Raiders free agency preview: Offense

The winless Raiders are in a rut. Most recently, Oakland’s offense has been unable to match the intensity and production of the defense.

This is to be expected, at least to a part, with a rookie quarterback and two older running backs.

The team is also without a threatening wide receiver, their current group unable gain separation or come through in the clutch.

This is Part 2 of SFBay’s free agency preview for the Oakland Raiders. Part 1 is on the defense.

If the Raiders are going to win, they need to put up points. That’s basic, though the questions that need answering are damning.

How good can Derek Carr be? Is the lack of a run game the fault of the offensive line, or the running backs? Is it worth it to re-sign Stefen Wisniewski?

There are many unresolved issues for Oakland’s league worst offense, though one thing is clear: The only time to judge Carr is after four seasons with legitimate weapons.

Even Aaron Rodgers without Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb would have a steep climb towards the red zone in Oakland.

Despite the problems, there are also some bright spots. Carr, a rookie quarterback who’s well respected around the league, is a big one.

Most recently a running back named Latavius Murray stepped up against a division rival and kept the Raiders in the game. Offensive linemen Menelik Watson and Gabe Jackson seem to have solid careers ahead of them.

So, there’s something to build upon, and players have to know that.

Now that the prelude is finished, here’s a look at some team needs:

Wide receiver

On paper, the team has some solid guys. But so far, nobody is stepping it up enough. Surely, offensive coordinator Greg Olson will catch some heat for this. Perhaps he’s not even around by the time free agency begins in March of 2015.

This offseason might become known as the most talent-rich group of free agent wide outs since the salary cap was introduced in 1994.

Who is there, you ask? Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, Brandon Tate, Jeremy Maclin and others. The Raider could give Derek Carr some serious weapons, and have the means to do it.

What’s most important for the passing game is that receivers gain separation. The team already has a potentially top talent in Brice Butler, but the seventh round pick from 2013 seldom sees the field. When he does, he can, and often does, make big plays.

Butler’s 4.37 40-time and six-foot-three height helps, but for whatever reason, the coaching staff doesn’t get him involved often. Because of this, the sample is too small for anyone to precisely call. This author, though, believes Butler and another speedster could help form a very dynamic passing offense.

The complimentary receiver, selected in free agency, is Randall Cobb of the Green Bay Packers.

Cobb is dynamic, to say the least, and can take the top off of defenses any time he chooses. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie played a large part in bringing Cobb into the league when McKenzie served as director of player personnel with the Packers.

Having a combination of James Jones, Cobb and Butler in spread formations would also open up the run game, perhaps the largest benefit.

Shifting into 11 personnel — a term that describes an offensive formation consisting of one tight end, one running back, and three wide receivers — would open endless possibilities for the Oakland offense.

During the 2013 season, the Raiders were in 11 personnel on only 28.17 percent of plays, second last and only behind Houston.

Seven of the top 10 teams that used 11 personnel included Green Bay, Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta and the New York Giants. That certainly speaks volumes to the effectiveness of the personnel usage and overall productivity.

If the Raiders shifted to this concept, and McKenzie was able to pitch Cobb on their past relationship, the offense could quickly become dynamic.

Tight end

Inconsistency and lack of big plays out of Oakland’s tight ends has been a common theme over the past several seasons. This could change.

Since the Raiders haven’t recently had a big play threat at the position, the effectiveness is limited. All of the teams that run 11 personnel have a reliable tight end. The Raiders do not.

Several may hit the market in 2015: Jordan Cameron, Charles Clay, Julius Thomas Larry Donnell and Jermaine Gresham.

Denver has several free agents, too many to re-sign. Peyton Manning‘s contract also escalates $4 million over the next year. Julius Thomas seems the most likely candidate to walk.

Thomas is arguably the most talented tight end in football today. He’s clearly affected by Manning, and the way Denver moves the ball around, but he’s not the most productive such player in the NFL by accident.

And like Allen did with the Bears, like Steve Smith did with the Ravens, it wouldn’t be shocking if Thomas wanted to play for the other side, should Denver let him walk.

Cameron and Clay are also guys with big play ability, but should be considered second tier to Thomas. In any regard, though, all three are major upgrades to starting tight end Mychal Rivera.

Running back

Darren McFadden has some burst left, but the tank runs dry fairly quickly. Oakland’s run game has been worse than bad this season. And it could do wonders for the overall offense if they got something going.

Signing running backs in free agency is tough. Not because they’re not important, but because good ones don’t hit free agency often. Well, depending on how we define “good.”

In this context, it’s game-changing. A starting caliber guy that can take your offense to another level. There aren’t any hitting free agency. Yet.

A name that has hit reports in recent weeks is Marshawn Lynch, a.k.a. Beast Mode.

An Oakland native, Beast Mode is one of only a handful of players who we consider a game-changer. The Seattle Seahawks rode him to a Super Bowl title in the same way the Denver Broncos hope to ride Peyton Manning.

Another issue that has come into play since the 2011 rookie salary structure was introduced, the running back position has become devalued. As free agency goes, it’s nearly impossible to project a value for Lynch on the open market.

We’ll put it at $6 million — because he’s that much of a game-changer.

Lynch would almost certainly give Oakland a hard look. He spends most of the offseason here, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Raiders wanted him, but he didn’t want the Raiders.

Possible 2015 Raiders Offense

Factoring in the numbers, and assuming players might actually choose to sign with Oakland, the depth chart could look something like this:

QB 
Derek Carr ($1.2 million salary in 2015)
RB
Rookie ($640,000), Lynch ($6 million)
FB
Marcel Reece ($3.5 million)
WR
Dez Bryant ($14 million)
LT
Donald Penn ($5 million)
LG
Gabe Jackson ($672,000)
C
Stefen Wisniewski ($5 million, estimated)
RG
Austin Howard ($6.4 million)
RT
Menelik Watson ($1.3 million)
TE
Julius Thomas ($8.5 million)
WR
Jeremy Maclin ($8 million)
WR
James Jones ($3.1 million)

Total starting offeensive salary: $62.3 million.

Moving on

The Raiders have a number of players they may, and most likely will, move on from. Releasing these following players would create an extra $27 million in cap room:

SS 
SS Tyvon Branch ($3 million)
QB 
Matt Schaub ($5.5 million)
DE 
LaMarr Woodley ($5.4 million)
DT 
Antonio Smith ($4 million)
LB 
Nick Roach ($2.1 million)
RB 
Maurice Jones-Drew ($2.5 million)
LB 
Kaluka Maiava ($1.6 million)
OL 
Kevin Boothe ($1.6 million)
CB 
Taiwan Jones ($1.2 million)

Nine players total for a cap savings over $27 million. Cuts bring cap number to $58 million, less the $10 million in rollover, for a total pre-free agency hit of $48 million.
Salaries are in thousands

Nine Players total for a cap savings over $27 million. … Cuts bring cap number to $58 million, less the $10 million in rollover, for a total pre-free agency hit of $48 million.

Comparing contracts

These are some of the deals considered in assessing the free market value of the aforementioned players.

Wide Receiver

Other notables fall in category of first round rookie contract scale.

Rank
Player
Contract
Guaranteed
1
$16 million
$7 million
2
$16 million
$3.9 million
7
$10 million
$4.9 million
13
$8.5 million
$1.7 million
14
$8 million
$5.3 million
26
$5.5 million (1 year)
$3.5 million

Tight End

Rank
Player
Contract
Guaranteed
1
$10 million
$3.3 million
2
$9 million
$2.2 million
4
$7.4 million
$2.2 million
6
$7.2 million
$1.8 million
12
$5.1 million
$1.3 million
15
$4 million
$2.5 million
20
$3 million
$500,000

Left tackle

Rank
Player
Contract
Guaranteed
1
$12 million
$2.8 million
2
$11.5 million
$4.1 million
4
$10 million
$3.2 million
8
$9.4 million
$4 million
10
$8.5 million
$3 million
13
7.5 million
$3.5 million
17
7 million
$2.1 million

Right Tackle

Rank
Player
Contract
Guaranteed
1
$7 million
$3.1 million
2
$6.6 million
$1.7 million
4
$6 million
$1.8 million
4
Austin Howard (plays RG)
$6 million
$2 million
10
$4.5 million
$1.8 million

Right Guard

Rank
Player
Contract
Guaranteed
1
$8.1 million
$2.7 million
2
$6.4 million
$2 million
3
$6.3 million
$2.2 million
4
$6 million (1 year)
N/A
8
$4.5 million
$1.2 million
9
$4.2 million
$1.4 million
14
$2.8 million
$625,000

Left Guard

Rank
Player
Contract
Guaranteed
1
$8.5 million
$3.6 million
3
$7.2 million
$3.2 million
8
$5.1 million
$1.2 million
15
Dan Connolly
$3.3 million
$1.5 million

Center

Rank
Player
Contract
Guaranteed
1
$8.8 million
$2.6 million
2
$8.4 million
$2.6 million
3
$8.2 million
$3.2 million
7
$6.3 million
$1.7 million
18
$2.3 million
$2.3 million

Salaries more than $1 million rounded to nearest $100,000. Data via OverTheCap.com. 


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