There weren't a lot of options for the Raiders in last year's free agency. But as it turned out, the team didn't make a lot of great decisions with the options they did have and Reggie McKenzie is having some regrets about how things played out.
As it turned out, the best signing the team had last year was getting Phillip Wheeler from the Colts. Raiders fans knew Wheeler's potential when he was available and courted him hard to get him to come to the Raiders. But while that was a great signing, the team didn't lock him up long term. So, after one season in which he actually performed as the team had hoped he would, the Dolphins swooped in and signed him to a contract the Raiders couldn't afford.
"It's always parameters and you know that going in. To be honest, to not be cliché, the one kid [I wanted to keep most] was Philip Wheeler," said Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. "The fact that we brought him in last year and how he fought and how he practiced and played. He made a lot of plays for us and he became kind of a favorite around here amongst the Raider fans so I really wanted to try to keep him if I could, but he played well, he was warranted the money that he received, and the attention that he received from other teams. There was opportunity for him last year and he took advantage of the opportunity and played well here in Oakland and the contractual parameters, we couldn't compete with that."
Without really knowing more, it may have been Wheeler who insisted on a one-year deal in the hopes he could do just what he did - prove his worth and get a bigger deal. The problem is the Raiders knew they would still be in a bind financially this off-season so that big deal was not going to come from them. If they could have somehow got him to sign a two-year deal, they would have plenty of money to sign him next off-season to the money he deserves.
The only player who got a sizable multiyear free agent contract from the Raiders was offensive lineman Mike Brisiel who struggled all season with a lingering ankle injury. Had he been signed to a one-year contract, it wouldn't have been near as difficult to re-sign him if the team chose to do so.
There were other players who the team signed in the hopes they could lightning in a bottle -- namely the two players who were supposed to be the starting corners this season, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.
Both Spencer and Bartell were lost essentially for the rest of the season by week two, leaving the Raiders scrambling to find replacements and even shifting Michael Huff from safety to corner out of desperation.
Both Spencer and Bartell were over 30-years old and had just come off injuries. Reggie McKenzie was hoping their previous injuries were not a sign of things to come. He was wrong.
"The thing is, when you talk about injuries to players, injury history of players, you don't account for another injury to another area of their body." Said McKenzie. "That's when you make a decision to sign a player, although that injury is all fine and dandy, there's another injury that could pop up and that's usually what happens when you get to signing players that are in their early thirties and when you get injured, other things can start to falter as well. That's what happened. When I signed a couple players and hoped I could have them for the season and I wasn't in position to lose players so that was a struggle."
Unless you count the re-signing of Khalif Barnes, the only starter the Raiders have from last year's off-season free agency haul is Mike Brisiel. He was arguably the worst starting offensive lineman the Raiders had last season and therefore must prove his play was due solely to his ankle injury.
If Brisiel's play doesn't pick up, the new regime's first free agent class will be a wash. They seem to have learned from that experience - namely signing linebacker Nick Roach to the biggest free agent deal (4 years) - but that first class sets them back a year in this team's rebuild.