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Raiders free agency has been splashy, but still needs key ingredient

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Even if the Oakland Raiders haven’t built a playoff contender with the recent additions of Antonio Brown, Trent Brown and LaMarcus Joyner, they sure have Raider Nation buzzing. There was even more buzz as Oakland was still in on the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes until he chose to join the Jets on a 4-year deal that averaged $13 million per season.

It is clear the organization is committed to winning and that commitment has come sooner than previously expected after last year’s fire sale involving Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack.

However, the recent spending-spree lacks one key ingredient.

Value

The team is going to be a lot better in 2019. There is no doubt with the infusion of talent coming in. But the goal is to win Super Bowls and that can only be done with value signings. When you are consistently signing players that make them the highest paid at their position it is tough to find value.

Once all the big names are gone, there is value to be found in the second and third tier guys and we are approaching that territory with most of the first tier guys signed away.

The best teams have players outperforming their worth at important positions, look at Patrick Mahomes. There isn’t much room to outperform a contract when you are the highest paid at your position. So there is more risk. If an elite-standard isn’t met, then the team is in big trouble. If the player does meet that standard, it is just expected.

The Raiders do have plenty of draft picks to find cheap labor to make up for the difference, but that means the true success (playoff wins) won’t be defined by these recent signings but by how Gruden’s draft picks perform as that is where the best value can be found.

WR Antonio Brown

Brown has been rewarded a 3-year $50 million contract with the Raiders. That is huge money. But if someone looks around the league, the teams who have paid big money for receivers have not done well.

At the moment, the top four wide receivers, in terms of average salary per year, are Odell Beckham Jr., Brown, Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins.

The only team out of those four to make the playoffs were the Houston Texans and they got killed by the Colts 21-7 in the first round of the playoffs. So, paying a top receiver doesn’t correlate to postseason success.

And who has New England given massive money to at the wide receiver position recently? No one. Julian Edelman will only count for $4.5 million against the cap in 2019 and people were referencing him and the Hall of Fame in the same sentence after the Super Bowl.

Also with the Brown trade, many people have looked at it as a comparison with Amari Cooper. Some people have said, Oakland traded away Cooper, a 3rd, and 5th round-pick for Brown and a first-round pick. Yes, that sounds great.

But you can as easily make the comparison with Mack. Gruden decided to pay an older player (31 vs. 28 years old) huge money at a less valuable position (pass rusher vs. wide receiver). Now, that doesn’t look good does it?

And there are still many question marks surrounding Brown’s locker room presence.

T Trent Brown

I do like Gruden’s plan to bring in as many weapons as possible to help Derek Carr. And solidifying the tackle position is a major key for Carr to have a successful season. So I do not have many regrets spending money on the tackle position.

But there are some concerns with Brown.

The Patriots decided to not resign him. The $16+ million per year price tag would be way too much for Bill Belichick to ever consider, but players that leave New England just don’t seem to do as well.

Either it is because Belichick is a genius and knows when to get rid of players or the Patriots’ system in place makes people perform better than expected. It is probably a combination of the two.

Brown was the 32nd ranked tackle last season according to Pro Football Focus and Oakland has made him the highest-paid tackle in the league.

On the face that doesn’t look good because the NFL is all about finding value. Brown will have to consistently be among the best tackles in the league for years for this deal to be valuable. Last year, he was 32nd.

The signing also comes less than one year after drafting Kolton Miller to be the future left tackle. It doesn’t make sense to pay Brown all this money for him to set up camp on the right side.

S LaMarcus Joyner

I don’t have anything bad to say about this move. It is a great one. Joyner is versatile and will help out in the nickel and at safety.

The height of Karl Joseph and Joyner can be concerning when covering large tight ends, but that shouldn’t be an issue if the defensive game plan is on point and doesn’t leave the two in compromising situations.