap money this season is being paid to players who are not on the team. It also means they have just $78 million to spend on the players currently on the roster. They must field a $78 million roster and expect to compete against $123 million rosters. That isn't really a fair fight but it is the situation they are in.
This situation is one part the fault of Al Davis and the previous regime and one part the new regime's doing. They could have opted to keep some of the big contracts if they wanted to do so. This would have meant less dead money but more money being shelled out to players not worth those contracts.
This situation has the Raiders in a bind as far as signing any big contracts this off-season. They have made several free agent signings thus far but none have been big deals. In fact, up until the Tracy Porter's one-year, $2.5 million contract, not one of the team's free agent signees had a cap hit over $1.5 million in 2013.
The team was well under the cap as of last week. But with the release of Rolando McClain, he leaves behind about $11 million in dead money which is an increase of $4.2 million over what his cap hit already was. The Raiders also reportedly released OL Jason Slowey which could mean they needed to eliminate one more cap hit to get just under the salary cap.
There is a method to this madness. Taking all this crazy $43 million in dead money has the team currently looking at an even crazier $69 million in cap space in 2014. That means in two seasons under Reggie McKenzie and company, the Raiders will have had a $91 million swing in money against the cap.
I cannot recall there ever being a team with that kind of cap money available to them. Fans are going to be drooling at the free agent possibilities with that kind of money to spend. Don't get your hopes up too high. There is no way the team goes on a spending spree for outside free agents. That is not Reggie McKenzie's style.
What we can expect next off-season, however, is fewer of the team's own free agents walking away. This year the team watched as their coveted free agent linebacker Philip Wheeler left for a nice contract in Miami. Another core piece to get big money elsewhere was defensive tackle, Desmond Bryant.
If you think losing Wheeler and Bryant was a big deal, you don't know the half of it. Next season, the best young talent on this roster is set to hit free agency. Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston, Stefen Wisniewski, and Denarius Moore will all see their rookie contracts expire. The good news is the Raiders will have more than enough money to retain any or all of them they choose. They can also do it without backloading their contracts the way Al Davis always did which is what got the team in this bind in the first place.
While the Raiders are still making attempts to be competitive this year, the priority has been to clean out the "out of whack" contracts. That task is complete and help is on the way.
Now it's time to see if they can add some draft picks to this patchwork of players and put together a scrappy team that can hold down the fort until the reinforcements arrive.