The Raiders spent big early in free agency. Stacks of cash produced some big names and solid scheme fits, filling crucial needs on both sides of the football.
The addition list is not long. The Raiders imported guard Kelechi Osemele, cornerback Sean Smith, edge defender Bruce Irvin and a few strong special teamers. He re-signed three of his own, retaining receiver Andre Holmes, punter Marquette King and left tackle Donald Penn.
The team was associated with several others who landed elsewhere, as all teams are during free agency, but was lauded for the early haul.
The Raiders still have needs to fill and feelers out on free-agent options remaining this late in the process, but the major deals have already been executed.
“I’m never done,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said last week on SiriusXM NFL Radio via Raiders.com. “With all that money, we’re probably done with that big spending, yes, but there’s always ways to improve your roster. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot of big money players.”
The Raiders have $17.457 million in salary cap space remaining, according to a Monday morning NFLPA salary cap report. Some of those funds are earmarked for the NFL draft. There are free funds remaining but, as McKenzie likes to say, just because he has a dollar doesn’t mean he should spend it on junk.
While it’s incredibly late in this free-agent process -- don’t forget he got impactful receiver Michael Crabtree on April 13 last offseason -- McKenzie will be searching for contributors in the bargain bin.
No matter what happens in free agency as the draft encroaches, this veteran haul has been much smaller than recent seasons, when McKenzie tried to path a leaky vessel without damaging future cap standing or his ultimate goal of building largely through the NFL Draft.
The Raiders signed 13 unrestricted free agents, mostly older veterans, in 2014 trying to assemble a competitive unit in the team’s first season with significant cap space. They brought in 11 veteran free agents expected to make a significant impact in 2015.
The numbers have gone down this year, due to a strong young foundation built through the amateur selection process. McKenzie has signed five new players, and three to largely front-loaded, big money deals that won’t impact the salary cap beyond one or two seasons.
“It’s not just about adding players,” McKenzie told CSNBayArea.com at last week’s owners meetings. “It’s about adding the right players and then getting them to jell. That’s about the coaching staff being together for two years straight. We don’t have to change systems. That’s going to help within itself with all the players coming back. They get to be in the same system again. That hasn’t happened here in Oakland for a while. Good players coming together with the same system and the coaching staff we have. Wth that mixture, we’re going to be better.”
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The Raiders could still use some help at interior linebacker, safety and running back. They could use depth and long-term solutions at several spots, including the cornerback spot.
McKenzie exits the opening waves of free agency feeling confident in his acquisitions, both in volume and fit. This year has proven a finer example of free agency’s purpose. While there’s glam in these big moves, the real work comes in the draft process, where the Raiders must strike in the middle of draft rounds. That’s a bit harder in the teens over the top five, where the Raiders have been slated the last three drafts.
Free agency this offseason and quality adds last year, have narrowed the team’s list of needs and made it easier for McKenzie to draft for depth and the best available player.
Things weren’t perfect in free agency, but they never are. McKenzie is moving through the offseason happy with their current status and prospects for the future of this offseason.
“It never goes to the letter, but it went great,” McKenzie said. “We are very excited with how it went with the players and the way we upgraded our team. We’re very excited for the future.”