Oakland Raiders: Predicting McKenzie's Agenda
Bret Armstrong – Feb 25, 2012With the new coaching staff in place, it's time for this new Oakland Raiders regime to start focusing on free agency and the NFL draft. One thing we've learned is that it's abundantly hard to predict what kind of moves the Raiders are going to make moving forward.
Normally by this point of the offseason, you would have a good idea of whom is going to be kept and/or restructured and exactly what the Raiders are looking for in the draft. Al Davis generally wasted no time in getting his guys back under contract. In addition, you would have a pretty good idea of what players the Raiders were targeting in free agency and the draft.
As of now, however, new General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen are not tipping their hand. Their unified poker face has left columnists grasping at straws as to what direction this team is headed. Nobody knows for sure whether the team is looking to rebuild or if they are looking to add a few key pieces.
A few things we do know are that they will have at least one new starting cornerback, Carson Palmer, Richard Seymour, and Darren McFadden will all be around in 2012, and they would really like to re-sign strong safety Tyvon Branch to a long-term contract.
Being the kind of guy that I am, I'm going to go out on a limb for you Raider Nation. I'm going to guess some things that will and will not happen based on the feel that I'm getting from the new regime.
Whether it is through the draft or free agency, the defensive side of the ball will be the most changed unit in 2012. Amongst rampant speculation that Michael Huff and Kamerion Wimbley could follow Stanford Routt out the door, perhaps this is the most obvious prediction to make.
Clearly, finishing in the bottom of the league is unacceptable and Reggie McKenzie saw that this was an overpaid unit. Right now, I believe McKenzie is working on a new deal with Richard Seymour's agent as well as Tyvon Branch's. I'm confident that a new deal with Seymour can be worked out that helps the Raiders save some cap space and helps Seymour end his career in Oakland. As for Branch, if they can't get a deal done by March 5th, they will franchise him to the tune of $6.6 million this season.
Seymour's counterpart, Tommy Kelly, is another contract that they will attempt to re-work. He has three years left at $27.6 million cap figure. Kelly has been productive, but that doesn't change the fact that his remaining contract could help the Raiders gain two-three more players in the near future. He is on the chopping block if he refuses to restructure.
At this point it looks like the Raiders are going to bring back Aaron Curry over Kamerion Wimbley. Curry is at a price of $5.7 million this year while Wimbley holds a price-tag of $11 million. Curry could most definitely sign a longer-term contract that would save the Raiders $1-2 million this season while Wimbley has made it known he will not re-structure.
Michael Huff is a player that the Raiders would love to keep around for his versatility. He is also a bright spot in the locker room and a very talented player. But with a $4 million base salary and a $4 million bonus, it may be too much money to pay for a guy that could struggle with a positional change from free safety to cornerback.
However, I think Michael Huff needs to be retained for that versatility to either play safety or cornerback. While the Raiders would like to get that cap hit down, if they release a couple other players, that $8 million may be a hit worth taking for a guy that could end up being the number one cornerback on the team.
I'd expect some of these guys will be moving on with their careers, outside of the Raiders organization. Whether or not an upgrade is made at their position is not as important as saving the money that they probably don't deserve. It's hard to justify paying $28 million this year to three starters on a unit that frankly just stunk this past season.
Team Will Prosper with Current Wide Receivers
When you think of number one wide receivers in the league, you don't typically think of a fifth round draft choice. That is exactly what the Raiders have in Denarius Moore however. This is a guy that had a phenomenal rookie season in spite of missing a few games with injury.
In addition to Moore, the Raider had a breakout year from third year receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. DHB had 64 catches for just under 1,000 yards. You put him in the number two spot and let the defense try to cover these guys.
Then you add Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy as complimentary receivers and I really don't see how you need anybody else in this unit at the current time given the other needs of this team.
One of the things I would look for is the team adding a tight end threat other than Kevin Boss. Don't be surprised if they look to draft a tight end that could be a threatening presence in a year or two of development. Clearly last season it was a priority when they draft two tight ends late in the draft. Trouble is that neither of them was a home run.
As far as adding a Marques Colston or Mike Wallace, that is a pipe dream of some overzealous sports writers.
Michael Bush Free to Explore FA
With the announcement that Darren McFadden will be the primary runner for the Raiders backfield this year, don't expect the team to put a high price tag on back-up Michael Bush. They will let Bush test the market this season and see what kind of interest there is. If his highest offer is in the $4 million price range then maybe they will look to re-sign him to be their pounder.
If the offer is higher than that, they will let him walk and he will be dawning a new uniform next season. Reggie McKenzie won't care if he has number one capability, he would rather spend the money on remodeling the practice field to prevent injuries to McFadden's feet.
Falcons back-up Jason Snelling, Chiefs back-ups Jackie Battle or Thomas Jones, and Lions Back-up Jerome Harrison could all be suitable players to fill Bush's role for a year or two while the Raiders attempt to fill his shoes through the draft in the 2012 undrafted class or the 2013 class. Don't count out Packers free agent halfback Ryan Grant either.
At Least One Lineman
The biggest area of need on the offense is the right side of the offensive line. For years, the Raiders refused to build their offensive line, instead choosing to stock up on skill players for the offensive side of the ball.
That was until the last two drafts, which allotted the Raiders with two franchise players on the left side of the line with tackle Jared Veldheer and interior lineman Stefen Wisniewski.
While Samson Satele is a suitable center if there are no other options, the position that needs to be replaced would be the right guard spot presently occupied by Cooper Carlisle. For a few years now, just about everyone has said this spot needs to be upgraded. Every year, Carlisle steps up and plays all 16 games and plays the position well enough to not be overtaken by the youngsters behind him,
Even if Carlisle has a good couple years left to play at that level, which is doubtful, the Raiders should have a better option behind him than Bruce Campbell.
It appears that third-round pick from the 2011 draft, Joe Barksdale, will be taking over the right tackle position in place of Khalif Barnes. If Barksdale is as good this season as Barnes was last season, the position will be his moving forward and the Raiders will be in a good place moving into the forseeable future with this high-potential developing offensive line.
As for this draft though, in order to complete this offensive line makeover, look for the Raiders to take another offensive lineman to compete on the right side high in this draft, with a third or fourth round compensatory pick.
One Last Thing
Just for the record, Reggie McKenzie will not trade up in the draft. He is a guy that said from the beginning that he likes his draft picks. Odds are any movement the Raiders make in the draft from here on out will be moving down rather than moving up.
However, that is not to say they won't trade a player or two for picks.
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