Offseason Report Card: Oakland Raiders
With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.
Whenever a team endures back-to-back 4-12 efforts -- and/or has not been to the playoffs in more than a decade -- some overhaul of the roster is in order. What remains to be seen in Oakland is if general manager Reggie McKenzie moved any closer to completing his rebuild with this offseason's work or if he merely attempted to plug a leaky dam with his finger.
The Raiders' roster definitely will be more recognizable in 2014. McKenzie signed LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and ex-49ers Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown for his defense, while adding Maurice Jones-Drew and James Jones to the offense. Jones is arguably the most significant of all the additions, a legitimate top-two receiver added to a depth chart painfully bereft of such talent.
For all the movement to bring in players, McKenzie's mark on this offseason ultimately may be dictated by what he failed to do: namely, re-sign either Jared Veldheer or Lamarr Houston. The aggressive work in free agency that followed, plus a strong draft, may help Raiders fans forget those equally confusing decisions.
The Raiders of 2014 have more talent than their recent predecessors and, as such, should be more competitive. What will that mean in terms of Oakland's record and its future?
Best acquisition: Khalil Mack, LB
Dennis Allen is, by his background, a defensive-minded guy (D.C. in Denver, secondary coach in New Orleans, etc.). So he no doubt is among those most troubled by his team's complete lack of a defensive identity over Allen's first two seasons.
The Raiders finished 28th in points allowed during the 2012 season, then dropped to No. 29 last year. The 2013 highlights on that side of the ball were limited to a resurgence from an aging Charles Woodson, a career year from Nick Roach and solid play off the edge by Houston -- whom Oakland then let walk in free agency.
Allen was in dire need of someone around which to build.
"This is an impact player," Allen said. "This guy will have an impact on our football team for the 2014 season, there’s no question about that. ... He can do everything that we’re going to ask him to do. He’s a three-down player, and he’s gonna be able to do a lot of things that we’re going to ask him to do and have a huge impact on helping this defense and getting this defense where this defense needs to be."
Oakland's strategy elsewhere on defense is a little tougher to figure. In signing guys like Smith, Woodley and Tuck, the Raiders have made themselves far tougher to handle within the 2014 window even as the long-term plan up front remains a mystery.
The Raiders at least have their building block at the second level now in Mack. Ideally, he'll pair with cornerback D.J. Hayden, who struggled through a tough rookie season after being a Round 1 pick, to anchor this defense for several seasons to come. There should be minimal concern about Mack's ability to handle such responsibility, regardless of the talent around him.
"The thing with Khalil is the one thing that he can do is rush the passer," said McKenzie. "He plays very well on the line of scrimmage.
"And as far as what I look for in the linebacker is the physicality. He can play strong and he can play with good extension, he uses his hands, and the fact that he’s big and he can run, that just added to his value. He’s a football player and I think he’s the total package."
Biggest loss: Jared Veldheer, OT
Flush with cash, the Raiders headed into the offseason facing decisions on two critical, in-house free agents: Veldheer and Houston, the team leader in sacks last season. They opted not to use the franchise tag on either, paving the way for both to depart shortly thereafter.
At least in the case of Veldheer, McKenzie contended that his hands were tied.
"Losing Veldheer was a blow to me. He didn’t want to come back," McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur. "It wasn’t about finances. The kid didn’t want to play for the Raiders anymore, and I struggled with that."
Veldheer quickly denied that was the case, so we were left with a he said-he said scenario, and the Raiders were left with a gaping hole at left tackle. Veldheer missed all but five games last season, but when healthy the 6-foot-8 behemoth had proven more than capable of manning a quarterback's blind side. He will do so now for Carson Palmer in Arizona, while the Raiders were left to scramble in free agency, first attempting to sign Rodger Saffold and later landing Donald Penn.
Penn is a steady player in his own right -- one who has not missed a game in his NFL career. He is not on par with Veldheer as a potentially dominant left tackle. The Raiders actually could have used both Penn and Veldheer, as they're now stuck attempting to drop 2012 draft pick Menelik Watson in as a starter opposite Penn.
Franchise left tackles are highly coveted, hence the proliferation of top-10 draft picks used on that position. Oakland had one and, for whatever reason, let him get away.
Underrated draft pick: Keith McGill, CB
As we have reiterated time and again on Audibles, the Raiders had themselves a truly impressive draft weekend. Mack in Round 1 was the obvious gem, but landing quarterback Derek Carr in Round 2 without needing to trade up had to be thrilling for the Raiders. The rest of the rounds played out with similar success for McKenzie, providing a much-needed talent infusion to this roster.
McGill has his work cut out for him. Already 25, the time for him to develop is limited, but the upside more than warranted his Round 4 standing. Standing 6-foot-3 with long arms and good speed, McGill can play either cornerback or safety. The Raiders will try him at the former early on, where he has a chance to thrive if he can handle the rigors of press coverage.
Oakland has some depth at cornerback, so McGill will be eased along. The payoff in the not-too-distant future might be huge.
Looming question for training camp: How quickly can Derek Carr push Matt Schaub?
This is not just a camp-related question but one that carries significance for the Raiders' entire rebuilding plan ... and possibly for the job statuses of Allen and McKenzie. Oakland's situation at quarterback has improved dramatically over 2013, when Matt Flynn ceded the job to a combination of Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor. Only McGloin remains on the roster, tucked behind Schaub and Carr on the depth chart.
Schaub fell out of favor in Houston, never able to recapture his form from the 2009 season that saw him lead the league in completions, attempts and passing yards. If nothing else, though, he provides an experienced veteran option at quarterback.