In 2013, the Raiders’ offensive line was a mess. There wasn’t much depth to start, and then injuries to Jared Veldheer, Menelik Watson, Stefen Wisniewski, Andre Gurode and Lucas Nix all had impacts.
Over 16 games, the Raiders started eight different five-man combinations across their offensive front.
It’s obvious that GM Reggie McKenzie made strengthening his offensive line a priority this offseason. If he’s going to spend a high draft pick or big bucks on a quarterback – a must – the Raiders are going to need a solid front to protect him and also add some juice to a running game that didn’t live up to expectations in 2013.
McKenzie, with salary-cap money in his pocket, has spent much of it in two areas: the offensive line and defense.
On Tuesday, the Raiders agreed to a deal with former Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn, who would slip into the spot vacated by Veldheer, who left to sign with the Cardinals. Penn, 30, is a seven-year NFL veteran who was cut by the Bucs because of his big salary ($6.75 million in 2014).
The 6-foot-5, 340-pounder will join two other free-agent pickups, former Jet Austin Howard, signed to play right tackle, and former Giants guard/center Kevin Boothe. Suddenly, with those three players added to holdovers Wisniewski, Khalif Barnes, Watson, Mike Brisiel, Tony Bergstrom, Matt McCants and Nix, the Raiders have a much deeper and more flexible unit for offensive line coach Tony Sparano to work with.
With all the injuries last season, Sparano faced one of his toughest jobs.
“This has been the most moving pieces … that I’ve been around,” he told reporters. “With the amount of injuries and, at times, the way that they’ve happened, it’s been a challenge, but it’s not an excuse. There’s no excuse. From our end, we talk about two things – we make progress, not excuses, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Now Sparano, who signed a two-year contract extension in January, will have some more accomplished pieces to plug into his line puzzle each week – with the draft still to come. Watson and Barnes could challenge either Penn or Howard, or play guard. Boothe could win a starting guard spot or back up Wisniewski at center. Now Sparano has flexibility.
For Oakland’s No. 1 quarterback in 2014 – no matter who it is – McKenzie’s recent spending splurge on big guys will be a very welcome gift.