With as much as the Raiders have been in the news as the potential landing spot for basically every player on the trade block and every big name free agent, thus far they have played things pretty close to the vest. Their moves have been smart, strategic, and conservative.
What has happened so far
Re-signed G/T Denzelle Good to a 1-year extension
Good was very good late last season in relief of the injured Gabe Jackson at right guard. The Raiders got lucky that Good was available from the Colts after his former OL coach mistreated him and eventually waived him. Quite a find for the Raiders. He is quality depth at both guard and tackle and getting him back was a great move.
They put second round tenders on CB Daryl Worley and RB Jalen Richard
Worley was another instance of the Raiders getting a find. He was cut by the Eagles after a DUI and weapons charge that was going to elicit a suspension. Gruden and the Raiders were prepared for that possibility, but knew if they signed him they could ride it out and they had Worley’s former West Virginia teammate Karl Joseph to vouch for his character. After he served his 4-game suspension, he was a key starter on an otherwise shaky defense.
Some criticized giving Worley a 2nd round tender instead of an original round tender because Worley was a third round pick. But consider a couple things here. Worley gets an extra million with the higher tender. It creates goodwill for a 24-year-old who, for all we know, could be working on a long term deal right now instead of signing his tender. It also ensures a quality starting cornerback is going nowhere. Teams may have considered giving up a third round pick to get Worley. They won’t give up a second.
Richard tied for the team lead in receptions (68) and is clearly a big part of Gruden’s offense. He was undrafted originally so a 2nd round tender was the only option to keep him off the market.
Re-signed safety Erik Harris to a 2-year deal
Harris is a great locker room presence who worked his way up from the CFL to the NFL as a special teamer and finally got his shot to be a starting safety last season. He first was given an original round tender but signed a 2-year deal instead, which offers him $2.5 million guaranteed this season and a max of $6.5 million.
They have not gotten antsy and overpaid for Antonio Brown
By now if the Raiders were parting with a first round pick (or perhaps even the 35 pick) the Steelers probably would have taken it. The fact that the Raiders are still just being mentioned among a handful of teams suggests they are not going to overpay for Brown, both in trade compensation and Brown’s salary demands.
Should the Steelers lower their trade demands, several teams are expected to enter the discussion again. But not until then.
So, what’s next?
How do they keep this smart approach going?
Don’t even consider cutting Kelechi Osemele
The idea of cutting Osemele has come up the offseason mainly because he represents a $10.2 million cap hit and would carry no dead money if cut. He also had a down year while struggling with a knee injury in Tom Cable’s ‘downhill zone’ scheme. So what? He’s still one of the best in the business, along with fellow interior linemen Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson. And the Raiders have plenty of cap space. They don’t need the relief. If anything, they should consider giving him an extension. He would welcome some security as he has no guaranteed money left with two years left on his contract and they could lower his cap numbers in each season as well.
Re-sign Jared Cook
The first word we got on the Raiders’ free agent plans was that Cook would be testing his market. That means he will go into the free agent negotiating period on March 11 unsigned. He and his agent will see what teams are offering and perhaps come back to the Raiders with a number. The Raiders should make an effort to give Cook his market value and get him back.
Cook was their number one receiver last year. He’s turning 32 next month, which means a short term deal of 2-3 years would be fitting. Opening up a need on a team that already has one at almost every position is unwise. They can still draft one of the top tight ends in this draft if you like. But they won’t be forced to do so in lieu of potentially adding a better player at another position of need. And how great would it be to have Cook AND a guy like Iowa’s TJ Hockenson for a couple seasons? They would work very well together in Gruden’s offense.
Re-sign Dwayne Harris
The smartest special teams player in the business. He made multiple savvy plays as a return specialist last season; one of which resulted in him returning a punt 99 yards for a touchdown. He is also a fantastic gunner. They absolutely must keep him around if at all possible.
Keep door open for Marshawn Lynch or Doug Martin to return
Both Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden recently said whether Marshawn returns is up to him. I hope that’s true. He proved last season before he was lost to a groin injury that he’s still got it. If he’s just waiting for the deal to play in Oakland next season to be finalized before considering another season, be open to the idea.
Martin also played well in relief of Marshawn, with both backs averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He had basically no interest when he signed on with his hometown Raiders last year and he just turned 30. I know, I know “They’re rebuilding, let’s go young!” Sorry, but that’s hogwash. Yes, they’re rebuilding, but you keep a veteran around to bridge the gap and mentor the young players. Or at very least as an insurance policy.
Re-sign Johnathan Hankins
Hankins was signed after week one last season and started every game after. He was their best interior defensive lineman and arguably a better player than Justin Ellis at that nose tackle spot. Either way, he is a vital part of the rotation. Eddie Vanderdoes’s future is still a mystery. The Raiders know what Hankins brings to the table. So, get him to the table with a pen in his hand.
Don’t go hard after Le’Veon Bell
You get either Marshawn or Martin back, draft a back in the mid rounds and head into training camp with them and last year’s preseason battering ram Chris Warren III along with Richard and you have a good group. Mark Davis literally used Bell’s holdout last season as part of his reasoning behind trading Khalil Mack for fear he would hold out like Bell. Why then sign that same player you know wants top dollar and will probably hold out again a couple years down the road? There are so many better positions where the money would be better spent.
Free agency is coming up in a few days. But before they start reaching out to sign players from elsewhere, they should keep these players in-house.