Cap Analysis: Raiders

Updated: March 2nd 2016

Oakland Raiders

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In the winter of 2011, I evaluated the Raiders cap situation for a colleague who was a preliminary candidate for a personnel position with the Raiders. I remember it well, because the situation was an absolute mess. It was going to take multiple years to dig out of it – possibly longer than a single front office regime.

From 2007-2010, Al Davis used the team’s first round selections on JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Rolando McClain. He also traded the team’s 2011 first round selection for an aging Richard Seymour. I would be remiss if I did not note that while some of his later decisions were questionable, Davis also led the team to a lot of success over half a century and was a pioneer of modern football.

Davis passed away on October 8, 2011 – and in the immediately ensuing chaos, Hue Jackson was allowed to trade the team’s 2012 first round and 2013 second round selections to bring Carson Palmer out of retirement. Missing on and/or trading first round picks over a multi-year period, coupled with overinvesting in veteran contracts, is the kind of thing that can set a franchise back years (not unlike where the Browns appear to be today).

The team hired Reggie McKenzie in January 2012 and it took him several years to fix the mess and lay the foundation for success. But, the team is now in position to succeed in 2016 as it looks for its first winning record since 2002.

Projected 2016 Team Salary$94.5M (not including escalators and NLTBE* incentives) *Not Likely To Be Earned

Projected 2016 Cap Room: ~$74.1M (~$155.27M Estimate; ~$13.4M Rollover)

Situation: Strong 

The Raiders are probably still a year or two away from being able to compete with the best teams in the AFC; and, they’re locked in a division with the Broncos and Chiefs, who will both be winning teams in 2016. But, it will be interesting to see how aggressively the Raiders spend their $74.1M in available cap space (second only to the Jaguars).

After the Jets re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick (or another starter), the Raiders will have the NFL’s smallest investment in the quarterback position. That’s because Derek Carr is the league’s only starting quarterback who is still on his rookie contract and was not a first round pick. The team is still a year away from being able to negotiate extensions with Khalil Mack and Carr. Having a young, talented pass-rusher and pass-tosser on their rookie contracts is a luxury that should allow the team to invest in other important positions, like tackle and corner.

Notable Free Agents:

Oakland FAs

Donald Penn has protected Derek Carr’s blindside for all 32 games of Carr’s career. Penn and right tackle Austin Howard are a relatively formidable duo, but Penn is 32 and negotiations on his potential return to the team are reportedly on hold. The team is also scheduled to lose three utility lineman – Khalif Barnes, Tony Bergstrom, and J’Marcus Webb.

Charles Woodson’s impact to the Raiders the last few seasons can’t be measured solely by statistics, though he did manage to record five interceptions, a forced fumble, and four recoveries at age 39. I have to admit, I was really hoping Woodson would return for one more season to play safety at age 40. Two of the team’s other safeties, Larry Asante and Taylor Mays, are also free agents.

Aldon Smith is now almost three years removed from the days when he was averaging nearly a sack per game. But, he’s only 26, and if the team can find a way to retain him, he and Mack could form the league’s best pair of pass rushers for years to come.

Top Projected Cap Hits:

Oakland Top Cap Hits

Michael Crabtree, who originally signed a one-year deal with the Raiders last year, signed an extension in December that made him the team’s highest paid player. Rodney Hudson and Curtis Lofton each signed multi-year deals during free agency last year, but each was really a one-year deal with a team option for the future years. More on that in the next section…

Cap Casualty Watch List:

Oakland Cap Cas Watch List

March 11 is a big day for the Raiders. More than $10M of Michael Crabtree’s 2016 compensation becomes guaranteed that day. That’s all but a foregone conclusion since the team recently decided to extend Crabtree. But, more importantly, Rodney Hudson’s $7.35M base salary, and $3.5M of Curtis Lofton’s $5.35M base salary also become guaranteed. The team structured the deals in that fashion so that they could decide to move on after the first year. But, given that the team has almost $75M in cap space available, it would be a shock to see them release either.

Extension Watch List: 

Oakland Ext Watch List

The team can exercise D.J. Hayden’s fifth year option in a few weeks, pushing his expected free agency to March 2018. Hayden, who was Reggie McKenzie’s first first-round pick as general manager, has struggled in his first three years in the league, and it’s very possible the team will decline the option year.

David Amerson, a former Redskins second round pick who was claimed off waivers by the Raiders, could be a higher priority at corner than Hayden.

Latavius Murray had nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage in 2015, and yet had somewhat of a disappointing year for all of those who were predicting he would be a star. The team’s offensive line was much improved in 2015, but it was still only middle-of-the-pack as a collective group. It’s not easy to select a comp for Murray, with only two years of statistics, and 19 starts, entering a team controlled year.

There are huge gaps between the tiers in the running back market: tier 1 is now just Adrian Peterson ($14M APY) after Marshawn Lynch’s retirement. Tier 2 is Jamaal Charles ($9.05M APY) through Jonathan Stewart ($7.3M APY). Tier 3 is Shane Vereen ($4.17M APY) through Darren McFadden ($1.5M APY). And Tier 4 is every other runningback on a veteran contract above the minimum. Murray’s not going to be able to crack the second tier this offseason, but if he waits and puts up a monster season, it’s possible he could get there as a free agent in March. In the interim, there’s a chance an extension could exceed Shane Vereen’s $4.17M, closing the $3M+ gap between tier 2 and tier 3.

Position Needs: 

Corner, Safety, Offensive Line.

Sleeper Watch: 

Clive Walford became a relevant part of the offense in the last five weeks of the season, even if his statistics didn’t show it. Look for Walford to become a highly targeted option in 2016 with additional snaps and coverage focusing on Crabtree and Cooper.

Matt Papson (@RealitySportsMP) formerly worked in football administration for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the President, co-founder and creator of Reality Sports Online, a fantasy front office platform that enables fantasy owners to build and manage their fantasy team like a professional sports general manager. The Reality Sports Online platform has been featured in Fortune, on Bloomberg TV, and was the 2012 Fantasy Sports Trade Association Rookie of the Year.

Sources: Spotrac, Pro-Football Reference, and Rotoworld

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