The Raiders have plenty of money to spend this offseason. They can start writing checks in less than two weeks, when the league year begins and teams can start signing unrestricted free agents.
The 2015 salary cap is expected to be roughly $143 million, up $10 million over last season. According to respected NFL financial site OverTheCap.com, the Raiders are $54.2 million under the salary cap.
The total is second only to Jacksonville’s $64.3 million.
The Raiders’ salary-cap number will increase by roughly $3 million when the release of strong safety Tyvon Branch becomes official. The team's cap space will be even bigger if quarterback Matt Schaub ($5.5 million, no dead money) and defensive end LaMarr Woodley ($5.187 million) are released as expected. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew may join that group in time.
The Raiders are expected to be major players in free agency, though not in the volume that imported 15 veteran free agents last year. The Raiders have a foundation of young talent and functional players lower on the depth chart, leaving general manager Reggie McKenzie to seek out “starter-type players.”
That won’t be exclusive, but it will allow the Raiders to go after big game that requires significant funds, heavy guarantees and longer-term commitments than their recent signings.
Adding big-money contracts to the payroll has virtually become an offseason requirement. That’s due to a rule that requires teams to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash, excluding dead money created by cutting players under contract, over a four-year period from 2013-16.
The Raiders have two seasons to reach that cash threshold, a new requirement negotiated into the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. If they don’t reach the cash floor, the difference in funds will be redistributed to players who contributed the team.
In essence, it’s wasted cap space. The Raiders must pay but don’t get value from the money if they don’t reach the threshold. The NFLPA said the Raiders have spent roughly 81 percent of the salary cap in cash, and would have to nearly reach the cap limit over the next two seasons to avoid a rule violation. It is not, however, a mandate.
The Raiders are in this position because McKenzie ate significant dead money to get right with the salary cap over the last two seasons. They can spend more with front loaded contracts that can help acquire talent and increase the probability that they reach the cash floor or come close to it.
The Raiders still plan to build through the NFL draft, but can go after top free agents they deemed worthy of a big contract, and overpay for them in a competitive marketplace. The objective is to acquire top quality veterans without hurting their salary-cap positioning in the long term.