In the early outgoing of free agency we’ve seen lots of huge contracts being given out by teams to marquee players. Much of Raider Nation was seemingly frustrated with the front office, after they remained rather quiet for some time without making a major move.
It’s obvious this offseason that GM Reggie McKenzie has taken a much more patient approach. Since the Oakland Raiders haven’t had as much salary cap wiggle room as other teams, McKenzie has gone with the “budget” signings, and it’s looking better than most people assume.
Every offseason, teams rush to give out large contracts to free agents who fill a need for that team. We see this every year in every sport. A great example of this was the Sean Smith signing in 2016. The Raiders were on the cusp of contending the following season, but there were major holes in the defense. Reggie signed Sean Smith, a top corner at the time, to a 4-year, $38 million contract, with a $5 million signing bonus and $20 million guaranteed. This proved to be a bad contract, as Smith played nowhere near the level of his price tag and cost the Raiders $10 million for two years before being released.
We’ve also seen examples of this with players like Sammy Watkins and Sam Bradford last week. Watkins is a good receiver, but his production hasn’t mirrored the $16 million per year he’s going to cost. The Chiefs needed a receiver and playmaker, but they may have jumped the gun signing him to such a large contract because they were desperate to fill a need. The same goes for Sam Bradford and the Cardinals. After Carson Palmer retired, the Cards had a need at the quarterback position. With an aging roster, the wise decision may have been to draft or sign a younger quarterback. Instead, they gave an injury prone player who’s never finished above .500 $20 million.
Entering free agency, Oakland once again had holes in their defense. Many fans wanted the team to take the aforementioned approach, but McKenzie has opted to go with a more patient approach. With only so much to spend, many needs to fill, and a Khalil Mack extension looming, it was always going to be tough for Reggie. He’s done a great job.
The first signing was Marcus Gilchrist, a 29-year-old safety. Gilchrist is expected to start alongside Karl Joseph in the secondary. He’s very durable, missing only five games in his seven-year career. He’s also versatile, being able to play free safety, strong safety, and both cornerback positions. This gives Oakland lots of flexibility, and lots of ways to get him on the field. Last year with Houston he logged 45 tackles with 11 assists, while forcing a fumble and an interception. He provides much-needed experience for this defense, he’s able to stay on the field, and he’s very capable of being a top defensive back.
The next to come was linebacker Tahir Whitehead, a 27-year-old player coming off six seasons with Detroit. Just like Gilchrist, Whitehead has been durable, missing only three games in his six-year career, while playing a full 16 games four times. Whitehead had 78 tackles last year, with 33 assists and four fumble recoveries. PFR graded his 2017 season being tied for the best year of his career, along with his 2014 season. Whitehead can play all linebacker positions, and it’s looking like he’ll start next year over Nicholas Morrow, although Morrow was impressive last year.
The next day Reggie brought in Rashaan Melvin, a 28-year-old cornerback. Melvin has been a bit of a journeyman in his career, playing for four teams in four years. Last year, he was a corner for the Indianapolis Colts, and he had a great season, with three interceptions, and 30 tackles in just ten games. Scouts have said he can still be a #1 corner, and Melvin has the same mindset.
“It’s just experience, you know”, Melvin says. “I’ve been cut four times. I’ve been in four different locker rooms and I’ve been able to gain my teammates’ trust, my coaches’ trust, and the organizations’ trust as well. My confidence grows over time because there’s not a lot of players that can say they’ve been cut four times and end up in a situation I’m at today. It was perfect timing. My work ethic, the way I approach the game and where I approach my job, my business, it speaks for itself”.
Melvin has an awful lot of confidence, and he’s got the skills to back it up. The Raiders don’t have enough players like that, and Reggie did a great job bringing a guy with that competitive attitude into the locker room.
The contracts for Gilchrist and Melvin combined add up to $9,312,500. Tahir Whitehead’s contract remains unknown, although Spotrac lists his market value at $8.5 million. Obviously cutting Smith and Michael Crabtree gave Reggie some more cap room, but he’s still done a great job signing affordable players to cheap contracts.
McKenzie has made a few minor signings as well, bringing in linebacker Kyle Wilber and defensive end Tank Carradine. Both of these players fit the same mold as the first three, and at the worst they serve as great depth options. With a top prospect in the draft still to come, it’s looking like the Raiders’ defense will improve next year.