ALAMEDA — While their coaching search will take up most of the Oakland Raiders’ news cycle, free agency is set to begin in March, and some current Raiders players might make a difference toward major acquisitions.
The 3-13 Oakland Raiders are a mostly young team, something head coach Tony Sparano likes to reiterate. But veterans like Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith have been chatting about an effort to right the ship. Smith said:
“Me, myself, I’ve never done the recruiting thing. I talk to a couple of my brothers that I’m real close with around the league, we became free agents at the same time as me. You try to talk each other into going there, but I don’t know about the recruiting thing. Me and Tuck were actually just talking about that like, ‘Man, we’ve got to go out here, we’ve got to get guys coming here.’ I just start laughing. If you do have that power, if Tuck has that power, more power to him — get us everything we need.”
It’s easy to imagine, though Tuck isn’t one to toot his horn often, that the two-time Super Bowl champion has some sway with the upcoming free agent class. One that Tuck played alongside, Jason Pierre-Paul, is one.
Players who were already in Oakland, such is the case with linebacker Sio Moore, welcomed Tuck as a mentor and were excited to play on the same team as him.
As for what the team needs, no player will give any names, nor positions, presumably to avoid throwing another under the bus. But Tuck doesn’t feel as though they need a lot:
“We’re not far off. Obviously, you look at the record and you say, ‘Well they’re at the bottom of the league,’ and things like that. I think I’ve played this game long enough and a lot of guys around us have played it long enough to know, like I said earlier, that the foundation has been set here with a lot of young players that grew up very quickly, especially at the quarterback position.”
The roster does have some holes.
Oakland could stand to upgrade the offensive line, and to add a true receiving threat. While offensive coordinator Greg Olson took heat for a exceptional number of short passes, seldom seen was a receiver who was wide open downfield.
The Raiders are confident in Latavius Murray and Derek Carr, though with the most cap room in the league, might add to their backfield. Names like Marshawn Lynch and Demarco Murray sound attractive, but Sparano says it’s not all about the big names:
“Not necessarily the best, but the right 53 players. I believe in that. That’s something that Bill Parcells told me a long time ago and kind of taught me. You might have a great player, he just might not be right for your team. He might be great for somebody else, just not great for the Raiders. But you might have this other guy sitting out there who’s a darn good player that is 100 percent right for your team.”
Sparano might not be around to coach the right 53 players, but the philosophy is one held by many around the league.
General manager Reggie McKenzie is committed to building through the draft, and has shown proficiency, though the sample is still small. His first true free agency period, last spring, found players like Tuck, Smith, cornerback Tarell Brown, among others.
But the record was one win shy of the previous two seasons, disasters on their own. Despite offering marquee players top dollar, they would opt to sign elsewhere.
If Tuck, Smith, tackle Donald Penn, and other veterans make a concerted effort to reach out to their gridiron brethren, it could be the ultimate difference.