Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer (No. 68) is a free agent this offseason. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Back in the early 1970s when the Raiders were one of the NFL’s most dominant teams, Oakland beat up defenses with its offensive line.
Game after game, the Raiders had excellence and continuity up front with center Jim Otto, guards Gene Upshaw and George Buehler and tackles Art Shell and Bob Brown.
While Kenny Stabler, Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff were making headlines, the offensive line set the tone for the Raiders’ physical and winning play.
Today? Not so much.
As the struggling Raiders look to rebuild, getting a winning and consistent group of blockers up front should again be a priority.
It’s believed the Raiders will take a big step in that direction by re-signing left tackle Jared Veldheer, who will be an unrestricted free agent.
Veldheer was steadily improving to become one of the NFL’s best young left tackles when an injury in last summer’s training camp sidelined him for most of the season. But he returned late in the season and played well, and the Raiders know they need to keep their left-tackle anchor.
“The cornerstone left tackle should be the Raiders’ re-sign Priority No. 1, as he showed his dedication and skill in returning from surgery in training camp on his left triceps with little negative effect,” wrote Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com recently, in evaluating the team’s pending free agents.
And Alex Marvez of Fox Sports 1 recently tweeted that Veldheer says he “really wants to stay in Oakland.” Marvez reported that Veldheer said negotiations are ongoing.
Veldheer’s loss last season proved disastrous for the offensive line, which suffered a rash of injuries and a revolving door at several positions. Standout center Stefen Wisniewski, rookie tackle Menelik Watson and guards Andre Gurode and Lucas Nix all lost playing time because of injuries, and every game seemed to feature a different lineup.
Though the Raiders suffered a lack of continuity across their offensive unit, the inconsistency on the line no doubt contributed greatly to breakdowns in the running game and pass protection. As Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com reported this week, the Raiders started eight different combinations across the offensive line in 16 games.
This offseason, it will be important for GM Reggie McKenzie to bring in (and retain) front-line players, particularly at guard. If Veldheer returns and Watson can impress over a full offseason and training camp, that would give the Raiders a solid pair of young tackles, along with a young Wisniewski at center. But guard has been a hodgepodge. Selecting a physical, run-blocking guard in the second or third round in the upcoming draft – or signing a veteran in free agency – could go a long way toward giving the Raiders some long-term continuity up front.
No one expects the Raiders to again have the likes of Otto, Upshaw, Shell, Buehler and Brown again, but a young, athletic and physical group up front is a necessity in the AFC West, where Oakland goes into 2014 as the only team in its division not to qualify for the playoffs in 2013.