The biggest mistake made by the neophyte GM came in 2013, when he surprisingly traded the third overall choice to Miami for the Dolphins’ first-round selection (12th overall) and a second round-pick (42nd overall). Miami has seen little production from Dion Jordan after using that third choice to take the Oregon rush end, but the Raiders have fared even worse.
McKenzie tabbed University of Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden, despite the player missing the final three games of his Cougars career after he suffered a season-ending (and life-threatening) injury. He collided with a safety in a passing drill where the safety's knee struck D.J. in his chest. The collision tore the inferior vena cava in his heart. The injury itself is most commonly seen in high-speed vehicle accidents, and the fatality rate is 95 percent due to the massive loss of blood.
Hayden even told the NFL teams and the media at the 2013 Scouting Combine that after the accident he couldn't see much out of his left eye. It went pitch black and he suddenly felt cold and sleepy.
Injuries continued to plague Hayden throughout his first two seasons in Oakland. During the Raiders' 2013 organized team activities (OTAs), he was hospitalized with abdominal adhesions relating to his previous surgery. The adhesions were removed, and Hayden signed a fully guaranteed four-year deal with the Raiders at the beginning of training camp in late July, with a payout of $10,323,698.
During the early portion of his rookie season Hayden struggled. He missed half of the season and started just twice while making eight appearances. He closed out his rookie year with 23 tackles and one interception. This season, he did not play until Oakland’s seventh game, vs. Cleveland. He would play in three of the next four contests, but is again hobbled, this time by a groin injury.
With the second-round choice they received in that 2013 trade with the Dolphins, the Raiders brought right offensive tackle Menelik Watson into the fold, despite the former Florida State prospect never showing any consistency in the trenches for the Seminoles.
The British native never played football until leaving Marist College for Saddleback Community College, where he stepped on to the gridiron for the first time.
His blocking consistency grade of 76.2% was the lowest for any starter on the FSU front wall during the 2012 schedule. Still, McKenzie deemed him Oakland’s right tackle of the future. That future now appears to be brief, as veteran Khalif Barnes has not only kept Watson on the second unit, he was recently given an extension. Watson might still survive another season with the Raiders, if he can convince whoever takes over as head coach in 2015 that he is an efficient option to step in when Barnes and left tackle Donald Penn, one of the few productive veterans signed from the free agent market this year, need a breather.
McKenzie was recommended for the Oakland GM position by the late owner, Al Davis’s cronies, Ron Wolf, who had worked in the Raiders front office prior to his Green Bay tenure, and former Raiders coach John Madden, when Davis’ son Mark took over the team after his father’s death.
McKenzie promptly fired head coach Hue Jackson and hired Dennis Allen, who had previously served as the defensive coordinator of a Denver Broncos squad that barely beat Oakland for a playoff spot. He brought in his twin brother Raleigh McKenzie to become a college scout for the Raiders. Allen lasted one-plus seasons and was fired early in the 2014 schedule, as assistant head coach Tony Sparano took over on an interim basis.
McKenzie's first priority was to fire head coach Hue Jackson, a favorite of some Raiders fans, but a problem for the front office, as he wanted more say in controlling player personnel decisions. The new GM also had to shore up a porous defense which allowed 433 points (27.1 points/game), 29th among 32 teams.
Before the 2012 NFL Draft, he signed four free agents to help the defense: outside line-backer Philip Wheeler and cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer, Ron Bartell, and Pat Lee. All four were soon found wanting and sent to the unemployment line.
McKenzie inherited a roster full of high-priced and underperforming players, with more than $154 million committed toward the $120.6 million salary cap. Additionally, the Raiders had traded away most of their draft picks in the 2012 NFL Draft prior to his arrival, leaving McKenzie with his first pick not coming until the third round (95th overall), taking offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, who is currently second on the depth chart at right guard.
The limited draft picks, poor production from the veteran free agents and a lack of depth on that roster saw the Raiders struggle to a 4-12 record during McKenzie’s first season at the helm. That performance would see the GM release several starting players, such as Richard Seymour, Michael Huff, Tommy Kelly, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rolando McClain during the 2013 off-season in continuing the rebuilding process.
Even with their record currently a 1-10, McKenzie might survive to man the helm for at least another season. That is, unless Mark Davis decides to make a splash and turn over the front office to his next head coach, as rumors say he is looking to turn over complete operations, if he can get a honcho like Jon Gruden or Jim Harbaugh to take over this once-proud franchise in 2015.
If any of the big-name coaches looking to run the entire organization cannot be convinced to come on board, look for McKenzie to favor either Darrell Bevell or Jack Del Rio to handle on-field chores. Bevell, the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive coordinator is one of the hottest names on the head coaching market. From his years with Pete Carroll, the former Wisconsin quarterback has developed one of the most efficient offenses in the league.
If Bevell is not impressed by Davis and McKenzie’s sales pitch, Del Rio, Denver’s defensive coordinator and interim head coach following John Fox’s medical scare, might be the next-best choice. Del Rio has previous head coaching experience with Jacksonville and is from the Bay Area, which could make him think seriously about returning home.
While Sparano and Greg Olson might sit down with the front office for interviews, “blowing up” what is becoming a decade-long mess might be in order, making both in-house candidates long shots to get the permanent gig. Of the two, Olson has the best chance, as he’s really brought along the team’s hopes at quarterback – Derek Carr. Carr’s development could help Olson win over a few decision-makers in the front office, if the big names feel the Oakland job is too career-toxic.
Others that could hear their names mentioned are Frank Reich, who took over as San Diego’s offensive coordinator this year, along with a pair of assistants with ties to cross-town rival, San Francisco. If Harbaugh bolts the 49er’s, offensive coordinator Greg Roman appears to be next in line to take over the 49ers.
If Harbaugh somehow manages to reach an accord with the front office, Roman, who loves the Bay Area, might feel he’s ready to be a head coach and head to Oakland. He might find that 49ers defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, could also be a fallback option for the Raiders. Despite a slew of injuries, Tomsula has done a great patchwork job of reconstructing one of the best front walls in the league.
Out of the 2014 draft, McKenzie appears to have found All-Pro caliber players in strong-side outside linebacker Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr, the GM’s first two choices. Third-round pick Gabe Jackson has started all year at left offensive guard and fourth-round find Justin Ellis is starting at nose guard.
Fellow fourth-round choice Keith McGill is currently playing behind seventh-rounder Travis Carrie as a right cornerback reserve. The 247th pick in the draft, Jonathan Dowling is playing with the second unit at free safety, while the team’s third seventh-round pick, Shelby Harris, is learning how to play defensive end while suiting up for the practice squad.
McKenzie did not fare as well on the veteran free-agent market, though. Even though the team was finally out of their salary cap nightmares, the general manager shied away from the “big names” available. It seems like past mistakes via free agency led to that train of thought.
Ever since late owner Al Davis opened up the vault to sign the likes of Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson and Bill Romanowski from 2000-02, the players that the team have signed in recent years proved that they were not only past their primes, but had little to offer.
During the 2014 offseason, McKenzie grabbed nine veterans that cost the team over $70 million towards the cap. That group included Green Bay wide receiver castoff James Jones, former Tampa Bay left offensive tackle Donald Penn, oft-injured tailback Maurice Drew-Jones, who came over from the Jaguars, and former Giants offensive guard Kevin Boothe to fill holes on offense.
McKenzie scooped up a pair of former 49ers cornerbacks - Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers. He also added Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, former Giant Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith for the front wall. Birth certificates indicate that the GM spent those dollars on aging players, with only Brown checking in under age 30 among his motley crew of newcomers.
If McKenzie remains the team’s general manager, he is likely to continue to look for value on the veteran free-agent market during the 2015 off-season. With only a bit over $85 million committed to players on the current roster and the cap expected to exceed $140 million next year, if the team does bring in Gruden or Harbaugh to run the entire operations, look for Oakland to be heavy investors, as both prefer savvy veterans over hotshot rookies.
Oakland Raiders LEAGUE RANKINGS IN RECENT YEARS
OBSERVING FROM THE SIDELINES
Below is a look at the current injuries/off-field issues that are impacting the 2014 roster:
Injured reserve: Rod Streater (foot; designated for return), Taiwan Jones (foot), Nick Kasa (knee), LaMarr Woodley (biceps), Tyvon Branch (foot), Nick Roach (concussion), Kory Sheets (Achilles), Usama Young (ankle).
Current Record…1-10 (0-2 vs. the NFC/1-8 vs. the AFC)…152 PF/265 PA
Team Needs…1. Wide Receiver; 2. Tailback; 3. Defensive End; 4. Cornerback; 5. Defensive Tackle; 6. Middle Linebacker; 7. Strong Safety; 8. Offensive Tackle; 9. Free Safety.
Team 2014 Cap Numbers…$123,906,745 (Top 51)
Potential 2015 Free Agents (Player/Current Salary)…Unrestricted: strong safety Larry Asante ($645,000); wide receiver David Ausberry ($521,475); cornerback Tarrell Brown ($3,500,000); wide receiver Vincent Brown ($988,339); linebacker Jamar Chaney ($730,000); tailback Darren McFadden ($1,750,000); wide receiver Danarius Moore ($557,513); corner-back Carlos Rogers ($2,500,000); defensive tackle Pat Sims ($1,450,000); defensive end C.J. Wilson ($795,000); center Stefan Wisniewski ($1,033,851); free safety Charles Woodson ($2,500,000);…Restricted: cornerback Chimdi Chekwa ($645,000); wide receiver Andre Holmes ($600,000); punter Marquette King ($455,333); fullback Jamize Olawale ($570,000); cornerback Brandian Ross ($570,000); wide receiver Rod Streater ($483,333);…Exclusive Rights: defensive end Denico Autry ($420,000); tight end Brian Leonhardt ($420,000); linebacker Matt McCants ($420,000); tailback Kory Sheets ($420,000); left offensive tackle Matt McCants ($420,000).
Oakland’s struggles on offense are evident, as they rank last in the entire league in total offense (2,764 yards in ten games), points scored (152) and rushing yardage (630) and they are the only NFL team with less than 750 yards on the ground. Despite having a promising young quarterback, the Raiders are 26th in the league with 2,134 yards passing, ranking last in the give/takeaway department with a minus-12 result. The team has thrown 12 interceptions, tied for the fourth-highest total in the NFL. They also had eight lost fumbles, tied for eighth-worst in the league.
Quarterbacks…#4-Derek Carr; #8-Matt Schaub; #14-Matt McGloin.
While Derek Carr’s overall numbers put him in the middle of the pack among league leaders, the Raiders are confident that they have found their quarterback to lead the team out of its current decade-long dark ages. Much like in 2011, when several QB-needy teams passed on Colin Kaepernick to see him slide into the second round, many thought Oakland would select controversial QB Johnny Manziel in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Opting to take stud linebacker Khalil Mack instead, the Raiders did not hesitate to grab Carr with the 36th overall pick. The 23-year-old passer ranks 17th in the league with 2,249 aerial yards and is seventh with 240 completions, ranking fifth with 406 attempts. He is in the middle, tied at 14th with 14 touchdowns and has been sacked just nine times, the third-lowest figure for any quarterback attempting at least 300 passes this year.
An 1-10 record cannot be placed on the shoulders of the rookie QB, as he has no true playmakers to rely upon, either in the receiving or running back units. As this story was going to press, Carr took a major step forward, winning for the first time as a professional in a 24-20 decision over Kansas City, as he helped the team amass over 350 yards for the fourth time during the 2014 schedule. What bears watching the rest of the year is how the rookie deals with his nagging triceps injury.
Matt Schaub’s career seems to have reached rock bottom. He was acquired from the Houston Texans for a sixth-round pick, but true to the bad luck the Raiders have had on draft day, especially with trades, the Texans used the 181st overall choice to select emerging tailback talent Alfred Blue. Blue, who is coming off a 156-yard performance vs. Cleveland, will split carries with former Pro Bowler Arian Foster the rest of the year, as he’s gained 390 yards on 104 tries while starting two of 10 games. In 10 starts for Oakland, their leading rusher, Darren McFadden gained 393 yards on 113 tries before a meager 29-yard effort vs. KC.
Schaub is likely to be playing elsewhere or unemployed next season, as he’s vastly overpaid at $8 million this year, after attempting just one pass. Sending him on his way will save $5.5 million in cap money for 2015. McGloin has actually moved past Schaub on the depth chart, hitting on 12 of 19 tries for 129 yards and a score when Carr had his “bell rung” earlier in the year.
McGloin is on the books for $585K next year, a much cheaper alternative to Schaub, but look for Oakland to bring in a savvy veteran to add depth. The former regime would look at a reclamation project, someone like Jake Locker, expected to be cut by Tennessee. The safer choices to serve behind Carr is pending free agents Matt Moore (Miami) or Shaun Hill, if he fails to reignite his career down the stretch with the Rams. Both have starting experience and would have no problem serving as Carr’s mentor.
#12-Brice Butler; #85-Kenbrell Thompkins…Tight End#81-Mychal Rivera; #86-David Ausberry; #87-Brian Leonhardt…Practice Squad WR#85-Seth Roberts; TE#83-Scott Simonson…Injured Reserve WR#80-Rod Streater; TE#88-Nick Kasa.
The major culprit for Derek Carr ranking 27th among 32 starting quarterbacks with a pass completion percentage of 59.1 is the lack of any sort of quality among his receivers. Prior to the Kansas City encounter, his wideouts have managed to average just 213.4 yards per game, the 26th-lowest figure in the NFL.
One look at game film and you instantly see the problems among their pass catchers – failure to clean up the top end of their routes and releases. They look puzzled trying to figure out who gets Carr’s first, second and third looks. None of his pass catchers seemed to have any semblance of route-progression technique and none have that fearless nature to sell out in order to get to the balls in a crowd, except for tight end Mychal Rivera.
James Jones might be leading the team with 54 receptions for 545 yards (10.1 ypc) and four scores after signing a three-year, $10 million deal, but there have been quite a few drops and a pair of fumbles among the other 28 passes he failed to get to. He’s the closest thing that Carr has to a reliable receiver, as he has produced 32 first downs among his 54 snatches. But he’s a far cry from the 2013 Jones version that averaged close to four more yards per grab for the Packers, or the 2012 version that scored four times. He is ranked 46th among 222 receivers in the league salary-wise and will cost just $3.1 million if he’s kept around for the 2015 campaign, especially since the team is expected to invest in a blue chip rookie receiver and having a veteran to mentor him is advisable.
Dallas Cowboy reject Andre Holmes took over flanker chores when Rod Streater was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury (designated to return). He is currently second on the team with 32 catches, 22 for first downs, but like Jones, he’s not the most reliable receiver. Even at 6-foot-5, 208, he’s had 20 of 31 other passes targeted to him either batted away or intercepted by an opponent. His size production and expected 2015 salary (is a restricted free agent, but should hit seven figures after making 645K this season) will help him keep a roster spot next year, but the rest of the wide receivers should not feel comfortable about bringing the family in to settle in the Oakland area.
Streater had nine catches for 84 yards and a score before getting hurt and will be a restricted free agent next year. He will probably return on a veteran minimum contract if he does not head to Tampa Bay, as has been rumored. Denarius Moore was cut in training camp and brought back when injuries hit the unit, but his flubs as a pass catcher and return man will not see Oakland worry once he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Fellow wideout Vince Brown (14 catches for 72 yards) is also an unrestricted free agent who is not expected back in 2015. While Oakland might end up with the first overall pick, they might trade down to stay in the top 10 to snatch up the receiver they covet the most – Alabama’s Amari Cooper. If they hold on to the top spot, USC defensive end Leonard Williams gets the call. With two second-round choices, they will have the likes of Ty Montgomery (Stanford), Josh Harper (Fresno State), Rashad Greene (Florida State), Justin Hardy (East Carolina) and Austin Hill (Arizona) as candidates to add to the stable. Harper was a teammate of Carr’s in college and Montgomery also has a relationship with the passer that could speed up the chemistry process.
During the preseason, athletic Nick Kasa was expected to take over tight end duties, but a knee injury has shelved him for the year.
Each week, Carr has shown more reliance upon Mychal Rivera to move the chains. The former Tennessee prospect is mounting a serious challenge to be the team’s long-term starter, pulling down 38 of 62 targeted passes for 334 yards and three scores. He’s drawn some ire from the staff due to ball security issues, though, leading the receiving corps with three fumbles. Backup David Ausberry has only two catches to show for the season and unless the team is confident that Kasa can work in tandem with Rivera next year, a late-round pick at this position might be needed. One definite Raider-like target could be 27-year-old Massachusetts Junior Jean Sifrin, a 6-5 former basketball player who is currently third among college tight ends in receptions and second in receiving yardage average.
Running Backs…#20-Darren McFadden; #21-Maurice Jones-Drew; #28-Latavius Murray…Fullbacks…#45-Marcel Reece; #49-Jamize Olawale…Practice Squad TB #34-George Atkinson III…Injured Reserve TB #22-Taiwan Jones; TB #30-Kory Sheets.
Pardon the pun here, but for rebuilding the running corps, the Raiders would have been better off “passing” on signing Jacksonville castoff Maurice Jones-Drew and inking Darren McFadden to a one-year deal. Jones-Drew had battled myriad injuries during his Jaguars career and that bug continued once he put on the Silver & Black jersey.
Hand surgery stalled the start of his 2014 season and he has not run for a first down since the season opener. To date, he has tallied just 69 yards on 36 carries, all for the handsome sum of $2.5 million. He’s due another $2.5 mil in 2015, but cutting him saves all of that cap money next year.
McFadden leads the team with 422 yards on 125 carries, but with a 3.4-yard average and a paycheck of $1.654 million, he’s seen his playing time drop considerably the last two weeks. The Raiders are recognizing the hidden talent of Latavius Murray, whose late-season emergence has seen him average 11.9 yards per rushing attempt.
Drafted out of Central Florida in the sixth round of the 2013 draft by Oakland, he spent his first season with the team on injured reserve with a foot injury. Originally drafted to handle return chores, he was buried on the depth chart for the first half of this season behind McFadden and Jones-Drew Before the Raiders turned to Murray in Week 11 to provide a spark after ineffectiveness by McFadden and Jones-Drew all year.
Murray has responded by totaling 59 yards on seven touches vs. San Diego. He scored his first professional touchdown on an 11-yard run vs. the Chiefs, the first rushing touchdown KC had given up all year. Later in the second quarter, Murray went untouched on a 90-yard touchdown run. On his fourth carry of the game, he received a helmet-to-helmet hit and was taken out of the game with a concussion, leaving his status for the rest of the year to be determined by his future medical.
Oakland realizes it has one of the best-short yardage runners and safety valves receivers in the industry at fullback, handing Marcel Reece a three-year contract extension worth $11.02 million. His 2014 base salary of $3.98 million was guaranteed for injury only at the time of signing and became fully guaranteed on the third day following the 2013 Super Bowl.
Each year Reece is selected to the Pro Bowl he will earn a $100,000 bonus. It is safe to say he will not collect that Pro Bowl bonus this year, as he’s managed just 60 yards with no touchdowns on 14 carries and 103 yards on 19 catches. He’s backed up by Jamize Olawale, but he’s a restricted free agent after the season making $525K that has accounted for no yards on two carries and three receptions.
Offensive Line…Left Tackle #72-Donald Penn; #73-Matt McCants…Left Guard #66-Gabe Jackson…Center #61-Stefen Wisniewski; #67-Kevin Boothe…Right Guard #77-Austin Howard; #70-Tony Bergstrom…Right Tackle #59-Khalif Barnes; #71-Menelik Watson… Practice Squad OG #63-Lamar Maddy; OT #65-Danny Kistler, Jr.
The offensive line has done a solid job of protecting the pocket, as rookie quarterback Derek Carr has been sacked only 12 times, tied for the ninth-lowest figure in the NFL. The problem is, none of their blockers are having any sort of success opening holes for a running corps that ranks dead last in the league with an average of 63.0 yards per game through the team’s first 10 contests.
Their success vs. one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL recently saw the Raiders explode for 179 yards vs. Kansas City, including posting the first two scores by a ball carrier vs. the Chiefs this season. However, that total included a 90-yard touchdown, as Latavius Murray raced untouched in a gallop that brought back memories of Bo Jackson during his NFL debut vs. Seattle (Bo ran for a long touchdown and right into the tunnel to beat the team in the locker room at halftime).
The Raiders brought in Tampa Bay reject Donald Penn to man left tackle chores, handing the veteran coming off a subpar 2013 campaign a two-year deal that pays out $9.6 million. The right tackle spot is currently manned by Jacksonville reject Khalif Barnes, who took over the spot recently after the team soured on 2013 second-rounder Menelik Watson.
The second-year player had started six consecutive games, but while he’s been effective in pass protection, false starts and inability to open the rushing lanes have the staff wondering if he is the “next” Bruce Campbell (great athlete but can’t put it together). Also lending tackle depth is Matt McCants, a 49er in 2013.
With so many issues at receiver, cornerback and on the defensive line, the team might have to hit the free agent market for some better options at the right tackle spot. They will likely keep Watson and Barnes ($1.85 million in 2015) around, at least for 2015 training camp, but with at least $55 million to spend under the 2015 cap, a veteran presence better than Barnes is needed.
The Raiders could go for 31-year-old Doug Free, who has had some contract issues with Dallas, as the Pokes annually threaten to cut him if he did not restructure his deal. Still, with a young team, spending on a guy north of age 30 might not be prudent. Better options might be 26-year-old right tackles Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay) and the Rams’ Joe Barksdale, who was originally drafted by Oakland.
The offensive line’s only pending free agent is too valuable to lose – All Pro-caliber center Stefen Wisniewski. The Raiders’ legacy has started at either guard or the pivot since he was taken in the second round of the 2011 draft. The team will have to pay heavily for him, as the draft lacks blue chip talent at this position, but it is certain that he can add at least another “digit” to his paycheck which gives him $1,033,851 in the final year of his rookie deal.
If the team does let Wisniewski leave, they have a huge hole to fill, not only on the field but in the locker room. The only other center on the roster is former New York Giant, Kevin Boothe, but his redeeming value is as a fill-in at both guard spots and center, not as a full-time starter. What makes a Wisniewski signing imperative is retaining chemistry up front and realizing that the only halfway decent players on the free agent market are 34-year-old Nick Hardwick, on the Chargers injured reserve, and soon to be 38-year-old Detroit tough guy Dominic Raiola.
Gabe Jackson, a 2014 third-round pick, has been a pleasant surprise, stepping into the lineup at left guard since arriving at training camp. He leads the front wall with an average of eight knockdowns per game but has been limited in recent weeks due to a knee injury. The right guard spot is owned by former New York Jets right tackle Austin Howard, whose arrival put 2012 third rounder Tony Bergstrom on the bench. With Boothe likely to be part of the second unit next year, just a warm body or two in camp is expected to be added for guard competition.
The defensive squad has not fared much better than their offensive teammates, as they have allowed opponents to gain 3,652 yards in total offense, the 17th highest total yielded by an NFL team. They are last in the league with just 10 sacks recorded, as they have defended only 37 passes, tied with Seattle for the league’s 26th-lowest figure, thanks to picking off just five passes, tying Jacksonville for the 27th-lowest figure in the NFL. The team is seventh with 706 total tackles and rank third with an impressive 533 solo hits. They are tied for 16th with nine forced fumbles, but recovered just three of them. The only team with fewer fumble recoveries is Denver, with two. The Raiders continue to be plagued by the yellow flag, as their 75 penalties rank as the sixth-highest total in the NFL, resulting in lost yardage of 617, eighth-highest in the league. Only four teams have given up more points than the Raiders (265) and they allowed 213 first downs, the ninth-highest total in the NFL.
Defensive Line…Left End #91-Justin Tuck; #96-Denico Autry…Left Tackle #94-Antonio Smith; #92-Stacy McGee…Nose Guard #78-Justin Ellis; #90-Pat Sims…Right End #98-C.J. Wilson; #95-Benson Mayowa…Practice Squad DE #75-Shelby Harris; NG #93-Ricky Lumpkin…Injured Reserve RDE #58-LaMarr Woodley.
Bringing in a quartet of veterans at a 2014 combined salary of $16,793,750 has seen that motley crew help the team rank last in the NFL with just 10 sacks, as the front wall allowed an average of 129.8 yards per game on the ground through the first 10 contests, the 27th-worst figure in the league. Right end LaMarr Woodley, currently on injured reserve with a biceps injury, is pulling in $4.843 million this year. In six games before being sidelined, his stats chart read five tackles (3 solos). With the team able to save all of his 2015 salary of $5.35 million if they cut him, expect the former Steeler to seek employment in a 3-4 scheme next year, as he failed miserably when trying to convert to defensive end from his customary strong-side linebacker spot.
Filling in for Woodley is C.J. Wilson, who has 19 tackles with two of the team’s 10 sacks, splitting time with Seattle castoff Benson Mayowa. Claimed on waivers, he’s posted 10 tackles and has shown enough that the team wants him to return in 2015. Wilson, if he is in training camp next year, might be better off challenging for an inside spot at tackle, as Pat Sims, Antoine Smith and Stacy McGee might not be Raiders in 2015. The East Carolina product is making $795K this year and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, but is not likely to draw much attention from other teams.
Signed for $2 million this year, Sims has delivered 21 tackles from the nose guard position, but it is fourth-round find Justin Ellis who has started nine times this year, adding 14 hits from that position. The Louisiana Tech product has had good success when lining up directly over center. He was dominant collapsing the pocket vs. both San Diego and Kansas City in recent weeks.
With Ellis taking advantage of one-on-one matchups to tie up blockers and stuff the run, it has allowed left tackle Antonio Smith to also attack the backfield more often, as the former Houston Texan has posted all three of his stops-for-loss in his last two games, giving him 14 tackles for a $4.95 million dollar payday. Smith might not return next season, as he’s due $4 million, and cutting him will save the Raiders his full salary vs. the cap.
When the Giants let Justin Tuck leave via free agency, the team cited nagging injuries that led to his decline. He’s not exactly setting the world on fire in Oakland this season, as he’s battled knee and neck woes, but he does lead the front wall with 29 tackles. Brought in to pressure the pocket, he has just two sacks while making $5 million this year and next. That is a high price the team has to consider for an aging star in 2015 and, like Smith and Sims, cutting him would save the team all of those funds.
With at least a very early pick, more likely the first overall selection in the 2015 draft, Southern California’s Leonard Williams would look perfect in a Silver and Black uniform. With him on the right side, in place of Woodley, and in front of possible NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, strong-side linebacker Khalil Mack, the mantra of “winning is everything” could return to Oakland next season.
Williams would not be the only addition up front, as there has to be a major upheaval in the trenches. If they use their first pick on the Trojans standout and McKenzie truly wants to make a splash, he will open up the vaults to entice Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh to eat up a good portion of the $55-plus million the team has freed up in cap money. They can even go for another “bad boy” and try to help Greg Hardy (Carolina) salvage his career with a one-year deal and push Tuck back out on the unemployment line.
Linebackers…Strong-side Outside #52-Khalil Mack…Middle #56-Miles Burris…Weak-side Outside #55-Sio Moore; #51-Jamar Chaney; #57-Ray Ray Armstrong…Practice Squad OLB #51-Spencer Hadley; OLB #54-Bojay Filimoeatu…Injured Reserve MLB #53-Nick Roach.
When Nick Roach was placed on injured reserve due to concussion issues, the Raiders had to turn to their 2014 first-round selection to provide playmaking ability from what is perhaps the weakest linebacker unit in the league, if you take Khalil Mack out of the equation. Roach is sorely missed, as the former Chicago Bear was one of the defense’s few bright spots in 2013, when he registered 112 tackles with 5.5 sacks.
When he went down during the preseason, unknown Miles Burris stepped in and has started every game for Oakland. Currently, Burris is nursing a hip pointer, but still ranks third on the team with 78 tackles (54 solos), making five stops-for-loss. Still, the team looks at the San Diego State 2012 fourth-rounder as more of a back-up type.
If the team feels that Roach will not return in 2015, they can save $2.13 million of his projected $3.7M salary in 2015 by cutting him. They have a pair of second-round choices that they might be able to package and entice a playoff team for a late first-round pick, where most analysts feel that Mississippi State Benardrick McKinney is the best “MIKE” guy in the collegiate ranks.
Mack leads the team with 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage among his 59 tackles, allowing the front office the comfort of knowing strong-side outside linebacker chores will be in highly capable hands for the immediate future.
Athletically gifted Sio Moore is stationed at weak-side linebacker, but as good as he is as an athlete, he lacks ball recognition skills. Moore was taken to task by announcer Mike Mayock for his lackadaisical play vs. Peyton Manning and the Broncos. He does lead the team with 82 tackles and three sacks, but suffered a neck stinger vs. Green Bay that put him on the shelf for two games.
With Moore out, it exposed the lack of depth on the linebacker unit. The trio backing up the starters, Jamar Chaney, Ray Ray Armstrong and Bojay Filimoeatu, have combined for just 13 tackles this season, making all three easily replaced. Chaney is expected to hit the free agent market, but at a price tag of $740K for four tackles, it is hard to imagine the team wanting to bring him back next year.
While Moore is expected to hold on to his starting job next year (will be paid slightly over $840K in 2015), revamping the second unit will become a third-day draft priority. Keep an eye on small-college stars like Harvard’s Zack Hodges, Norfolk State’s Lynden Trail and Chattanooga’s Charles Tull to be perfect additions, if still around after the fourth round.
Secondary…Left Cornerback #27-Carlos Rogers; #38-Travis Carrie; #39-Keith McGill… Strong Safety #29-Brandian Ross; #29-Larry Asante…Free Safety #24-Charles Woodson; #41-Jonathan Dowling…Right Cornerback #23-Tarell Brown; #35-Chimdi Chekwa; #31-Neiko Thorpe; #25-D.J. Hayden…Practice Squad CB #36-Ras-I Dowling…Injured Reserve Strong Safety #33-Tyvon Branch…Free Safety #26-Usama Young.
The Raiders secondary could have a completely different look in 2015, thanks to seven players on the roster expected to hit the free agent market. It is impressive that the group assembled is ranking 12th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 235.4 yards per game through their 10-game losing streak, as injuries have caused a constant shuffle and players being brought in by the busload for auditions.
Some of those auditions seemed to have unearthed some quality depth, as Larry Asante has made 24 tackles and Brandian Ross tallied 31 more filling in for Tyvon Branch at strong safety. Branch made 30 tackles in three starts before a foot injury put him on injured reserve. He’s on the books for $9.657 million next year, the highest cap figure on the team, but cutting him would cost Oakland $6.67M in dead pool money. Still, the team has been keeping close tabs on Samford’s Jaquiski Tartt as a possible second/third-round draft target.
Ageless Charles Woodson is actually tied for the team lead with 82 tackles and had one sack, six pass deflections and two interceptions while starting every game. An ankle injury put Usama Young on the shelf after six games, but he made 23 tackles with a sack at free safety, with Woodson sliding over to nickel back when Young stepped on the field.
Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown were signed for $3.5 million each on one-year deals, the same salary Oakland handed Woodson on the same contract. Rogers has missed four games with a knee injury, but luckily the team got back 2013 first rounder D.J. Hayden just as Rogers went to the trainer’s room. Rogers had produced 35 tackles, four behind the line of scrimmage, before he hurt his knee and the coaches fear that he might miss the rest of the season.
Hayden, with a slew of injuries stalling his progress since his final year in college, has stepped in and played at an All-Pro pace through three starting assignments. He’s handled the opponent’s top receiver while making 19 tackles with six pass break-ups and an interception. Brown has collected 49 tackles, fifth-best on the team, but has defended only three tosses.
In addition to the injuries suffered by Rogers, Young and Branch that caused a revamping of the secondary, the team has seen Travis Carrie (ankle) and Jonathan Dowling (back) miss games this year. After the season, contracts expiring by Brown, Rogers, Woodson and Asante (all unrestricted) will have to be addressed.
Brandian Ross and Chimdi Chekwa are also in the final year of their contracts, but are restricted free agents. Safety Neiko Thope is also on an expiring deal, but the Raiders own exclusive rights.
Because the offense has failed to mount too many drives, the Raiders rank last in the NFL in scoring (152 points). They are tied for fifth-best in the league with 11 field goals made, placing 18th with a field goal success rate of 84.6 percent (11 of 13) and 28th with just 17 successful extra points. Oakland leads the NFL for most punts (64) and punt yardage (2,887), but their average of 45.1 yards is good for only 18th. They rank 11th with a net average of 41.7 yards and their 19 punts downed inside the 20-yard line is the sixth-best figure in the league. Opponents have returned 22 of those punts, the highest figure vs. any NFL team, as only eight other teams allowed more yardage via punt returns than Oakland (216), as the opposition average of 9.8 yards per punt return is the ninth-highest in the NFL.
Capping The Future
With the 2015 salary cap expected to increase to above $140 million, the current Raiders roster is on the books for only $85,118,838 (Top 51: $85,118,838) in 2015, with the offensive players accounting for $36,778,525, the defensive unit costing $42,686,788 and the special teams squad receiving $4,737,500.
“Dead Pool” money in 2015 will cost the Raiders only $916,025, with Kaluka Maiava accounting for $678,334 from that total. Four other players will cost five figures – Greg Little ($75K), Jack Crawford ($45,606), Shelby Harris ($40,209) and Juron Criner ($36,140) among the total of 15 athletes receiving payouts for not wearing an Oakland uniform next year.
2015 Top “Dirty Dozen-Plus Three” Salary Cap Players
|Name||Base Salary||Bonuses||Cap Number||Dead Money & Cap Savings|
|Maurice Jones Drew||$2,400,000||$100,000||$2,500,000||$0||$2,500,000|
If the Draft Was Held Today…The Raiders have not had a winning season since they lost in the Super Bowl after the 2012 schedule. Since then, they have compiled a 53-133 record and outside of the 2010-11 campaigns, when the team recorded back-to-back 8-8 records, they have not ranked better than 23rd for points scored and have been no better than 17th in total offense.
Feeling they have their quarterback for the future in place, the Raiders need to concentrate on bringing in quality playmakers for Derek Carr to get the ball to. Wide receiver and tailback will be primary needs on offense, while cornerback and the defensive line should see a handful of veterans leave, either through free agency, retirement or by being sent to the unemployment line.
With only 10 sacks through the first 10 games, all that money spent to bulk up the front wall (LaMarr Woodley, Antoine Smith, Justin Tuck) failed to improve the team’s chances for wreaking havoc in the backfield. They will look to bring in another big body at defensive tackle and want to find a smart middle linebacker to handle defensive signals. They will also have to come to the realization that their 2013 top draft picks might be too fragile (cornerback D.J. Hayden) and too much of a raw talent (offensive tackle Menelik Watson) to be counted upon to contribute any time soon.
Oakland seems to be on the road to securing the top pick in the draft. Ownership needs to do everything and anything they can to insure that GM Reggie McKenzie does not pull off another disastrous first-round trade like he did when handing the third overall choice in the 2013 to Miami for the chance to draft Hayden and Watson.
If I Was Drafting For Oakland in Round One…I really feel that if they get a package deal, the team will use the “Marcus Mariota Sweepstakes” to load up with more draft choices. Still, the 2013 debacle is still very fresh in Raiders fans minds. If they can get extra second- and third-round choices, along with a handful of future picks, trading down is a possibility, especially if they still have a very good chance of grabbing Alabama receiver Amari Cooper in the process.
If the front office is unable to trade down, I have to put on my “Mr. Spock Ears” and take the only player that I feel is worthy of being the top pick in the draft – Southern California’s standout defensive lineman, Leonard Williams, often compared to former Raider Richard Seymour, in his prime.