The 2013 Raiders did the best they could with what they had, but as the season progressed the team from Oakland wilted.
After starting out 3-4, the Raiders finished 4-12 for a second straight season. And the patched-together lineups on both offense and defense of veteran free agents and mid- to late-round picks and undrafted players simply couldn’t hold up over a 16-game schedule.
General manager Reggie McKenzie acknowledged as much recently when he met with Bay Area media to talk about the just-concluded season and the work he and his staff need to do to make the Raiders better in 2014.
“Definitely, we lack some talent in some areas, no question,” he said.
Of course the Raiders will use the draft as their primary means to restock the roster and build a foundation of young, more affordable talent. With the fifth overall choice and a full slate of picks, McKenzie could get immediate returns in 2014 with some smart, productive rookies – something that didn’t happen in 2013 because of injuries to the team’s top two picks, cornerback D.J. Hayden and tackle Menelik Watson.
But re-loading the roster will also mean recruiting veteran free agents to come to Oakland. And what does McKenzie have to offer them? Why would veterans want to sign with Oakland, which is buried in the cellar of the AFC West (below three playoff teams) and has holes everywhere?
Well, as Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com pointed out recently, McKenzie has more than $60 million in cap space this offseason to play with. So that means for the first time under McKenzie’s reign, the Raiders will be in addition rather than subtraction mode. In addition to retaining key players already on the roster, such as tackle Jared Veldheer and safety Charles Woodson, he’ll be able to bring in veterans from other teams if he sees good value and a good fit. And once he brings in one or two – while also making some smart additions through the draft – the Raiders may suddenly look attractive to a free agent who wants playing time and a chance to be part of a Raiders resurgence.
“It’s the opportunity to play and be part of something,” McKenzie told Bay Area reporters, according to Gutierrez. “We’re going to turn this thing around. We’re going to try and sell the Raiders. That’s the No. 1 thing. It’s not to attract guys by saying an end result like, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl.’
“We’re going to get this thing turned around and we’re going to win. If you want to be part of this, here’s what we’ve got and here’s how we want to play you.”
McKenzie added that, “When you deal with football players, they just want an opportunity to showcase what they have.”
The list of available free agents could be long and star-studded. Defensive ends Greg Hardy, Justin Tuck and Jared Allen could be on the market, as could cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Sam Shields and the 49ers’ Tarell Brown. On offense, running backs LeGarrette Blount, wideouts Eric Decker and Golden Tate, tackles Michael Oher and Branden Albert, center Alex Mack and guard Wade Smith and quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Michael Vick could be up for grabs.
Essentially, said McKenzie, the Raiders need to bring in players who can make a difference in 2014. That was clear when McKenzie was asked if the Raiders might be interested in Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel if he should be available with the No. 5 pick in the draft.
“He’s a playmaker,” McKenzie told reporters. “Whether it’s him or any of these other guys, when you can add a playmaker to your team, that’s what you’re shooting for.”