This week, the Raiders have added a fistful of free agents. Oakland has come to terms with former Chiefs center Rodney Hudson, ex-Cardinals defensive lineman Dan Williams, linebacker Malcolm Smith from the Seahawks, former Bills tight end Lee Smith, running back Roy Helu from Washington and ex-Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton.
What do they all have in common?
They’re all young. Unlike the team’s high-profile acquisitions in 2014 (via free agency or trade) – Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew, Donald Penn and Carlos Rogers – the additions this offseason all are under 30 years of age.
These may not be superstars. No one is expecting Helu to run for 1,000 yards or Williams to get a dozen sacks.
But each brings a special talent that fits in with the plans of general manager Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Jack Del Rio, and each is just entering the prime production period of his career.
Hudson, at just 25, already has a wealth of NFL experience and said this week he wants to be a leader on the offensive line. Smith, also 25, has been to two Super Bowls already. Williams, at 27, is one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen against the run, an immovable object.
“This list is better than last year’s list, which was filled with 29- to 32-year-old players who predictably didn’t perform at career-high levels and instead mostly just played like older players,” wrote longtime Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami this week. Kawakami noted that, by bringing in a younger crop, the Raiders are being much smarter. These players can grow.
Added Kawakami: “There don’t seem to be many difference-makers in the Raiders 2015 class as of yet, but they’re all young enough and have produced enough early in their careers that you could imagine several of them as key players into 2015, 2016 and beyond, which is precisely what this roster needs.”
Plus, the Raiders still have plenty of money to spend and more holes to fill. Oakland reportedly also is in the hunt for running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2014, and he’s also three years under 30. Eagles safety Nate Allen (28) and Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (27) also are Raiders targets.
Bill Williamson, who covers the Raiders for ESPN.com, reports that Oakland still has $35 million to $45 million of cap space remaining for additional moves.
If Oakland can continue to bring in younger players – and then add some impact players in the draft as McKenzie did last year – the Raiders will look like a much improved team going into training camp in July, and for the next several seasons.