McKenzie's Success With Linemen in Free Agency a Good Sign for Raiders

Signings of Penn, Hudson and Williams over the past two seasons were keys to upgrade of roster and team's resurgence in 2015

Once the Super Bowl 50 is over Sunday, the Raiders’ offseason will truly begin.

On Monday, NFL teams can begin waiving players. On Tuesday, teams can start signing their own players whose contracts have expired. And, on Feb. 16, clubs can designate franchise players. A month from Super Bowl Sunday, the free-agent season kicks off with teams permitted to contact and sign players from other teams who are about to become unrestricted free agents.

So, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and his staff have a busy few weeks ahead as they work to add missing pieces to a team that could be on the verge of a winning season and a possible trip to the playoffs after posting a 7-9 record in 2015 under first-year coach Jack Del Rio.

Recent history should give Raiders fans hope that McKenzie will (mostly) make the right moves in 2016, especially when it comes to bolstering the offensive and defensive lines.

In 2014, he signed offensive tackles Donald Penn and Austin Howard who both played key roles this past season. In 2015, McKenzie added center Rodney Hudson, tackle-guard J’Marcus Webb and defensive tackle Dan Williams. Veteran blocking tight end Lee Smith also made a big contribution.

Of course, in both the 2014 and 2015 free-agent signings, McKenzie had some big misses – Lamarr Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew and Kory Sheets in 2014 and Trent Richardson, Christian Ponder and Curtis Lofton in 2015. But McKenzie’s ability to find productive, impact free-agent linemen has been a key component of the franchise rebuild.

In 2015, Hudson and Williams stabilized both lines, something to keep in mind as the Raiders will look to upgrade at right guard and on the defensive line.

In fact, the analytic website Pro Football Focus noted late in the 2015 season that Hudson and Williams ranked among the best free-agent signings of the year.

Hudson solidified a line, provided leadership and was a terrific pass blocker. He ranked among the best pass-blocking centers in the NFL in 2015 while also being graded as a strong run blocker. His performance, wrote PFF, was “a big part of the development” of quarterback Derek Carr, who had much more time to throw than in his rookie season.

Williams, meanwhile, ranked among the NFL’s top interior linemen in run-stop percentage and had “arguably his best season.”

And, both Williams (28) and Hudson (26) still have many productive seasons left, so they will be a part of whatever storyline McKenzie and Del Rio can build for the Raiders over the next few seasons.

A couple of more solid free-agent signings for both lines in March will set the tone for McKenzie’s work this offseason.

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