Editor's note: Here is the third installment of a five-part series on the organization’s top offseason priorities.
Left tackle Donald Penn hit radio row just before the Super Bowl with something on his mind. He wasn’t happy with the pace of negotiations with the Raiders, who hadn’t reached out since the 2015 season ended.
He was heading toward unrestricted free agency and, despite mutual interest between player and team, there was little to no progress to discuss. The Raiders have an exclusive negotiating window through March 7, so there’s plenty of time to right this issue and keep the 32-year old Penn in Oakland.
As it always does in this business, an accord will come down to economics. Penn was a steady producer over the life of his two-year contract, and hopes to get paid well at a lucrative position. The Raiders could use continuity along the offensive line, but haven’t overpaid much for older players even with salary cap space to spare. They are strict in their valuations, and the open market could help both sides find an agreeable number. That could backfire on the Raiders, as Penn ranks among the best free agent offensive tackles available.
If the Raiders let Penn walk, it’ll create another major hole to fill this offseason, either through the NFL Draft or free agency for the second time in three seasons. It will add to a list of needs currently short on starting spots. The Raiders got lucky with Penn after Jared Veldheer talks broke down and he left for Arizona. Will they get lucky again? They’d have to, because poor left tackle play can sabotage an entire offense.
The Raiders have center Rodney Hudson and left guard Gabe Jackson locked into the starting lineup, with Austin Howard returning after a strong season at right tackle. Menelik Watson is on the mend after tearing an Achilles tendon last preseason. He remains a player with great potential stifled by injuries, one the Raiders have not given up on yet.
In contrast to other positions, right guard was a weakness. The Raiders used career tackle J’Marcus Webb in that spot on a one-year deal, and he struggled in the run and pass. It’s expected the Raiders will look to upgrade there.
The ultimate decision could be influenced by impressions made by fourth-round rookie Jon Feliciano near year’s end. He made three starts to close 2015, a season started down on the depth chart.
Feliciano is a potential mauler against the run, and the Raiders must decide if he can be a long-term answer at right guard. If so, they could bring in a short-term veteran solution. If they don’t, the Raiders could draft another offensive guard in search of a proper long-term solution.
The Raiders must also make a decision on Khalif Barnes, who signed seven straight one-year contracts. The team used Webb at right tackle when Howard went down, and it could be the end for the veteran’s Raiders run.
Significant funds and draft resources have been used on this key position group, valued by this front office and the skill players reliant on the line to produce.