If Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock are able to return the Raiders to greatness a good place to start is the 2019 offseason. There is a reason Jon Gruden said this was the most important offseason in recent memory.
With pockets full of cash and three picks in round one, the Raiders have a golden opportunity to build the foundation for future success in the years to come.
The first domino to fall in the process is free agency which begins with the new league year on March 13. There are several high end free agents available at positions of need for the Raiders. However, there is one obstacle that could prevent the Raiders from negotiating with free agents, the franchise tag.
Starting on February 19th, teams have the opportunity to place the franchise tag on their players. For those of you not familiar with the tag, teams may apply the tag to a player who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. It is essentially a one year contract that has a pre determined salary (average of top five salaries at the position in the previous year).
Topping Raider nations wishlist of potential free agents includes defensive ends Demarcus Lawerence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark and safety Landon Collins.
Already playing the 2018 season under the franchise tag, Lawerence showed good faith with the Cowboys by keeping a positive attitude throughout the season, despite not having a long term deal in place.
His attitude toward the tag has changed recently. During pro bowl week in Orlando, Lawerence voiced his desire to get something done to keep him a Cowboy for the foreseeable future.
“If they don’t want this energy and intensity and this focus every day to get better, then make your move,” Lawerence told reporters after a pro bowl practice. “The ball is in their hands. I feel like I’ve prepared for this moment and showed them I’m here for the long haul.”
Lawerence followed up his breakout 14.5 sack season in 2017 with another 10.5 this season. Only 26, Lawerence is looking to parlay two dominant seasons into a monster long-term deal.
As Raiders fans learned this past season, long-term, mega deals with stud pass rushers are not as easy they seem. According to spotrac.com, the Cowboys have $45 million in cap space. Also looming are the contracts of Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, and Ezekial Elliott.
Jerry Jones may find it easier to slap the tag on Lawerence for a second season and pay him the $20.5 million which is the expected salary in 2019. If Lawerence should hit the open market expect a contract with an annual salary that exceeds Khalil Mack’s $23.5 million.
The former first overall pick played out this past season on the fifth-year option. Clowney has never reached double digit sacks and has dealt with some injuries, which could make Houston hesitant to hand Clowney a long-term deal.
The Texans will most likely want to see Clowney complete another productive, injury free season before committing to him long-term. Another reason the tag could be an attractive option for the Texans is because Clowney may qualify as a linebacker. The salary for a linebacker compared to defensive end would save them a few bucks.
The fourth year defensive end picked the perfect time to have a career year in Seattle. Only 25 years of age, Clark is just now approaching the prime years of his career.
Clark finished the season ranked sixth in the league with 14 sacks. The Seahawks have just north of $52 million worth of cap space. Should Clark and the Seahawks not get on the same page as far as money is concerned the franchise tag would be a smart alternative for Seattle.
If the Seahawks are dumb enough to let Clark walk, his agent Erik Burkhardt should be the first person Mike Mayock calls when free agency begins.
The 2016 all pro safety was rumored to be available for trade as the deadline approached last season. The Giants elected not to deal Collins which indicates they may have plans for him in their future.
Collins is the do it all, big play safety the Raiders so desperately need. The Giants will have a very tough decision to make on Collins. He is arguably one of the better safeties in the league and will demand a large pay day, on the other hand he will be returning from a season ending torn labrum. Shoulder injuries can become a chronic issue for football players. Because of this is Collins seems like a candidate for the franchise tag.
If any of these four players should make it to free agency the Raiders need to make a serious push for them. The addition of one of these impact players would immediately upgrade the defense.