For Short Term, Raiders Improved in Free Agency

Now will GM Reggie McKenzie be able to build on offseason improvements with a successful draft class in May?

Reggie McKenzie hasn’t always gotten the love from Raiders fans since becoming general manager, and he still has much to prove.

After all, the team has had consecutive 4-12 seasons, has whiffed on its recent quarterback evaluations and is still waiting to see if 2013 draft picks D.J. Hayden and Menelik Watson can be impact NFL players.

And, his trade for veteran quarterback Matt Schaub comes with a giant question mark.

But McKenzie’s moves this offseason have earned him points around the country from some NFL analysts. Several believe the Raiders have helped themselves as much or more than any other team in the league.

Recently, the Around The League section of included the Raiders among the league’s best when it evaluated the winning and losing teams in free agency since the end of the 2013 season.

“Mock the Raiders all you want,” wrote Gregg Rosenthal. “They believe in Matt Schaub way too much and they still have a dearth of promising young players. However, there’s no denying that Oakland is much better now than they were to start free agency. The Raiders’ talent-poor roster required that general manager Reggie McKenize sign a raft of ready-made starters in free agency.”

And, notes Rosenthal, they found them on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver James Jones, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and linemen Austin Howard, Donald Penn and Kevin Boothe strengthen the offense; cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown and linemen/pass rushers LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith solidify the defense.

Even if only half the signings work out, says Rosenthal, the Raiders will be better in 2014.

“That still marks an upgrade for the Raiders starting lineup as they inch toward respectability,” wrote Rosenthal.

The Raiders also get a solid B grade from, which noted that though the Raiders spent big money on some older players, McKenzie did so without committing to long-term deals.

“He had a ton of cap room to work with, and almost all of the players he obtained won’t mess around with the fiscal situation in the future,” the website's evaluators wrote.

Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated admits the new players should make an impact, and wrote recently that, “Oakland has gone against the grain, focusing on talent that’s 30-years-and-up. The Raiders should be more competitive in 2014 as a result.”

But, Burke says, the longer-term forecast is cloudy. How many seasons do all those signees have left, he asks.

Because of that, he gave the Raiders just a C-plus in his recent free agency grading.

Nate Davis of USA Today, meanwhile, was much more harsh when grading the Raiders’ free-agent moves, giving them a D-minus because they let two top players (Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston) walk while using most of their money on older free agents. And, he says, rebuilding through free agency doesn’t produce winners.

“Try to name a team that’s successfully built through free agency,” he writes.

But, that’s not McKenzie’s goal. The Raiders’ GM hopes to build through the draft. All the free-agent moves this offseason have been to restock the roster, upgrade in key areas and give the team depth.

If McKenzie can score good, productive talent in the draft that begins May 8 to go with the free-agent class, the Raiders should be a much more competitive team in 2014.

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