The Raiders have had ample funds to spend in free agency for a few years now. Despite that fact, importing veteran talent hasn’t always gone well. General manager Reggie McKenzie tried to band-aid several holes with short-term deals in 2014, to bring championship backgrounds without sacrificing long-term salary-cap flexibility.
Didn’t work. The likes of LaMarr Woodley, Carlos Rogers, Matt Schaub and Maurice Jones-Drew could save a doomed season that produced three wins all year.
McKenzie gave up more years to slightly younger players last offseason, using roster bonuses to up antes without saddling his team with future debt service or dead cap space. That strategy worked far better, but wasn’t perfect. He brought on some dead weight but a lot of quality additions with flexible cap considerations as seasons wear on. The Raiders, it seems, like to pay up front.
Those option leaves options open down the road, with an eye on key extensions due when the 2014 draft class needs new deals.
Let’s take a look at the value McKenzie got from last year’s free agent market.
WR Michael Crabtree, San Francisco
Stats: 85 receptions, 922 yards (10.8 avg.), 9 touchdowns
Contract: One year, $3.2 million plus incentives
First impressions: Crabtree signed a one-year deal late in the free-agent period after a long-term deal he was looking for didn’t come about. The former 49er was thought to be on the downhill slide, but turned his career around with an excellent year where he became quarterback Derek Carr’s primary target. He matched career highs in receptions and touchdowns, and finished 78 yards shy of 1,000. Crabtree proved to be a good teammate and an excellent addition to the offense.
Next steps: The Raiders wanted Crabtree around long-term, and signed him to a four-year contract extension that is a pay-as-you go deal after 2016. Can Crabtree’s production sustain with a new deal in place? The Raiders sure hope so.
C Rodney Hudson, Kansas City
Stats: 13 games started; 1 sack, 8 total QB pressures allowed
Contract: Five years, $44.5 million, $12.65 fully guaranteed
First impressions: Hudson proved to be the Raiders’ big-ticket item, and proof that the front office likes to build along the trenches. Hudson was an excellent piece, adding athleticism to the offensive front. He was an excellent run blocker and someone good at identifying pressures to help the offense run smooth.
Next steps: Hudson should be around a long time, which will strengthen the bond between him, quarterback Derek Carr and the guards around him.
DT Dan Williams, Arizona
Stats: 48 tackles, 1 sacks, 20 quarterback pressures, two passes defensed
Contract: Four years, $25 million, $15.2 million guaranteed
First impressions: Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio likes bulk on the interior defensive line, and Williams gave them that in an athletic package. His ability to play nose tackle allowed them to be use different alignments and gave the Raiders an anchor in the middle of the defensive line. Some balked at the contract size when he was first signed, but Williams was a quality addition to Del Rio’s crew.
Next steps: Williams will start next season and, if he stays healthy, could be a solid contributor at the center of this defense.
ILB Malcolm Smith, Seattle
Stats: 122 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 6 passes defensed
Contract: Two years, $7 million, $3.75 million guaranteed
First impressions: Smith was the Raiders’ first free-agent addition, just hours after the signing window opened. He was expected to compete for a major role, but ended up being the one true staple among the interior linebackers. He was partnered with Ray-Ray Armstrong, Curtis Lofton, Neiron Ball and Ben Heeney over the season, and played a whopping 1,162 snaps. He missed 23 tackles and struggled at times in coverage, but proved an excellent producer with great value to his deal.
Next steps: The Raiders will upgrade in the middle, and should look for another top interior linebacker to pair with Smith. That should ease Smith’s burden in 2016.
TE Lee Smith, Buffalo
Stats: 12 receptions, 70 yards, 1 touchdown; 1 sack, 7 pressures allowed
Contract: Three years, $9.1 million, $3.1 million guaranteed
First impressions: Smith provided a veteran presence to a young group of tight ends. He was solid in a blocking role, with a sprinkling of receiving value mixed in. Smith was a solid locker room addition and imparted a level of toughness to this group.
Next steps: Smith must continue to focus on what he does well, and add a bit more to a run game that wore down as games wore on.
RG J’Marcus Webb, Kansas City
Stats: 16 games started, four sacks, 36 QB pressures allowed
Contract: One year, $745,000
First impressions: Webb was signed late, and the career tackle was open to a move inside. He cemented his starting spot early in camp, when it became clear fourth-round pick Jon Feliciano needed some seasoning. Webb wasn’t great, but proved a serviceable player on the interior. He struggled the last three weeks when forced to move outside to tackle.
Next steps: The Raiders should look to upgrade at right guard. Webb could be brought back at a reasonable rate for depth.
S Nate Allen, Philadelphia
Contract: Four years, $23 million, $6.9 guaranteed
First impressions: Allen had a quality preseason, but wasn’t available when it mattered. He suffered a torn MCL in Week 1 – due to friendly fire from Armstrong – and didn’t last long after returning off of short-term injured reserve. Allen is a decent player, but the Raiders didn’t get a return on someone who made $7 million last year.
Next steps: Allen should be healthy for the offseason program, and should be available a free safety for a team that needs upgrades at several other spots. He’ll need a new partner, with Charles Woodson retiring.
RB Roy Helu Jr.
Stats: 17 carries, 39 yards; 9 receptions, 75 yards, 1 touchdown
Contract: Two years, $4.1 million, $1 million guaranteed
First impressions: Helu’s signing was lauded by many, who expected him to be a third-down back who could spell Latavius Murray on passing downs. That didn’t happen. He fell out of favor early, and spent most of his Sunday’s inactive. He was involved sparingly, and never made the impact expected.
Next steps: The Raiders have to upgrade at running back, and there’s no guarantee that Helu returns. They can cut him without a cap hit.
ILB Curtis Lofton
Stats: 64 tackles, 1 sack
Contract: Three years, $18 million, $6.5 million guaranteed
First impressions: Lofton had been an ironman for Atlanta and New Orleans, with 100-plus tackles for most of his career. He was expected to be a fixture in the middle, though his signing came with some skepticism. He wasn’t a solid scheme fit for a Raiders defense, which needs linebackers to cover a wide range. Lofton was a solid goal line defender, but lost his job in passing packages early on and ceded even more snaps to young players as the season wore on.
Next steps: The Raider would like to upgrade at Lofton’s spot, either with a three-down option or a few role players. Lofton could be one-and-done with the Raiders, especially without dead money associated with his 2016 release.
NOTE: RB Trent Richardson, QB Christian Ponder and CB James Dockery were all signed but released before the regular season started. Ponder earned $1.5 million in guarantees, and Richardson was given $600,000 for his short stint in silver and black