The Raiders offseason program starts in a week’s time. New faces will join the larger group April 18, personalities generating plenty of buzz inside the locker room and around the NFL.
While the group’s smaller than years past, it’s a concentrated power boost that could vault the Raiders into contention for an AFC West title.
Cornerback Sean Smith, safety Reggie Nelson, guard Kelechi Osemele and edge rusher Bruce Irvin headline a free agent class expected to make a positive impact in Oakland this season. The returns of Donald Penn and Marquette King, and Aldon Smith’s commitment to the Silver and Black after reinstatement fortifies the roster and locker room dynamic. A pair of solid special teamers should bolster the kicking game as well.
General manager Reggie McKenzie did an excellent job in free agency, acquiring four players in NFL.com’s top 22 free-agent options. He spent big money but spent smart, using considerable cap space to front load most contracts to a point where dead money is eliminated after two seasons.
The Raiders didn’t just go after well-known, respected commodities. They found solid scheme fits. Nelson can play center field all by himself. Smith has the size and savvy that fits the mold for Raiders cornerbacks. Irvin has versatility as a pass rusher and cover man, providing solid compliment to Khalil Mack. Osemele is a brute and a mauler on the interior, required elements for Mike Tice’s offensive linemen.
While minor free agent additions may come, the Raiders are focused on the NFL draft, bearing down in less than three weeks.
Free agency had a direct impact on the upcoming amateur selection process, one that allows McKenzie to be truly free. Free agency filled the starting lineup’s most glaring needs, allowing him to draft the best player available.
If that happens to be an interior linebacker or a cornerback or a safety – areas still in need of talent -- in the higher rounds, then bully for the Raiders. There isn’t pressure to pick any particular position with the top selections. They can also afford to draft and develop freely after a series of smart drafts and acquisitions previously fleshed out the roster.
The Raiders are riding a wave of positivity over the last month, with locals and national pundits considering them a franchise on the rise and a legitimate playoff contender.
As well all know, “winning” free agency doesn’t foreshadow wins in the fall. Teams that gorge on free agency don’t often succeed, with examples aplenty of such disastrous spending. It’s possible, borderline likely, that at least one of these Raiders free agents don’t live up to their contract. It happens every year, with almost every free agent class.
The important thing here is that the Raiders can weather such storms in the long term. The signings won’t put the team in future salary-cap peril, nor will they impact the Raiders’ ability to sign their own picks down the road, namely Mack and Derek Carr.
This was a crucial offseason for the Raiders, who, even after a 7-9 campaign in head coach Jack Del Rio’s first season, were hoping to create new winning ways. The Raiders were aggressive in free agency, and need to add more quality in the NFL draft.
McKenzie ultimately wants to draft well and reward his own, with steadily decreasing needs and activity on the free agent market. This could be a true transition year for McKenzie’s Raiders, if Del Rio can take this talent and produce wins and a possible playoff berth.