Oakland Raiders' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency
Mark your calendars, because March 11 is the date that the Oakland Raiders are finally able to go out and make a splash in the free-agent market.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will be the man tasked with distributing the team's estimated $66.3 million dollars in cap space.
As the architect of this rebuilding process, there's no question that McKenzie will have a formidable task figuring out how to improve this roster without loading the organization up with "dead" weight.
Whether you point to the team's need for a quarterback or their goal in reestablishing the Raiders brand, this offseason is going to be a golden opportunity for the current administration to plant their flag and get back to the winning ways that made this franchise so infectious.
Now, it's time to start the slideshow and detail the moves the Raiders must embrace if they are to have a successful 2014 offseason.
Find a Quarterback
As Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News pointed out, the Raiders can have all of the money in the world, but nothing is going to change without a sufficient quarterback out there leading the charge.
For McKenzie and his staff, free agency represents a chance to help solidify the position that has haunted this franchise for over a decade.
Talking to Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe, CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair said that one guy who has a realistic chance of sporting a Raiders uniform next season is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings signal-caller Josh Freeman.
For the Raiders, the "interest" in Freeman is easy to understand. Current Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson worked with the QB back when he was the quarterbacks coach for the Buccaneers.
Even amidst all of the turmoil that embroiled Freeman's 2013 season, Olson raved about the 26-year-old when talking to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez.
Odds are Freeman won't be the long-term solution in the Bay Area. But, his history with Olson makes him a viable candidate to step in and help this offense find its footing.
The one thing we can all agree on, is that another season of Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin under center just won't cut it. As Tom Couzens of The Sacramento Bee mentioned, "The Raiders reportedly are close to parting ways with Pryor, and McGloin is considered a solid backup at best."
Finding a franchise guy via the draft and bringing in an experienced quarterback in the interim is the most efficient way to help turn around this organization's fortunes.
Spend Money Wisely
After spending what seems like an eternity in cap hell, the 2014 offseason represents a chance for McKenzie to finally take control of this roster and shape it into a contender.
Of course, to ensure the well-being of the Silver and Black, McKenzie cannot let old habits creep back in and dismantle the fiscal progress this organization has made.
Avoiding reckless spending starts by crossing off the names of free agents who represent more risk than reward.
The best way to attack free agency is by both pursuing marquee players and signing veteran guys to prove it-type deals. That way, the bulk of the cap space this team has can be spread out and utilized to keep around promising homegrown talent.
Adjust to the "New" NFL
As is the case in any major sport, the NFL's ecosystem is constantly evolving.
Whether you point to the influx of bigger cornerbacks or look at the way teams "value" the running back position, figuring out a way to address these sweeping changes will determine which teams thrive and which teams falter.
How the Raiders will address running back Darren McFadden falls into this category. He was a No. 4 overall pick in 2008, but for all of the flashes of brilliance McFadden at times has displayed since entering the league, his career has undergone some tough sledding due to injuries.
Talking about McFadden's future with the team, McKenzie told ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez:
Darren's going to be a free agent and there's been communication with his agent. He's going to see what his market is. And that's the thing, when you're talking about the games that he's missed, he has no idea—and when I say ‘He,' I'm talking about his agent—he has no idea what his market value will be and I couldn't tell you what the other 31 teams think.
As tweeted by Gil Brandt of NFL.com, the Raiders met with McFadden's agent to talk shop. But the best course of action for this team is to part ways with the veteran tailback.
In a fantastic article, IndyStar.com's Stephen Holder detailed how the running back position in the NFL has changed in recent years. The classic "workhorse" halfback is now a rarity, and because of how the league has shifted to a pass-first approach, running backs have become devalued.
McKenzie is going to have process all of this information and figure out a course of action to shore up what is a position of need. Does he attack the problem through the draft? Or does he scan the free-agent market and bring in a veteran halfback to help shoulder the load?
Looking at the options in free agency, MMQB.com's Greg A. Bedard noted that, "Running backs are never going to get big money in free agency."
With quality running backs like Knowshon Moreno and Ben Tate set to test the choppy waters of free agency, McKenzie could plug a relatively low-cost option into his backfield.
Re-Sign Veteran Players
All of the talk about ushering in younger players through the draft and free agency is great. But, sometimes signing veteran players to help strengthen the locker room and contribute on the field is equally important.
Last season, the Raiders signed defensive back Charles Woodson to help improve their secondary. Aside from his contributions on the field, Woodson was also a vocal presence in the Raiders locker room.
Veteran players are crucial for the chemistry of any successful football program. In Oakland's case, it's going to be important to bring in some of these veteran players to help strengthen a young locker room.
If you search the Raiders roster for essential veteran players they need to re-sign, left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston stand out above the rest.
Promising young linemen who appear to still have plenty of upside, Veldheer and Houston deserve every bit of coin they can muster up. Looking at it from McKenzie's vantage point, he needs to decipher if the hefty price tag both of these players warrant is in the best interest of Oakland's long-term strategy.
Regardless of whom the team ends up bringing back, the art of re-signing veteran players is going to to be a vital factor in achieving a triumphant offseason.
Rebuild the Brand
Just like in business, building a formidable brand in the NFL is an integral component to being able to reach the top of Mount Everest.
For all of the hyperbole surrounding free agency, McKenzie's biggest challenge is going to be recreating the mystique of the Silver and Black.
Giving some insight into what the team's sales pitch is going to be to free agents, ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez said:
To be a part of something special at the ground level. Sure, the money will be there, but Oakland is appealing to free agents' heart strings, telling them that they, too, can be, essentially, time-share owners in the Raiders' reconstruction. Pollyanna-ish? Perhaps. But that's the plan.
Instilling that sense of being a part of something special is going to be a daring pitch. As Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times detailed in an article he scribed about what drives professional athletes:
Professional athletes care about their salaries. They care about their security. They care about their health. They care about the same things we care about in our jobs. They like winning and dislike losing but are generally unaffected by the daily successes or failures of their company, and really, what right do we have to demand otherwise?
Still, there is room for hope. In an email exchange I had with NFL agent Greg Linton about the Raiders future, Linton said:
What the Raiders are building is something that could be special. Reggie is doing a great job considering what he inherited, he's a great person, executive, honest and has a great relationship with the agent community. My players love him and I've said before, they will surprise some people next year if they get the pieces they need. I think it's a great situation for free agents as well as some players already there.
Restoring the Raiders to glory starts with rebuilding the brand. The sooner this team can draw up and carry out its blueprint with bold leadership and a truckload of cash, the sooner fans will get to enjoy the product on the field.