Monday March 9th, 2015

The Raiders missed out on some big-name free agents elsewhere, but at center they landed their guy.

That target: former Chief Rodney Hudson, who reportedly will sign with Oakland for five years and $44.5 million. No word yet on the guaranteed money included in the deal, which is really the key to any NFL contract. At an average of $8.9 million per season, though, Hudson's deal for the moment makes him the highest-paid center in the league, surpassing Maurkice Pouncey ($8.8 million). 

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The Raiders were believed to be contenders for the likes of Randall Cobb and Ndamukong Suh—and can afford to overpay for Hudson—because they head into free agency flush with cash. The NFLPA's most recent public salary-cap report had Oakland $55 million-plus under the 2015 threshold, while OvertheCap.com showed the Raiders with more than $59 million available. 

Hudson will take over for another current free agent, Stefan Wisniewski, in the middle of Oakland's line. Wisniewski, a 61-game starter over the past four seasons, has been a steady blocker for the Raiders but there's little question that Hudson outperformed him last season.

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2015 NFL Free Agent Tracker, Grades

The Raiders now have the makings of a mauling front, at least on the left side—Hudson will have impressive 2014 rookie guard Gabe Jackson lined up next to him and Donald Penn returns at LT off a strong Oakland debut. 

More importantly, getting Hudson to sign on the dotted line represents an important step forward for the Raiders' image this offseason. New coach Jack Del Rio talked at the combine about the challenge of trying to recruit elite players to Oakland, where the team obviously has struggled for some time and the facilities are lacking.

[daily_cut.nfl]"I think it’s important that the prospective players out there understand that things have changed," Del Rio said. "Our fields are all being redone; our practice fields are being redone; our weight room is being expanded. ... There is a freshness going on. Those are things that I talked about in the interview process that were important and they’ve been followed up with actual commitment of capital, which I’m excited about.

"As you go into this phase of free agency and acquiring players, we have cap space and we have a new staff full of teachers. We have a young quarterback. We have a good, young man off the edge in Khalil Mack. We’ve got a good left tackle. We’ve got corners. The things that we need to get started, we have. So, now we have to start adding good, quality people that are fired up to be part of the Raiders."

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Derek Carr is the young QB of which Del Rio spoke, and how he connects with Hudson will hold the real key to this pickup.

Also of interest will be the running back that gets first crack behind the Hudson-led line. While Latavius Murray was a pleasant surprise in 2014, the Raiders could be in the market for a RB to share the load. 

That decision is part of what's next for the Raiders, now that they have made their first free-agent splash.

Grade: B-plus

Again, we'll see on guaranteed money, but anytime you make a player the highest-paid at his position it is something of an inherent gamble. The 25-year-old Hudson has been a starter for just two seasons, and the Chiefs headed into training camp prior to the '13 campaign uncertain if he was the right man for the job. Oakland needs him to maintain his rise.

The reported money is not outlandish, especially for a franchise with as much in its pockets as Oakland has right now. Having to overpay a bit is part of the Raiders' reality right now, at least until they can find a consistent measure of success or land a new stadium. 

So, yes, they probably pushed Hudson's contract beyond where any other team was willing to go. That will be of little concern if Hudson continues to play as he did last season.

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