Weighing the Pros and Cons of Oakland Raiders' Top Free-Agent Targets

Dan Wilkins@@DanWilkinsNFLCorrespondent IIMarch 5, 2014

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Oakland Raiders' Top Free-Agent Targets

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    Having more available salary cap space than any NFL team, the Oakland Raiders are certain to be active in the free-agency period of the 2014 offseason. 

    Although some big names have come off the market within the past week by way of re-signings or franchise tags, this year’s free-agent group still sets up nicely for what the Raiders need to do. 

    With the draft ideally being approached through a “best player available” mentality, free agency is where the Raiders can address their needs, and there is plenty of talent on the offensive line, defensive end, defensive tackle and cornerback to name a few.

    Here is a look at five players who should be among the Raiders’ top free-agent targets this offseason and the pros and cons of each.

CB Alterraun Verner

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    This offseason, the Raiders will be in search of a cornerback to pair opposite D.J. Hayden for the foreseeable future, and the Tennessee Titans’ Alterraun Verner will be the top option for Oakland. 

    At just 25 years old, Verner has already established himself as a productive NFL corner and certainly hits the market at the right time to maximize his value. 

    Verner is likely near the top of the Raiders’ free-agent wish list, as his young age leaves him plenty of playing years ahead, and his ability makes him a fit in their ever-developing scheme. 

    He has produced in both man and zone schemes with the Titans, in both of which he has displayed an impressive ability to make plays on the football and create turnovers.

    For the Raiders and Verner, a potential drawback comes when analyzing the financial numbers and what it may cost to bring him in.

    With Brent Grimes having re-signed with the Dolphins to a 4-year $32 million deal, that $8 million annual average likely becomes the starting point in negotiations with other top free agents at the position, like Verner. 

    Verner could easily demand a contract that exceeds that number and could very well get it. Whether or not the Raiders will be the team to give him that kind of deal remains to be seen, but regardless, they should be one of the teams in the running for his services when free agency gets underway.

DT B.J. Raji

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    Since the hiring of Reggie McKenzie as general manager, links to his former players and coaches from his time with the Green Bay Packers have been aplenty. 

    Some made sense, while others didn’t, but with such a need to fill on the defensive line, McKenzie could be very interested in signing Packers free-agent defensive tackle B.J. Raji this offseason.

    On the plus side, Raji not only fits the bill with the Raiders’ need to add some size on the defensive line, but he is also likely a better fit as a tackle in their 4-3 front than he was for the two-gap defensive end he played in the Packers’ 3-4.

    On the Raiders defense, he would have the opportunity to get back to being more of a penetrating interior presence, similar to the role he held at Boston College that had him drafted as high as he was.

    With Raji, the potential concerns surround both his consistency and the contract he will be looking for on the open market.

    After a good start to his career, Raji’s play has been up and down over the past few seasons in Green Bay, and when you consider reports that he turned down an offer from the Packers worth $8 million per year, it seems as though he is seeking a massive pay day. 

    This might be one situation where McKenzie and the Raiders’ staff, despite having so much cap space available, decide to wait out the free-agent process and see if Raji’s price comes down. If it does, that’s when we can expect the Raiders to get involved in the bidding.

DE Jared Allen

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    In addition to their need to make upgrades on the interior defensive line, the Raiders must find a pass rush on the edges as well, and should look to do so in free agency.

    One of the better pass rushers on the market, and in the last decade throughout the league, is Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. 

    Allen has been as consistent as any player in getting after the quarterback throughout his career putting up double-digit sacks in the last seven straight seasons and in eight of ten overall.

    As good as he is at disrupting the opponent’s passing game, Allen plays the run just as well consistently setting the edge for his defense. 

    The drawback for the Raiders, of course, would be Allen’s age (32), and his likely preference to play for a winning team in what may be the final contract of his career.

    Even still, his recent production has shown few signs of him slowing down and, while most players seek opportunities to play for winning teams, it is up to the Raiders’ staff to show free-agent players, like Allen, why they can be one of those winning teams in short order.

    Overall, while there are younger options available at the position, the Raiders won’t find a more consistently productive player than Jared Allen and should pursue him in free agency accordingly.

WR Hakeem Nicks

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    Despite having some young talent in Denarius Moore and Rod Streater, adding to the wide receiver position will be a priority for the Raiders this offseason and, ideally, it will be in the form of an established No. 1 target. 

    One of the better free-agent receivers available on the open market, with quite possibly the best chance of any to become that No. 1 target, is Hakeem Nicks

    In his five-year career, Nicks has been a productive pass-catcher for the Giants, and he was an important piece to their Super Bowl run in the 2011 season. 

    To the Raiders, he would bring that highly valued experience to an otherwise young position group, and could become the go-to receiver for a young quarterback in this upcoming season and beyond. 

    Coming off a down season for both Nicks and the Giants as a whole, the Raiders likely wouldn’t have to worry much about the price tag he will demand on the open market but rather his ability to stay healthy during the season. 

    Having not missed too many games, his ability to play through injury is notable, but the key will be avoiding them and being able to play at his highest level as often as possible.

    Still just 26 years old with proven ability and experience, Nicks could have a big impact on a team like the Raiders, and he may very well come at an affordable cost.

OL Rodger Saffold

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    With a few pieces already in place, the Raiders may be a guard or two from making the offensive line a strength of their team overall. 

    As such, we can expect them to address the position in either free agency or the draft this offseason, and Rodger Saffold represents one of the best players on the open market. 

    Saffold struggled somewhat to start his career with the Rams, but he really found a home after making the transition to guard.

    For the Raiders, he could step in and start at left or right guard making for a significant upgrade at either spot. Turning just 26 before the 2014 season begins, he and the rest of the Raiders young offensive front could be kept together for quite a few years to come. 

    The concern for the Raiders, as is the case in regards to many younger players on the free-agent market, is whether or not that value will drive their price tag higher than the team is willing to spend. 

    In hopes of solidifying the offensive line, the signing may prove to be worth the cost regardless, and it would be no surprise to see the Raiders involved in contract talks with Saffold early on in free agency.