The Cap, The Rumors, and The Raiders

Reggie McKenzie, general manager of the Oakland Raiders, is heading into free agency with a plan unlike something that Raider Nation is comfortable with, nor have they seen before.

Sometimes winning free agency is as simple as not jumping to overpay guys, definitely not overcommitting yourself to stars, and having to destabilize the glue.

Trading in the NFL is currently cutting edge stuff for most front offices. Those who have rediscovered the concept of swinging the bat have made loud contact and often hitting nothing but net. Shrewd trading is trending up as teams are opposed to mortgaging drafts and giving away first-day and early second-day draft picks.

The Cap, The Rumors, and The Raiders

Perception would have fans believing the franchise is choosing to once again lay dormant instead of improving. The fact of the matter is the Raiders have a salary cap and can’t pay all their own guys, let alone making too many splashes against teams who can outspend them. Be it via picks or “straight cash, homie.”

The Raiders have been connected to lots of players; in fact, at one point they were involved in the Jarvis Landry Sweepstakes, as offseason rumors would have it. They have been connected to Gerald McCoy and have also been recently connected to Geno Atkins.

One thing to remember about McKenzie is he likes to take care of his guys, which has Justin Ellis being re-signed to a three-year $15M deal. Flashy no, but effective and always remember, those who have trade capital and cap flexibility also have perpetual losing records.

Which brings us to me burying the leade yet again. Let us not forget that the NFL is a business and this is the time of year when GMs do their best Paul Levesque impersonation and say, “It is what’s best for business.” As it sits, the Raiders may need to cut or restructure the deals of five players: Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, Michael Crabtree, Jared Cook, and Marshawn Lynch, to achieve an additional $35.69M on top of the $15.8M of cap space they already have.

Jon Gruden has recently met with Doug Martin and came away very impressed, prompting pandemonium and leaps to conclusions about the status of players. In the NFL, spectrum competition is the proper way to apply leverage to a contract situation. If you want a player to take a pay cut, what better way than to show him you will move on if terms can’t be reached? In no way am I insinuating anything other than to point out how things work and to try to calm the hysteria.

One thing is for certain, don’t expect the Raiders to be major players in free agency as they must first re-sign Khalil Mack and create salary cap flexibility before they can do much of anything. Look for a bevy of moves after the team has had a chance to formally meet its coach.

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5 thoughts on “The Cap, The Rumors, and The Raiders”

  1. The draft can potentially resolve all the glaring needs if the Raiders draft right. No need to overpay in FA for players other teams were willing to let go of. If the Eagles can pull a trophy out of the hat, Gruden and the men in black aren’t far behind.

  2. Extremely well-written article Philip! Reasonably concise yet analytically thorough with precisely the right amount of logic and lithium to stay south of disheartening a perennially anxiety-ridden & borderline psychotic Raider Nation without over-sedating it! You even managed to bring me back down to earth without inciting suicidal thoughts after spending the past two days swinging from the ceiling fan, smearing peanut butter in my hair!

    My head says you’re probably right but my heart wants you to be wrong. While I’m not entirely delusional and possess at least a rudimentary understanding of how Reggie McKenzie typically approaches free agency (he got his apprenticeship in the Packers’ front office for God’s sake so he’s certainly no stranger to frugality and measured approaches to financial management), I’ve nevertheless been holding out hope (however unrealistically) that with the recent glorious return of Chucky Gruden to the “mighty Oakland Raiders”, a demonstrative yet prudently-structured territory-marking splash might indeed be forthcoming. In fact, much of my current hope for an uncharacteristically high-profile free agent acquisition is rooted in the lone point of disagreement with your article; to wit, your assumption of a prospectively negative impact on the Raiders’ salary cap and subsequent financial flexibility by the pending Khalil Mack extension. I recently read an article published on Bleacher Report that convincingly illustrated how Khalil Mack’s new contract wont have any restrictive impact on the Raiders’ salary cap particularly in reference to the team’s comparatively limited free agency capital; in fact it could actually serve to free-up additional cap space for the 2018 season.

    To quote Levi Damien’s article:

    “Right now, (Khalil Mack’s salary) already represents a $13.86 million cap hit. He is expected to sign a deal that will pay him around $20 million per season. But this is an extension. Which means if he signs a 5-year deal, he will be under contract for six years, with the larger cap figures likely starting in 2019.

    For that reason it’s possible his cap number for 2018 could stay relatively the same as it is right now. It could even lower.

    You don’t have to dig too much to find examples of this.

    Take Derek Carr’s deal.

    Carr signed a 5-year, $25 million extension prior to last season. But the Raiders didn’t have a $25 million cap hit for Carr in 2017. His cap hit was $15.73 million. This year he will count $25 million against the cap…

    …If you go by Carr’s cap hit in the year he signed his extension, it’s 63% of his per year average in the contract. Which, if you put Mack’s number at $20 million per season, would give him a cap hit in 2017 of $12.6 million. That’s $1.2 million million below his current cap hit. Which suggests that not only might his extension not raise his cap hit in 2018, it could actually lower it.

    This wouldn’t mean Mack would be taking a pay cut for 2018 either. The up front money in the form of a signing bonus would bring his pay for this year up to well over what he is currently scheduled to make this season. Basically, everyone wins.”

    Add to this the potential dead-money-free release of CB Sean Smith and it’s additional $8.5 million in added cap space and the Raiders breathing room is suddenly in the $30million range (without having to ill-advisedly release or to significantly restructure the contracts of either Michael Crabtree or Marshawn Lynch; more than enough cap space to sign their remaining free agents to similarly shrewd extensions with more than enough left over to bring in a couple of high-profile free agents such as DE/DT Mo Wilkerson (whom Reggie McKenzie has long coveted & should be available on a fairly team-friendly one year “prove it” deal in the wake of his relatively poor season with the Jets & the added motivation of his desire to dispel on a contending team the fairly widespread public perception that he quit on his team) and possibly even CB Trumaine Johnson (who reportedly had narrowed his “preferred destinations” down to the Raiders and the 49ers shortly before the Richard Sherman signing was completed).

    If Reggie & Jon manage to acquire both of these players, not only will they have succeeded in addressing two critical areas of need, they will be saving me a veritable fortune in psychotherapy expenses!

    A win-win for this long-suffering (and long-winded) yet unwaveringly loyal fan of the Oakland Raiders!

    “Just win, baby!” (Al Davis (1929 – 2011))

  3. Great article! It seems that the Raiders are playing moneyball the way that the Athletics organization did in the 1970’s. This is an extremely intelligent approach because there are, in my opinion, an extremely intelligent approach to free agency. There are so many super talented unknowns and players flying below radar. Goodness, just look at how the Patriots have consistently not overpay for anybody and still manage to participate in superbowls for at least a decade. Buyer beware.

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