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Raiders 2015 free agency grades for first week

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The first week of free agency is in the books so let's take a look at what the Raiders have done thus far and hand out some grades.

Outgoing Free agents

Stefen Wisniewski, Darren McFadden, Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Chimdi Chekwa, C.J. Wilson, Kory Sheets


Tyvon Branch, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew (retired)

Incoming free agents

Rodney Hudson

Positives: A top five NFL center and the best center on the market. The only free agent considered an upgrade from Stefen Wisniewski. And he takes a player away from a rival. At 25 years old, he's a long term answer at the center position.

Negatives: Still just an upgrade and still just a center. Now the highest paid center in the NFL averaging $9 million per season. He was the one big signing on a team that had a lot of holes to fill and money to spend to do it.

Grade: B+

Malcolm Smith

Positives: Was the Super Bowl MVP for the Seahawks following the 2013 season. A great depth signing and offers a solid option in 3-4 looks. Has worked with DC Ken Norton Jr going back to college days so they are very familiar with each other.

Negatives: That 2013 season was his only one as a fulltime starter. He was back to a reserve role last season. He was the first reported signing by the Raiders on day one of free agency and he comes at the one position the Raiders don't have a need - outside linebacker.

Grade: C

Lee Smith

Positives: Probably the best young blocking tight end on the market. A self-described ‘lunch pail guy' who will do the dirty work and plays with passion.

Negatives: He's a blocking tight end, a position that can often be filled in the late rounds of the draft. Or, in the case of Brian Leonhardt -- of whom the Raiders already employ -- undrafted free agency. And yet Smith was a first day signing by the Raiders. About as far from the big splash anyone was expecting.

Grade: D+

Roy Helu Jr

Positives: Just 25 years old. He is a Bay Area native (Danville) returning home to play for the Raiders. Could be a nice change-up back for Latavius Murray and has great hands out of the backfield.

Negatives: Has never been a fulltime starter in the NFL. Was drafted as a zone runner, where he played his first three seasons in the NFL. Hasn't run for more than 275 yards in a season since he was a rookie four years ago. Another rather strange first day signing.

Grade: C+

Dan Williams

Positives: Former first round pick and solid run stopping nose tackle. Still just 25 years old. Part of the best defense in the NFL last season and experienced the Cardinals rise from worst to first in two years time.

Negatives: Another potential upgrade as opposed to desperate need, of which the Raiders have many. He is expected to start ahead of Justin Ellis at nose tackle after Ellis had shown a lot of potential as a rookie. The two are expected to rotate a lot, making the ‘starter' title somewhat meaningless.

Grade: C

Curtis Lofton

Positives: Well established middle linebacker in the league. Has never missed a game in his 7-year career and started every game as well. Has racked up a lot of tackles in his career including 145 last year (100 solo). Gives the Raiders their first real middle linebacker in at least three years and the position was in dire need of one.

Negatives: He was cut by the Saints. It summons up memories of last offseason when the Raiders signed another cut linebacker named LaMarr Woodley. That was a disaster. While Lofton had 145 tackles last season, his 22 missed tackles were the second most in the NFL at any position. Pro Football Focus rated him as the fourth worst inside linebacker and he hasn't had a positive PFF grade in any of his three seasons in New Orleans. Last positive grade was 2011 while still with the Falcons.

Grade: B-

Nate Allen

Positives: He's coming off his best season as a pro which included a career-high 4 interceptions. Though he was signed to a fairly rich contract that pays him $7 million this season, they can cut him following this season with no dead money should he not work out. He fills a major need with the release of Tyvon Branch.

Negatives: This time last year, he received no long term interest from any teams. The Eagles were prepared to let him walk as a free agent and he eventually re-signed on a one-year deal. He is now the third highest cap hit on the team, which combined with the dead money left behind from Tyvon Branch, makes up nearly $14 million against the 2015 cap. If he reverts back to his performance his first four NFL seasons, it will be back to the drawing board at safety next offseason.

Grade: C+

James Dockery

Positives: Adds depth to the cornerback rotation. Said signing with Raiders was 'personal' as his uncle was a huge Raiders fan.

Negatives: Adds depth to the cornerback rotation... when the Raiders needed a starting caliber player and there were several options on the market who could have provided that.

Grade: C-

Christian Ponder

Positives: A veteran backup to replace Matt Schaub. Bill Musgrave was his offensive coordinator for three seasons in Minnesota which is why the signing made sense. A former first round pick who will compete with Matt McGloin for the primary backup spot behind Derek Carr. He signed a one-year deal.

Negatives: He was much maligned in Minnesota. Received no interest from a team where he would enter an open competition as a starter. Even in his ‘best' season, the offense functioned despite him, with Adrian Peterson running for over 2000 yards. The result was a 10-6 record and a first round playoff exit.

Grade: B-

Trent Richardson

Positives: Was the 3rd overall pick in the draft just three years ago after a dominating career at Alabama. He is still just 23 years old.

Negatives: Was traded after just one full season in Cleveland. Despite the Colts giving up a first round pick for him, he was already falling out of favor by the end of that season and was a lame duck by the end of his second season. He has a career average of 3.3 yards per carry and has shown little to no instincts or burst at the NFL level. Struggled with his weight and was fined several times by the Colts for coming in overweight. Has some serious character concerns.

Grade: D


A 2015 class which Reggie McKenzie said was to include "impact players". One could argue none of these additions fit that bill. With what became over $70 million to spend in free agency, the one top tier player they picked up was Rodney Hudson and he fills a position which was one of the few that was actually set just a few months ago.

What this class is missing are playmakers on both sides of the ball. There was no wide receiver signed at all, no defensive end at all, and no offensive guard - three of the most desperate needs this team had coming in. Derek Carr needed weapons on offense and he got basically none.

What they were able to do was fill a few key positions with potentially solid players. However, the way this offseason played out was eerily familiar to last offseason which even after a very good draft led to a 3-13 season:

They had an historical, league leading amount of money to spend under the salary cap ('14 $61 million, '15 $72 million)

Let top home grown free agent(s) leave ('14 Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston, '15 Stefen Wisniewski)

Made the top priority in free agency to refill the hole(s) they created in letting their own players walk ('14 Rodger Saffold, '15 Rodney Hudson). Both cases were also along the offensive line as was Austin Howard last year.

Then make the first ‘major' signing on defense along the defensive line ('14 Justin Tuck, '15 Dan Williams). Followed by signing a recently released linebacker ('14 LaMarr Woodley, '15 Curtis Lofton).

At least they didn't trade for an overpriced noodle arm quarterback for the third year in a row, right?

After Hudson, Williams, and Lofton, the only projected starter among the 10 players signed is safety Nate Allen. $72 million seems like it should buy more than 4 starters - 3 of whom come with some question marks - and 6 backups. A 3-win team needs a lot more than that. A team with that much money to spend is expected to add far more than that as well. And they still have around $20 million left to spend with little remaining on the market worth spending it on.

This team appears to be better than they were a week ago overall. But much more was expected.

Overall grade: C-