Editor's note: With the 2014 season halfway done, Raiders insider Scott Bair will analyze key decisions and how they impacted the Raiders during an 0-8 start throughout the week. Today, we look at this year's free-agent class.
ALAMEDA – Reggie McKenzie spent two years getting the Raiders right with the salary cap, often at great sacrifice to the 53-man roster. Growing pains were tolerated while waiting for talent upgrades in the 2014 offseason.
The Raiders entered free agency with roughly $64 million in salary cap space, plenty of cash to make the Raiders better.
McKenzie never planned on throwing money at A-list free agents. He wanted to add veteran talent able to provide short-term help while the Raiders continued to build a team through the draft.
The plan didn’t work. The Raiders are 0-8, even worse than before, when McKenzie was handcuffed by dead money. Generally speaking, McKenzie’s unrestricted free agent acquisitions – and one significant trade – haven’t made a significant impact in the season’s first half.
The one benefit is that McKenzie didn’t saddle the Raiders with unfriendly, long-term contracts. The Raiders can get out of most deals without hurting future salary caps.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Raiders bought this offseason and what they've received during the season's first half.
Money well spent:
WR James Jones, 30 (Cap number: $3.8 million): The Raiders picked up a solid receiver with great hands, a calm demeanor and an ability to make tough catches. He isn’t a No. 1 receiver in a traditional sense, but he leads his position group in snaps, targets and receiving yards. He has 39 catches for 443 yards, on pace for career highs in both categories.
LT Donald Penn, 31 (Cap number: $5 million): Penn was signed to overcome the loss of Jared Veldheer, and has done an excellent job in his first year as a Raider. His 2013 struggles are in the past, and he’s become a producer (just one sack, one QB hit allowed) and a mentor to younger linemen.
S Charles Woodson, 38 (Cap number: $3.5 million): It took some time, but the Raiders ultimately re-signed the veteran safety. They’re glad they did. Woodson has played excellent football, often in attacking mode as a run stuffer. He’s played well in pass defense and leads the team with two interceptions.
CB Tarell Brown, 29 ($3.5 million): Brown is clearly the team’s top cover corner and has been serviceable throughout the season. He’s never had high interception totals, so it isn’t a shock that he doesn’t have one this year. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he wasn’t expected to be and has lived up to his level of compensation.
DE C.J. Wilson, 27 (Cap number: $635,000): Wilson has given the Raiders great value considering his cap number. He was brought in to be a rotational defensive lineman and has done so well. His role increases with LaMarr Woodley out, and has been solid in run defense. He also has two sacks.
T/G Khalif Barnes, 32 (Cap number: $1.85 million) Barnes was signed to add offensive-line depth, and he’s done that and more. He’s a backup guard and has made four solid starts at right tackle. A consummate professional, Barnes performs well in any role he’s been asked to fill.
DE Justin Tuck, 31 (Cap number: $5 million): The veteran defensive lineman has two sacks through eight games, nowhere close to the 11 posted in a contract year last season. He still has talent and has made some big plays, but Tuck is not the intimidating pass rusher they hoped he would be.
CB Carlos Rogers, 33 (Cap number: $3.5 million): Rogers plays a unique role in the secondary, outside in the base defense and in the slot for the nickel package. His coverage hasn’t been great with 33 receptions allowed on 38 targets. He also has two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
DT Pat Sims, 28 (Cap number: $2 million): Sims re-signed with the Raiders later in free agency after the market failed to produce a longer-term deal. Sims has played OK, but his snap count is down after falling behind Justin Ellis on the depth chart.
DL Antonio Smith, 33 (Cap number: $4.96 million): The defensive tackle was brought in to be a strong run defender and interior pass rusher. He’s played well at times, but maybe not to the level of expectation given his long track record as an impact player.
QB Matt Schaub, 33 (Cap number: $8 million): Schaub was technically acquired in trade, but belongs on this list because the Raiders essentially threw big money down the drain. Schaub didn’t have the arm strength to beat rookie Derek Carr in the preseason and is expected to be the No. 2 quarterback all year. It’s the second straight year that McKenzie swung and missed on a veteran quarterback, at great cost. Hindsight is 20/20 – at the time of trade, I thought it was a smart move – but Schaub simply hasn’t worked out as hoped.
DE LaMarr Woodley, 30 (Cap number: $4.84 million): Woodley personifies the frustration with this free-agent class. The Super Bowl champion was expected to contribute despite being on the downside of his prime and failed to do so. He was a complete non-factor, with five tackles (no sacks) in six games before landing on injured reserve with a torn biceps. Like many other free-agent signings, the Raiders can cut Woodley without penalty against next year’s cap.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, 29 (Cap number: $2.5 million): Jones-Drew began the year as the starter, but didn’t return to that role after right-hand surgery. He has just 54 yards on 26 carries this season and is now used in a limited role behind Darren McFadden.
G Austin Howard, 27 (Cap number: $4.4 million): Howard was the lone young player signed to a long-term deal. He played tackle well with the New York Jets, but his transition to guard – a position switch that was not his choice – hasn’t gone well. He’s struggled mightily, especially now that his struggles are out on tape. The Raiders might be better served to move him back outside next season.
G Kevin Boothe, 31 (Cap number: $1.75 million): The veteran was brought in to compete at guard, but now he’s just a backup center. He has played just one snap all season long, and it came on special teams.
S Usama Young, 29 (Cap number: $1.235 million): Injuries happen, but Young was placed on IR for a second straight season. This time a knee injury put him there after playing decent football after Tyvon Branch went down.
Note: Cap numbers taken from overthecap.com.