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Free Agency Preview: Raiders Have a Whole Heap of Holes

Neil Dutton reviews the Oakland Raiders 2018 season, outlines players the team could lose to free agency and offers his thoughts on potential reinforcements the team should look to sign.

2018 IN SUMMARY

2018 was the first year of the second coming of Jon Gruden for the Oakland Raiders, and it is fair to say that it wasn’t exactly a banner one. The Raiders posted a 4-12 record, landing them at the bottom of the AFC West. They had no winning streaks all year but did have runs of three and five consecutive losses at various points of the season.

The Raiders had an issue with both scoring and allowing points all season long. They were 28th in points scored with 290, scoring less than ten points in four games. No team allowed more in the entire NFL than the Raiders 467. There were eight games that saw the Raiders opponents rack up 30 or more points, while both the Browns (Week 4) and the Chiefs (Week 13) dropped 40 burgers

Quarterback Derek Carr set career highs in passing yards and completion percentage in 2018. He completed 68.9 percent of his pass attempts on his way to 4,049 yards, the first 4,000-yard season of his career. However, his yards per completion was only 10.6, marking the third season in a row that this number had fallen. Carr had three games with 300 or more passing yards in the first four weeks of the season, only to have one more such game in the rest of the year.

Carr wasn’t helped by the 28 dropped passes that his receivers inflicted upon him, the 8th most among all quarterbacks. Nor did his offensive line repeat their previous stellar job of protecting him. Carr was sacked a career-high 51 times, at a rate of 8.4 percent. He’d absorbed 36 sacks in his previous two seasons combined. Carr threw only 19 scores as his touchdown passes and rate both also fell for the third year in a row. Twenty-three teams amassed more passing scores than the Raiders in 2018. Carr failed to throw a single touchdown pass in six games in 2018. All that being said, his output last season was actually on pace with his work over the previous two seasons.

carr 16-18

Three Raiders players caught at least 60 receptions in 2018, with tight end Jared Cook leading the way with 896 yards on his 68 grabs. He also notched six touchdowns. Jalen Richard also corralled 68 balls, for 607 yards. This was the 6th most yards by a running back in the league last season. Jordy Nelson led all Raiders wide receivers with 739 yards and three scores on his 63 catches. But 173 of his yards (23.4 percent) came in a single game, while he was kept out of the end zone after Week 5. Nelson did finish the season strong, relatively speaking. He was the WR15 in PPR over this span.

jordy 13-17

There was no real field-stretching element to the Raiders passing game, as only one of the nine players to draw at least 20 targets averaged at least 14 yards per reception.

raiders recs

Prior to being traded to the Cowboys for a first-round pick after Week 6, Amari Cooper had commanded an underwhelming 14 percent of the Raiders targets. He converted these looks, 32 in all, into 22 receptions for 280 yards and a touchdown.

The Raiders had the 24th most rush attempts in the NFL with 387 and finished with the 25th most rushing yards at 1628. As a team, they amassed these yards at a 4.2 average per clip, the 10th lowest average around the league. While only five teams scored fewer rushing touchdowns than the Raiders nine. There were ten players who scored nine or more touchdowns on the ground across the league in 2018, while 31 players had better yards per attempt average.

Doug Martin led the Raiders in attempts, yards and touchdowns. He finished with 723 yards on his 172 attempts, with four scores. Marshawn Lynch was next up with 376 and three touchdowns on his 90 totes. But he didn’t play after Week 6. Up to that point, Lynch was dominating the backfield opportunities.

lynch martin 1-6

Both Lynch and Martin averaged 4.2 yards per attempt. Richard led all Raiders backs with a 4.7 yards per attempt but was entrusted with just 55 carries.

raiders rush

OFFENSIVE FREE AGENTS

PLAYER POS AGE CURRENT APY STATUS
Jared Cook TE 30  $     5,500,000 UFA
Marshawn Lynch RB 33  $      4,500,000 UFA
Martavis Bryant WR 28  $      1,907,000 UFA
Brandon LaFell WR 33  $       1,750,000 UFA
Doug Martin RB 30  $       1,475,000 UFA
Dwayne Harris WR 32  $      1,005,000 UFA
Denzell Good RT 28  $         705,000 UFA
Chaz Green RT 25  $         705,000 UFA
T.J. Clemmings LT 28  $           701,239 UFA
Jon Feliciano LG 26  $          685,163 UFA
Jalen Richard RB 26  $         540,000 RFA
Marcell Ateman WR 25  $         480,000 ERFA
Justin Murray LT 26  $          472,500 ERFA

Jared Cook smashed his previous career highs in yards, receptions, and touchdowns in 2018. The Raiders have stated publicly that they’d like to bring him back. But in a rare moment of self-awareness, they know that the fairly weak TE market has propelled him to the top of the class. Spotrac puts his market value at $7m a year, a figure that would put Cook into the top ten among his peers. The Raiders treatment of Khalil Mack, not to mention their early bailing on Cooper, suggests that they are not exactly happy to be among the big spenders of the league. But the shortage of proven playmakers could force their hand in Cook’s case.

Lynch saw his season cut short by a groin/core muscle injury, and has already retired from the NFL once before. With the Raiders home status in 2019 very much up in the air, the odds were firmly on Lynch walking away. However, with the Raiders set to remain in Oakland for next season, reports indicate that Lynch would be open to another go round the block. Even with the Raiders falling over themselves with cap space, Lynch will probably have to take a team friendly deal to remain. The likely return of Lynch would probably spell the end of Martin’s time with the team.

The Raiders should have no intention of re-signing Martavis Bryant, despite reports that he could be reinstated by the time training camp comes round. They should have equal ambivalence towards bringing back Brandon LaFell, while his special teams’ prowess may keep Dwayne Harris around for the league minimum. Richard is only a Restricted Free Agent, so it’s likely he’ll stick around.

POTENTIAL FREE AGENT TARGETS

The Raiders have an estimated $70.7m in cap space and a roster full of holes, not to mention three first-round draft picks. The days of their having to, and being willing to, pay a “Raiders Tax” in order to snare top free agents became a thing of the past under Reggie McKenzie. But with Gruden officially calling all of the shots, it will be interesting to see what direction they go when replenishing their squad.

One obvious big name that they could go after is former Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell. The Bell-Raiders marriage makes sense for three main reasons, according to NBC Sports. They have the need at his position, they have the money to spend, and they have a need for a big name player prior to moving to Vegas. Bell signing would almost certainly mean Lynch would not return. But if Bell were anything approaching the player we last saw in 2017 then he would give the Raiders a boost on the ground. Not to mention that it would give Carr another pass-catching option. Bell led all RBs in receptions and receiving yards between 2013-2017, with 312 catches for 2666 yards.

rb recs

An upgrade or two at the WR spot would not go amiss, either. Even assuming Nelson doesn’t retire, which was rumored to be happening back in November, the lack of proven and consistent talent at the spot is virtually tying Carr’s right arm behind his back. Seth Roberts played 80 percent of his snaps out of the slot last season, and the Raiders may think that these snaps would be better of use if given to Randall Cobb. Like Nelson, Cobb has a previous relationship with Raiders WR coach Edgar Bennett from their Packer days together. Still only 28, Cobb has been more name than game in recent years, but is arguably still an upgrade on the plodding Roberts.

cobb

Other options at the slot spot could include Adam Humphries, who enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Buccaneers last season, or Golden Tate. If the Raiders’ spending last season is anything to go by, Tate could be more in line with their way of thinking, as they look to assemble the NFL equivalent of the Expendables.1 Tate’s usage with the Eagles after they acquired him last season shows that he doesn’t seem to excel as a voice in a crowded room. But given the lack of serious competition on the Raiders, he could return to being the target magnet he was with the Lions earlier in 2018.

tate eagles

If the Raiders lose Cook to free agency, they may be forced to turn to the NFL draft in order to secure the long-term answer to this loss of production. But a short-term fix, as well as another red zone weapon for Carr, could be Tyler Eifert. Eifert has suffered from a whole host of serious injuries over the course of his NFL career. This includes a gruesome ankle injury that ended his 2018 campaign. But when he has been healthy, he has been among the league’s best weapons inside the opposition 20-yard lines. Nearly 15 percent of his career receptions have come inside the red zone, as well as 18 of his 21 career touchdowns. But he’d need to do something seriously impressive to land anything other than a one-year pact with anyone. 

OUTLOOK

2019 is a pivotal year in the history of the Raiders franchise, with it likely to be their last season in Oakland. In order to bank some much-needed goodwill among their hacked off fan base, putting an exciting offense on the field this season should be their first and most pressing priority. They have the cap space, so don’t need to be looking for bargain basement buys like they did last season. But the longstanding financial commitment they have with Jon Gruden appears to put something of an unofficial cap on the number of future guarantees they are able to spend on players.

It would be a huge advantage to the Raiders if they were able to see just how good Derek Carr can be with a fully functional supporting cast of characters. Carr is under contract until 2023, but the Raiders can release him with only a $5m dead cap charge before the 2020 season. A bounce-back season in 2019 would help him convince the brass that they need him for their move to Vegas, but until moves are made the fantasy appeal of any and all Raiders is strictly limited.

  1. Which I’m certain is a line I’ve stolen from Evan Silva.  (back)

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