The 2016 season for the Oakland Raiders was a game-changer, no pun intended. The moves made in free agency set the Raiders up for spectacular things. It’s still a common opinion, not just among Raider Nation, that if Derek Carr hadn’t gone down in week 15 with a broken leg, the Raiders may have been Bowl bound. Or at the very least, they could get some revenge for the tuck rule game. But that’s all past and Oakland is now looking forward to 2017. They’ll get to meet Mr.’s Brady and Belichick in Mexico City for some redemption.
That in mind, big things were expected from Reggie McKenzie and the boys moving into this year’s free agency. There were some obvious holes on the defensive side of the ball. Exclusive of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, most of the defense was lukewarm. They just couldn’t find their step and ended up somewhere near the basement in all categories. Except that Defensive Player of the Year. But one man can’t carry the world, not even with the help of a juggernaut like Bruce Irvin.
Day one of free agency comes. A day that NFL fans and clubs wait for beginning the day after the Superbowl and sports journalists dread to some extent. I’m convinced that there are more typos on Twitter on FA day one than the entire rest of the year. And what do we hear from the Raiders front office? Crickets. The strategy could be to blame for this one. The Raiders sat idly by while they lost free agent after free agent until the day came to a close.
When the day was over, what did they lose?
Malcolm Smith – a LB that looks great on paper but failed to perform up to standards. Not a shock that he took his leave, but going to the San Francisco 49ers is going to make the next Battle of the Bay especially interesting for Smith. The rest of us probably won’t be impressed unless Shanahan and Lynch keep nabbing everyone that’s dangled in front of them.
Stacy McGee – a serviceable DT, McGee had a nominal 17 tackles but was able to add 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles to his resume. He was largely a placeholder until Oakland finds their blockbuster linebacker corp. Still waiting, Oakland let McGee test the waters, and he found a deeper pool. It will be a hit to the Raiders but how much will remain to be seen. McKenzie can certainly find someone who can fill the spot.
Daren Bates-Who? A linebacker for the lackluster defense. WHO? Bates had the best year of his career in Oakland, which consisted of 12 tackles. The question as to “who” is now moot.
Brynden Trawick – If there’s any player in this group that I’m disappointed to see go, it’s Brynden Trawick. He was a special teams monster and only started one game. He tied for 4th in the league in special teams tackles when all was said and done, even though he led that category for much of the season. He was consistent and seemed like he’d be a good staple for the Raiders. However, being the league’s top-paid special teams player is hard to turn down. It sounds like Reggie probably didn’t want to drop the cash if there’s a draft prospect that could step in. I still don’t agree with it, but I don’t have the checkbook.
Day two. Reggie, are you coming? Are you awake? Nope, I guess not. No movement or even rumblings from the Raiders offices. They didn’t lose nearly as much in the following players, so maybe he’s just sitting back and calculating the savings. The players cut so far could make up that deficit needed to pay superstar Derek Carr, which everyone knows is a top priority, even if the Raiders lose all of their free agents. Here’s who left the club.
Nate Allen – Allen was an occasional regular fixture in the Raiders secondary. That makes little sense, but if you watched their games, it probably clicks. Ultimately what he added were 20 tackles and two interceptions. He had a rough year with injury and was given the spotlight only when Karl Joseph, who had taken his spot in game 1, was injured, and Allen was able to step in.
DJ Hayden – Hayden is, unfortunately, a scapegoat for Raiders fans. His career has been full of ups and downs, and the stats that he put up this season weren’t fantastic by standard cornerback measures, and probably not by any measure. You would think that working with a vet like Sean Smith would step up his game, but that’s an invalid argument after the year Smith had. A roar of relief fell over Raider Nation when this was announced. Best of luck, Detroit. Maybe Darius Slay can show him how it’s done.
Menelik Watson – How much of a loss this remains unclear. The Raiders’ weakside offensive line was probably the best in the league. They dropped off that top spot because the right side of the line wasn’t the caliber of Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn. RG Gabe Jackson is a priority to keep that side of the line in any order, but the tackle position wasn’t handled well at all between Watson and Austin Howard. Since the NFL hasn’t seen fit to start tracking offensive linemen stats yet (what’s up with that, NFL?), it’s hard to see on paper the struggle that happened on the field. But when you face Von Miller twice a year, that position has to be battle-tested and weaponized. Like Charles Woodson put it in a Twitter post today about Tony Romo, “Iron sharpens iron”. You can’t face iron men every week if you’re made out of paper. It was a huge source of frustration for fans. Hopefully, the Raiders can find the right end piece for their already stellar line.
There are still a handful of players left in the free agency pool, not many of which will be a huge hit to Oakland’s team or bottom line, save Latavius Murray. Perhaps that’s what McKenzie and crew are doing, putting together a new deal for the big guy so he can come back to lead the three-headed monster attack. He was better than many fans give him credit for, although he’s not quite worth Le’Veon Bell money. Not much more time left on the clock and the free-agent pool is dwindling, so if the Raiders don’t do something soon, we can expect holes to be filled in the Draft.