We are through the first week of free agency and the Raiders have been one of the most active teams. Free Agency started with the Raiders allowing both of their stated priority re-signs, Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston, go without contracts.
In the first day, the Raiders were twice laughed at by national media and fans. First, for signing OT Rodger Saffold to a huge, 5-year contract that was worth up to a reported $42.5 million. Then, a second time a day later when Saffold, upon arriving at Alameda with his family and agent, failed his physical with team doctors and eventually had his contract agreement rescinded by the team.
For the rest of the week, however, the Raiders’ signings were mostly greeted with positivity as Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie reached agreements with a number of second-tier but well-respected players with contracts that look to be fair or even favorable to the team.
So what can we glean from the Raiders signings? Here are some thoughts.
The Raiders braintrust values size:
Ever since Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie took over in 2012, he has prized good size in the players he’s targeted. There have been few, if any, undersized players that he has signed or drafted.
This year’s free agency class is no different – almost every player that the Raiders have picked up has good to great size for the NFL.
Here is a list of the free agents the Raiders have signed, their height/weight and age for comparison:
OT Austin Howard – 26 years old – 6’7” 333 lbs
CB Tarell Brown – 29 years old – 5’10”, 193 lbs
WR James Jones – 29 years old – 6’1”, 208 lbs
RB Kory Sheets – 28 years old – 5’11”, 208 lbs
DT Antonio Smith – 32 years old – 6’4”, 289 lbs
DE Justin Tuck – 30 years old – 6’5”, 268 lbs
LB LaMarr Woodley – 29 years old – 6’2”, 265 lbs
OT Donald Penn – 30 years old – 6’5”, 340 lbs
For comparison purposes, even though his contract was rescinded:
OT Rodger Saffold – 25 years old – 6’5”, 332 lbs
Every single player on that list is at or near prototypical size for the NFL, which is not a coincidence. The only player that could be possibly described as undersized on the list so far is CB Tarell Brown, who at 5’10” isn’t quite as tall as many teams would like. He’s tall enough to play outside, though, and small enough to be a good cover corner who can stay with receivers throughout their routes.
The Raiders value production and winning:
What has changed a bit this year is that the Raiders have valued players that have been very productive and have contributed to a winning team.
As Levi Damien recently pointed out, the 7 free agents the Raiders had signed (this was before Donald Penn signed) combined to bring experience in 43 playoff games with 30 playoff wins. They had been to 11 conference championships and 9 Super Bowls combined and had 6 Super Bowl rings to bring to Oakland.
The Raiders didn’t target these players in previous year, likely because the Raiders couldn’t afford these players in previous years. Instead, the Raiders had to find players that were trying to come back from serious injuries, like Ron Bartell in 2012, or players that were coming from more of a backup role and wanted to be a starter, like Pat Sims, Vance Walker and Nick Roach in 2013.
This year, the Raiders targeted players that had been very productive on playoff or championship teams and were young enough to have a couple of good years left in them. These players include Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, James Jones and Antonio Smith.
McKenzie’s hope is that this focus on winning, character and leadership will help transform the locker room and make the team’s sole focus to playing and winning football games.
Reggie McKenzie is not going to overpay:
Reggie McKenzie has done a good job of keeping contracts reasonable. He isn’t breaking the bank for players he’s targeting. He’s come into this off-season with a patient but persistent plan, some of which is outlined above.
This is most clear with Donald Penn, who the Raiders hosted over two days and who McKenzie spent hours with on his visit to Alameda. Penn left the Raiders without a contract but the team remained in contact with his agent, continuing to work on terms even as Penn visited Washington.
While terms of Penn’s contract have yet to be released, it’s a good bet that McKenzie will not be over-paying. McKenzie is of the mind that he can always find talent and that, while some players are worth paying good money for, no player is worth over-paying.
McKenzie does not care how others evaluate players:
McKenzie showed that he doesn’t necessarily see players the same way as other teams when he took DJ Hayden number 12 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Hayden, who was still recovering from major surgery in and around his heart, was completely off some teams’ boards and well done on others because of the health risks.
McKenzie didn’t care about how other teams valued Hayden. He was convinced that Hayden had what it took to be a great player and so he took Hayden where he felt he could get him.
This valuation difference was also clear when the Raiders spent big money on Rodger Saffold, who many in the NFL felt wasn’t a good fit at tackle and was a better guard. McKenzie didn’t care about that and signed Saffold to be the team’s starting left tackle.
In targeting Saffold, he let the Raiders incumbent LT, Jared Veldheer, leave for Arizona for less money. This came down a difference in how he evaluated Veldheer and Saffold and he clearly valued Saffold much more than he did Veldheer.
Only time will tell if Reggie’s deliberate plan is the right one. There are mixed indications as to whether McKenzie is the right person to lead the Raiders into the future.
Regardless of where you fall on this question, it is clear that McKenzie does have a plan and has certain types of players that he wants to come to Oakland. He will use these free agent signings, most of which are for only 2 years, to provide veteran leadership and production while he focuses on building the team up in the draft.
It’s not the way Al Davis would do things – but that isn’t bad.