The human meat market known as the NFL scouting combine is a mere two weeks away, and so starts draft season.
The Oakland Raiders are a team with many needs. Tackle, defensive tackle, linebacker, running back, and more. Other than quarterback, there’s need for some turnover.
Over $50 million in cap space, with what could become the best free agent class in the salary cap era upcoming, the team can fill several needs before the draft begins. Not all free agents are created equal, too, and we’re not talking talent-wise.
There are a few different classifications of free agents.
Unrestricted, which is the most common, meaning the player can sign with any team and said team wouldn’t be required to surrender a draft pick.
Exclusive rights, which means the player has the exclusive right to sign with his former team or sit the season out – so hardly a free agent.
And then there’s restricted free agents, players who can sign with another team, though that team would need to surrender a draft pick decided by the “offer sheet,” or amount the former team has offered the player for another year’s worth of services.
Restricted free agency is on the verge of extinction, though not yet defunct. Most restricted free agents are not household names, only undrafted players or those who have been cut by their original teams become restricted.
Yet, there are normally a few who exceed expectations and become desirable players who can help bolster many rosters. One of the more prominent players in this category, Cleveland’s Tashaun Gipson, is 24 years old and could fill a long term need for Oakland.
If the Browns extend a first round tender to Gipson, meaning that any team who wanted to acquire him would need to surrender a first round pick, then the undrafted safety would likely remain with Cleveland.
A second round tender, or a non-tender, though? We’d be talking about the possibility that Gipson move into a different abode.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie has shown aggressive tendencies since coming to Oakland, though it mostly regarded quarterback, and might not be shy on adding a RFA.
But that could skew the draft process more than a little.
As of February, the Raiders hold the fourth-overall draft pick in the first round, third in the second round, and alternating back and forth until the end.
The first round pick could garner a whole lot of capital if Oakland decided to move back a few spots. Pass rushers Randy Gregory and Leonard Williams project as possibilities there, but if they’re both gone, it’d seem plausible that Oakland would indeed move back for extra selections.
If a player like Gipson is signed to a second round tender, then the scenario seems all the more likely. And obviously, should the Raiders acquire someone like defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, they’d be in a strong position to move back.
And that isn’t too far of a reach, though it’s still a reach. With that said, let’s get some questions answered.
@LeskiwSFBay @sfbay If Williams/Gregory are gone, is it best to trade down? Not much WR separation in the class.
— 559 Raider 87 (@559Raider87) February 4, 2015
I would say yes, absolutely. This draft class is strong with pass rushers, and though Donald Penn anchored down left tackle like a champ in 2014, they have a sincere need for a franchise tackle. Or two.
There are a few that look pretty good at this point, and the team still likes Menelik Watson, who will be entering his third season.
If Oakland moved back to the 10th spot, held by St. Louis, they could (in theory) get an extra second rounder and only have to wait a few turns.
The Jimmy Johnson trade chart, which serves as a quick value guide to draft picks, much like Blue Book is to vehicles, stops there. If a premium quarterback like Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota is available, the team could possibly get a larger return.
That would be a very strong option, and is distinctly possible. Even to the tune of a first rounder in 2016 on top of an extra second round pick.
With that, they can add two premium tackles, or a premium tackle and pass rusher, add in a running back or linebacker, really a myriad of other scenarios could play out. It’s reasonable to think that could happen.
@LeskiwSFBay you think the raiders take white or cooper?
— mdub (@mdub_9) February 4, 2015
This questions comes about a lot. I prefer Kevin White (West Virginia) to Amari Cooper (Alabama) as receiver prospects go, but don’t see either being drafted by the Raiders. Not in the first round, anyway.
Especially not if Dorial Green-Beckham is still available, my favored receiver in the draft class.
Frankly, though, the Raiders should be able to address the wide receiver position in free agency, and can take a value receiver late in the draft, or even sign an undrafted rookie. In the end, this class isn’t terribly strong at receiver, and the team would be better served adding pass protection.
Both teams had got the best out of their running backs (a no-brainer) and their overall offensive success rate was greatly increased. The Jaguars, though they had a rookie quarterback as well, went shallow on pass protection, and emphasis on receivers.
That didn’t go well, and hasn’t since the expansion team entered the NFL about two decades ago. That’s a mistake the Raiders cannot afford to make.
Their defensive core, while not quite exceptional, has shown the ability to grow as a unit and as individuals. Sio Moore, Khalil Mack, T.J. Carrie and D.J. Hayden will only get better, and that’s a pretty good look.
Oakland won the three games that they controlled the line of scrimmage (cliche, I know) this past season, and can stand to improve there. If they ran well and dominated the point of attack just a little bit better in 2014, it’s not unreasonable to think an 8-8 season could have happened.
One solid draft should make that a reality, even with a tough schedule, and upgrading the line could put them in contention.
Yes, that should sound like lunacy to some. Yes, that’s a bold look. But when the Raiders got consistent knock-back, they won. The problem was inconsistency.
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.