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Raiders Offseason: Cap space and free agents at a glance

Vegas slated to have just under $40 million in cap space this offseason; key contributors unrestricted free agents

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Veteran cornerback Casey Hayward Jr., right, is an unrestricted free agent while young safety Roderic Teamer, left, is an exclusive rights free agent for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

With only 35 players under contract for the 2022 season and just under $40 million in projected cap space, the Las Vegas Raiders offseason will be an interesting one — roster wise — to say the least. The Silver & Black will roll up their collective sleeves and get cracking on the roster items once a new general manager strolls into team headquarters in Henderson (and potentially a new head coach, too).

But while owner Mark Davis and his advisors work on the GM part, we can still look at what’s going on under the hood. The Raiders have 24 unrestricted free agents, two street free agents, four restricted free agents, and two exclusive rights free agents, according to OverTheCap.com. The site also projects Vegas having slightly north of $39.72 million in cap space with quarterback Derek Carr (north of $19.877 million) and left tackle Kolton Miller ($16.825 million) as the big-ticket players with the highest cap numbers for 2022.

Out of the 24 unrestricted free agents, key contributors include:

  • Cornerback Casey Hayward, Jr. - 94.2 percent of snaps in 2021, (46 total tackles, one interception, nine passes defensed).
  • Right tackle Brandon Parker - 77.4 percent of snaps.
  • Defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson - 59.2 percent of snaps, (47 total tackles, 4.5 sacks).
  • Wide receiver Zay Jones - 56.1 percent of snaps, (47 catches, 546 yards, one touchdown).
  • Cornerback Brandon Facyson - 51.9 percent of snaps, (55 total tackles, one interception, 13 passes defensed).
  • Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins - 48.9 percent of snaps, (38 total tackles).

Out of the restricted free agents, key contributors include:

  • Fullback Alec Ingold - 11.9 percent of snaps, (10 catches, 85 yards, one touchdown).

Out of the exclusive rights free agents, key contributors include:

  • Safety Roderic Teamer - 16.9 percent of snaps, (18 total tackles).

The return of anyone in that group above hinges heavily upon the makeup of the Raiders coaching staff this offseason. Hayward and Facyson are cornerbacks accustomed to and signed for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme. Ditto for Teamer. Fullback Alec Ingold is an old-school lead blocker, and while he does offer versatility as a ballcarrier and pass catcher, the fullback position is near-extinct in the league. If Bradley departs or a new offensive play caller comes in, the shift in coaching staff may lessen (or increase) the likelihood of the departure (or return) of free agents. (Note: Since Teamer, who filled in as the box safety when the team lost Johnathan Abram to a shoulder injury, is an exclusive rights free agent, he has no choice but to resign with the Raiders.)

But smart money is the Raiders making an offer to Hayward regardless of staff as he’s a scheme-versatile player. Similar for Facyson as he’s a big, lean and tall corner with length. Ingold was a team captain and is the type of contributor and special teamer all teams seek. Hankins, on the other hand, is the massive space eater and block occupier as a nose tackle and those type of interior defensive linemen don’t grow on trees.

Another name of the unrestricted free agent list is defensive tackle Darius Philon. He’s a Bradley guy, but he’s scheme versatile too and such a disruptive presence on the inside — he’s wrecked run and passing plays — that the Raiders would be wise to send him an offer regardless of coach, philosophy and scheme.

Compounding matters for the Raiders 2022 cap space are a trio of high-priced defenders: Linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and defensive end Carl Nassib. Littleton and Kwiatkoski were signed two season ago to fix an ailing linebacker position and both are slated to make solid coin ($15.768 million and $8.252 million, respectively). Nassib, on the other hand, is slated to pocket $9.652 million.

If the Raiders were to wax any of the three from the roster, it would carry heavy dead cap tolls at $14 million for Littleton, $5 million for Kwiatkoski and $6.8 million for Nassib. However, if Vegas released any of three on the post-June 1 designation, the dead cap charge lessens to $4 million, $1.252 million and $1.652 million, respectively.

But as is the case with all 32 teams in the league, cap space can be a myth and manipulated to suit a team’s need. Lack of cap space is a convenient cover as we’ve seen the past, when a team really wants to keep a player, it’ll move heaven and earth to ensure that happens. The Raiders themselves engaged in the cap wizardry by kicking the can down the road by converting salaries and restructuring contracts (accelerating guarantees by converting base salary or roster bonus into a signing bonus).

Looking ahead of the 2022 season and the Raiders have 19 players on the current roster (the 35 players under contract for the 2022 year) that have contracts expiring for the 2023 offseason. This list is pretty loft, too, as it includes Carr, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue, running back Josh Jacobs, safety Johnathan Abram, and linebacker Denzel Perryman. If any of those aforementioned Raiders were to get extended, the available cap lessens, and for some, significantly so.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Defensive end Maxx Crosby will be playing on the final year of his rookie deal in 2022. Will the Las Vegas Raiders extend him in-season or after the 2022 campaign?
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps, the first move out of that group is extending Carr. That hinges on the next general manager and potential new head coach, of course, but locking in a quarterback to a contract extension is going to be costly but better to get that out of the way that prolong it. Unless, the new personnel people decide to let Carr play on the final year of his deal and then explore an extension in-season or after the 2022 campaign. But locking up Crosby to a long-term deal won’t be cheap either as the going rate for pass rushers is lofty. The Cincinnati Bengals, for example, signed Trey Hendrickson to a $60 million deal in free agency last offseason and the defensive end averages $15 million per year of his four-year pact. Similar for Renfrow, who will likely command decent coin as a slot receiver and de facto No. 1 wide receiver for Carr.

And this is just in-house free agents. Las Vegas is highly likely to dabble in free agency this offseason, along with re-upping their in-house FAs, to supplement a roster that only has 35 players under contract for next season’s campaign. There’s also the NFL Draft where the Raiders will be picking No. 22 in the first round. The team is slated to have a total of seven draft picks with one in all of the rounds in April’s event.

With cap space and draft picks to boot, Vegas should be a team to watch before and after the draft in terms of roster building. We should get a clearer picture of the direction of the team once a new general manager is named and a head coach (whether it’s Rich Bisaccia or someone else) is announced.