Hello and Welcome to the Autumn Wind Blog!
It’s been a while, #RaiderNation. Since the last post, we’ve gone from top 5 pick to top 5 Super Bowl contenders. We have a legit quarterback, beast offensive line, stud receiver and perennial DPOY candidate, plus a long-term coach for the first time since Jon Gruden (1998-2001). The future is bright in Oakland, Las Vegas, Mars, or wherever the Silver & Black end up calling home.
Despite going 12-4, this roster is not without its weaknesses. With over $47 million in cap space, Reggie McKenzie and Co. can do some shopping to fill holes, but that cap space is about to tighten up. A new deal for Derek Carr is expected this off-season, while big extensions for Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and possibly Gabe Jackson are coming in the next one to two years. Given the ability to win now, I foresee the Raiders front-office going for short-term deals to fill the current roster holes in order to maximize cap flexibility. Here are five veterans who could be had on short deals that would bolster this team for a legit Super Bowl run.
Andrew Whitworth, OT
Whether it was the slow-footed Austin Howard or “wait till next year” Menelik Watson, right tackle was a glaring weakness for the Raiders in 2016. Seeing Jadeveon Clowney and Von Miller abuse our right side and then Derek Carr break his leg (due to pressure from the left) should be just the prescription for an aggressive solution to this problem.
Enter Andrew Whitworth. Now, soon-to-be 36 year-olds aren’t usually a hot commodity, but Whitworth has maintained amazing consistency during his 11 seasons in Cincinnati. The question here would be if either he or Donald Penn would be willing to switch to and excel at playing Right Tackle, a position neither has played in the NFL. If Whitworth is willing to chase a title on a one year, $7.5 million deal, he would be the final piece in the NFL’s best offensive line.
Pierre Garçon, WR
In 2016, Player A had 1 drop compared to 79 catches and an impressive 69% catch-to-target rate. Player B had some late-game heroics but totaled 5 drops compared to only 38 catches and a poor 49% catch rate. Player A was free agent Pierre Garçon. Player B? Incumbent slot receiver Seth Roberts. Garçon has totaled more than 750 yards receiving and at least 68 catches in his four years in Washington. He’s coming off a 1,031 yard campaign and 79 catches, and is a prolific route-runner out of the slot.
Garçon’s 52 catches for a first down in 2016 ranked 12th in the NFL, meaning he would give Derek Carr a great option over the middle on 3rd down to complement the outside duo of Coop & Crab. Maybe his presence could remind Crabtree, who lead the league in drops, how to catch the ball consistently. If Garçon is okay being the #3 on a prolific offense, a two year, $16 million deal would likely do it, front-loaded of course.
Perry Riley Jr., MLB
Ben Heeney & Cory James. Alex, what are career backup linebackers? Those are your current 2017 contenders at MLB, a similar situation to what the Raiders saw this past year. The results were not good. Heeney was replaced after two games of abysmal defense, and James saw his first two career starts before being supplanted by in-season free agent signing Perry Riley Jr. The defense made noticeable strides after solidifying the middle. With Riley in the lineup, Oakland allowed more than 5 fewer points per game (27.6 ppg over 5 games vs. 22.3 ppg over 11 Riley starts).
Now, some of the improvement was the result of new pieces jelling, but there is no doubting Riley’s ability in this defense. He’s currently Pro Football Focus’ #2 graded free agent linebacker, with borderline elite grades against the run. I am fully comfortable signing Riley to a two year, $7 million contract, similar to what Malcolm Smith received but with proof of concept in our scheme to back it up.
Eddie Lacy, RB
I saved Fat Eddie for later in this post so that new and returning readers wouldn’t hit “Back” and block this blog immediately. I know his story: always overweight, oft injured, yada yada yada. But the nice thing about players who have flashed brilliance but been an overall disappointment is that they tend to come cheap. The funny thing is, Lacy was on pace for a career year before ankle surgery sent him to the I.R.
Through five games, Lacy averaged 72 yards rushing per game and 5.1 YPC; a full yard per carry more than fellow free agent Latavius Murray. Lacy’s bruising running style would complement the scat-back duo of 2nd year players Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to form a formidable three-headed monster. A one year, $3 million contract could keep Lacy in his P90X workout mode and provide the Raiders with a cheaper replacement for Murray, who will likely command a silly large deal from a running back needy team.
Captain Munnerlyn, CB
“Pass Interference. Defense, Number 25.” Stop me if this sounds familiar. Over the course of his career, when not injured, D.J. Hayden has drawn an astounding 31 penalties to the tune of 391 yards. That’s five more penalties than his 26 career pass deflections! I’d love to say he’s improving, but the numbers are hard to argue. The solution: O Captain! My Captain!
In 160 more snaps, Captain Munnerlyn only drew four penalties in 2016 compared to Hayden’s eight. With plenty of experience in both Nickel and Dime, Munnerlyn can be a versatile piece to complement the weaknesses of Sean Smith (short, quick receivers). Reggie McKenzie may not have given up on D.J. Hayden, but I sure have. Give me two years of Captain at around $8 million for a quality slot defender.
There you have it! Five short-term signings who can help put Oakland over the edge in 2017. Even if we signed all five, we could afford our rookie class plus the first year of Carr’s extension, depending on how that is structured and who we cut. Thoughts? Hate it or love it, let me know on Twitter @Josh_Gabel.