Compensatory Picks & Pre-Draft Visitor

The NFL revealed on Monday which teams would receive compensatory picks in the upcoming April draft, and the Raiders won big. Because they lost the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery & Thomas Howard to free agency last season, they are now owners of compensatory 3rd, 4th, and 5th round picks. This injects hope into an previously barren draft; Oakland had only two picks (5th & 6th rounders) going into Monday, so this news gives new GM Reggie McKenzie a punchers chance of finding quality, NFL starting talent at multiple positions.

Such talent might include Alabama nose tackle Josh Chapman. The Raiders have reportedly scheduled a pre-draft workout with the stout defender. Chapman comes from a great defense, and was a key cog for the national title-winning Tide. He would offer Oakland a true nose tackle, a position currently lacking on the roster. This would allow new head coach Dennis Allen to implement his desired multiple-look defense. Look for the team to bring in more potential defensive starters for workouts.

State of the Raiders: Offense

With free agency winding down and the draft approaching, I decided to break down each position group on the team, to see both where we stand and how we can improve. The Raiders were 16th in points/game (22.4) and 9th in yards/game (379.5), but took a step back in Hue Jackson’s second year as play-caller. Oakland’s offense again falls into the hands of Greg Knapp, with Al Saunders contributing his wealth of knowledge & experience. The offensive starters seem to be more or less set, though there will be competition at several spots. Here is my analysis of each group, along with a letter grade for each.

Quarterback

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Did the Raiders give up too much for Carson Palmer? Yes. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be relied upon as a good NFL quarterback. While he was inconsistent in 2011-12, the situation he was put into caused some of that. He was without receiving standout Denarius Moore for 3 games and speedy weapon Jacoby Ford for 8. He entered an unfamiliar offense 7 weeks into the season, with no offseason program to prepare. He’ll have all his weapons and a full integration into training camp.

Terrelle Pryor is the only other quarterback on the roster, and should not be counted upon as the Raiders only backup. Look for a veteran to be brought in. Not an elite group, but there’s potential to be very good. GRADE: B+

Running Back / Full Back

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Darren McFadden is a stud. He has explosiveness, catching ability and good vision, along with an ability to elude and even sometimes run over would-be tacklers. Unfortunately, he can’t stay on the field. He’s missed 19 games over his four year career, and the question each year has been when, not if, he would get injured.

Taiwan Jones might be a special weapon too, but has health concerns himself. Losing Michael Bush to the Bears is going to hurt, but the Raiders simply couldn’t afford to pay a reserve running back millions, especially with the number of backs available via free agency or the draft.

Marcel Reece, a former college receiver, has rare catching and running ability for a full back. If need be, he could act as the Raiders short-yardage back, but he is unproven in that regard (47 career carries). Despite the need for more depth, this group is elite. GRADE: A

Wide Receiver / Tight End

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This group is all about speed and youth. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey finally had a season worthy of his 7th overall selection (975 yards, 4 TDs), but disappeared in games. In fact, his 8 best games (weeks 3-6 & 14-17) accounted for 818 of his total yards and 3 of his 4 touchdowns. A true number 1 receiver must be more consistent than that. Rookie wideout Denaruis Moore created a buzz with three 100-yard games and big play after big play. He seemed to have good chemistry with Palmer, and should only improve with another year in the league. Jacoby Ford has the physical skills to be a dangerous weapon out of the slot, but must be more consistent with his hands and health. Louis Murphy is also in the mix.

The tight end position is much less clear, and even more inexperienced. Third year man Brandon Myers is the starter as of now after the cap-clearing release of Kevin Boss. Myers has 32 career receptions for 250 yards and no TDs. The other two tight ends on the roster, second year players Richard Gordan and David Ausberry, are raw prospects at this point (combined for 3 catches and 16 yards in their first year). This group could use an infusion of talent, and is the weak point on the offense as of now, which brings down the grade a bit. Look for the Raiders to run more four receiver sets, with tight ends relegated to more run-blocking roles. GRADE: B-

Offensive Line

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This group, for many years a weakness in Oakland, is now a talented, sometimes dominant force. Left tackle Jared Veldheer and center Stefen Wisniewski are pro bowl talents, and should be anchors for the next ten years. It will be interesting to see how they transition from a power blocking scheme to Greg Knapp’s zone blocking system. Newly acquired Mike Brisiel will start at right guard, the position he locked down for four years in Houston. I fully expect a training camp competition for the remaining two spots. At both spots, it’s mediocre veteran versus unproven talent. Cooper Carlisle and Bruce Campbell will be in the hunt for starting left guard, while second-year player Joe Barksdale will push incumbent starter Khalif Barnes at right tackle. This group has tons of talent, but needs to see further development across the board to be considered elite. GRADE: B+

Barnes Re-Signs; Lee in, Bush out

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The Raiders have re-signed RT Khalif Barnes. The incumbent starter, Barnes will be pushed by second year player Joe Barksdale. Barnes is big and surprisingly athletic, but has technique issues and too many mental lapses.

Cornerback Pat Lee has also been signed to a 1 year deal. A former second round pick for the Green Bay Packers, Lee has been almost strictly a special teams player. He adds depth to the secondary and coverage unit.

In other news, the Chicago Bears have signed free agent RB Michael Bush to a 4 year, $14 million contract ($7 million guaranteed). The Raiders will now need to find back to sit behind the injury prone Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones. Bush ran well for the Raiders last year, but seemed to fade down the stretch. Look for Oakland to bring in a cheap veteran or draft a bigger back late.

Satele Won’t Return

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The Raiders’ offensive line picture just became a bit more clear. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted the team has signed former Raider C Samson Satele to a deal. This loss means Oakland will most likely move forward with second year lineman Stefen Wisniewski at center and recently resigned Cooper Carlisle at left guard. Satele was never remarkable in his time in Oakland, but was a serviceable starter. Satele was arrested last week in Hawaii for disorderly conduct.

Shawntae Spencer signed, Carlislie returns

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Adam Schefter is reporting the Raiders have signed former San Francisco 49er CB Shawntae Spencer. A former 2nd round pick, Spencer has played in 98 games over 8 seasons. The deal is for one year at an undisclosed amount. While not spectacular, Spencer is an experienced, solid pro, and would line up nicely opposite newly acquired Ron Bartell.

Cooper Carlisle has also been resigned at the veteran’s minimum (1 year, $950,000; $550,000 against the cap). It is unclear as to whether or not Oakland will bring in more linemen for competition, but Carlisle at the very least offers depth and plenty of experience.

Bartell & Brisiel Signed

In the shadow of Kamerion Wimbley’s release, it was announced the Raiders signed CB Ron Bartell and OG Mike Brisiel to deals Friday. Both guys are solid NFL starters with lots of NFL experience who fill big needs. Good, not great, players like this are the best we could hope for with limited spending room, and at the very least help to reduce the number of question marks on the field. Look for one more corner, an interior lineman, and one to two linebackers to be brought in still.

*UPDATE*

Contract information just out. Bartell will get 1 year, $3 million, Brisiel will get 5 years, $20 million. Brisiel’s deal might be slightly high, but both are low risk moves as far as guarantees go.

To Cut or not to Cut? Wimbley decision today

It’s been widely publicized: a decision on the fate of OLB Kamerion Wimbley will come some time today. At 1 P.M.,$4.5 million in guarantees become locked in for this year, as well as $13 million in future years. The announcement is only hours away, but I will discuss the pros and cons of this talented, if not inconsistent, player.

PROS:

  • Pass rushing ability: Wimbley is one of the few guys on the roster who can get after the quarterback. He’s averaged 7 sacks per year since entering the league in 2006.
  • Versatility: Wimbley lined up a bit of everywhere for the Raiders last season. While he plays a base OLB on first and second down, he proved to be effective as a 3rd-and-passing down end rusher. With Dennis Allen introducing a reported 3-4/4-3 hybrid, a player like Wimbley could be invaluable. He’s got experience in both defensive sets, and may be better utilized as a 3-4 rush linebacker anyway.
  • Youth & Continuity: He turns 29 this season, and is likely entering the peak of his career. Do we really want to cut him, only to see him star for years to come? With no starting CBs returning for the 2012-13 season,  this defense could use as many talented guys as possible, if for nothing else than to maintain and build chemistry. A release would save $4.5 million this year, but it creates yet another hole GM Reggie McKenzie would have to fill.

CONS:

  • Contract situation: The biggest thing going against Wimbley is his contract; he’s due $11 million (per year) over each of the next 4 seasons. Now, if this number were half, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But is he really worth that much money? With the Raiders hurting for cap space this year and in the future, is his contract feasible?
  • Inconsistency: Wimbley has shown the ability to dominate games, but he’s also disappeared in far too many. Four of his 7 sacks last year came in Week 9 against the Chargers, who were without starting LT Marcus McNeill for much of the game. Wimbley is athletic, but is beat too often in coverage (a trait common to Raiders linebackers, it seems).

VERDICT:

A release would save $4.5 million this year, but it creates yet another hole GM Reggie McKenzie would have to fill. The ideal situation is for a restructure to happen in the last hours, but that is looking unlikely at this point, as Wimbley has been reportedly luke-warm to the idea of taking a reduced salary. I wonder if any team would trade for Wimbley, whether it be for picks or a potential starter. In the end, a release would be my last option. You simply can’t keep cutting talent and expect to field a competitive team. I understand the need of a salary purge, but this team is not that far away from contending (no free agents of note lost, young nucleus only going to get better). By 1 P.M., we will know if the Oakland Raiders are playing for 2012-13 or are in total rebuild mode. We know what Al Davis would say – Just Win, Baby! But his final contracts have left the team in quite the bind.

*UPDATE*

Wimbley’s agent Joe Linta told ProFootballTalk.com the team will release the highly paid linebacker. Linta spoke highly of new GM Reggie McKenzie, calling him a “real pro” and a “good guy”. While it’s nice to hear positive words about the new regime, it is worrisome how many players are having to be released to fix the cap situation. Already thin at linebacker, the Raiders will need to find yet another starter with limited salary cap space.