Raiders refuse to tag Donald Penn

Tagging season has come and gone. And like the last several seasons, the Raiders weren’t involved.

The Raiders may have misjudged their fortunes, though, as they missed a chance to hit left tackle Donald Penn with the transition tag, which would have paid him almost $12 million, but kept him around.

Unless of course another team made an offer that the Raiders refused to match, a caveat of the transition tag, and key reason that the salaries are so much lower than the franchise tag.

It seems unreasonable that many teams would offer a 33 year old tackle a notable contract, and Penn is more valuable to Oakland than any other team.

We’ve seen the results when mixing and matching offensive lines over the last 20 seasons, and in most cases, the results aren’t excellent. Miami found it necessary to overhaul their line after the Jonathan Martin bully scandal, and though they added several high profile players, they didn’t have great results.

The Broncos started something close to a whole new offensive line this season, along with a totally new offense, and the results were poor. The story continues that way in nearly every case.

And for the Raiders, who have one of the best lines in the league from center to left tackle, and likely to sign a right guard and right tackle in free agency, continuity could be a major key to success in 2016.

That’s not to say that the Raiders won’t work out a deal with Penn before free agency opens. But the team hasn’t managed to keep their offensive line free agents over the last few offseasons.

First it was left tackle Jared Veldheer, who Penn replaced. Then center Stefen Wisniewski made unreasonable demands before signing a cheap deal with Jacksonville, and being replaced by big ticket center Rodney Hudson.

There’s no questioning that Oakland has had great success under general manager Reggie McKenzie when it comes to adding free agent big men. Of course there’s also the underwhelming play of Austin Howard, and the Rodger Saffold failed physical debacle.

It’s not like the Raiders made the wrong move when they failed Saffold. He’s been injured ever since re-upping with the Rams in 2014, despite his argument that the Raiders really just got cold feet.

Howard wasn’t the first choice there, and McKenzie was placed in a tough predicament. It’s hard to hold that move against him.

But since the Bills put the franchise tag on tackle Cordy Glenn, the best tackle that was scheduled to hit the open market, who is there that could represent a reasonable upgrade over Penn?

There’s Russell Okung, who represents a possibility, though his injury history is less than ideal. Kelvin Beachum of Pittsburgh is young and improving, but there isn’t a lot to bet on when gambling on a rising passing attack in a division reeling from the salary cap and old age.

There could be an agreement between Penn’s representatives and the Raiders that he seek out his value, and shoot Oakland a number to match. It’d probably be lower than the number that Oakland would be bound to if they used the transition tag.

But Penn has been clear in his desire to get paid. He wants to be paid like a top 10 left tackle, which he has been since joining the Raiders.

McKenzie has made his preference for younger free agents clear in his actions, bringing in Hudson, defensive tackle Dan Williams, and a few other guys who were coming off their rookie deals.

These deals have worked out. As have McKenzie’s deals for big men on either side of the ball. But one might wonder if he could make the wrong move, at one of the worst times.

When adding guard Kelechi Osemele and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz seems all but certain, and on paper, would give the Raiders the most dominant offensive line in the league.

So long as Penn is there.

Third year tackle Menelik Watson is the only other guy who could give Oakland any semblance of continuity, but he has been unable to remain healthy despite impressive growth as a football player.

Adding three free agent offensive linemen seems like a fools errand, especially considering history. And Penn is the only guy who could ensure that wont happen.

So why not just transition tag him?

It’s not likely that Penn gets a big deal like some of the other Raiders to leave in free agency. The deal that Veldheer got is not one that will even be considered for Penn.

But this feels very familar. Just like Veldheer and Wisniewski. And the transition tag would have ensured another year of familiar protection for one of the game’s best quarterbacks.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.