The Raiders added some free agents and traded for a couple of players in 2018 that really didn’t contribute much. No team has ever won the Super Bowl in March, but Oakland can definitely improve if head coach Jon Gruden and new general manager Mike Mayock tackle Free Agency correctly.
Last year, Gruden took over the team and made several changes to the roster, such as releasing wide receiver Michael Crabtree and cornerbacks Sean Smith and David Amerson. A new head coach will always want to bring players that buy into his program and release players he has no attachments to, but most of the players Gruden brought didn’t have a meaningful role for the team.
Former Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was one of the few reliable players on offense, defensive end Frostee Rucker showed he still has some gas left in the tank in spite of his age, and safety Marcus Gilchrist was one of the few steady contributors on defense. However, more was expected from the 2018 Raiders free agent class.
Linebacker Tahir Whitehead allowed a 158.3 quarterback rating when targeted, former Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson was released halfway through the season, and veteran cornerbacks Leon Hall and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t do much besides suiting up every now and then.
Things were not much different on offense, as wide receiver Brandon LaFell failed to help the team in any substantial way. Running Back Doug Martin had back-to-back 100-yard games in weeks 16 and 17, but failed to make relevant contributions from the previous 15.
The Raiders will have between 70-80 million dollars (before they make any other moves ahead of FA) in cap space in 2019. That will give them a broad net to sign whoever they want, but they have to be smart and make sure they sign players that will really make a difference. It’s too soon to tell what players will hit the market, as many of them will be re-signed by their current team and many more will be released because of cost, performance issues, or injuries. Regardless of who hits the market, Oakland must be active without being reckless.
Edge rushers DeMarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark won’t likely hit the market so the Raiders have to make sure that they won’t pay premium for second-tier talent and also scratch the bargain bin for players that are unheralded, are coming from injuries or not really known. Jadeveon Clowney is a good pass rusher, but he is precisely the kind of player the Raiders should avoid as he will try to (justly) maximize his value and charge as much as he can. He was good, but he benefited from playing alongside defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Marcilus. It is uncertain how Clowney would play without a stellar supporting cast and just like him, there will be free agents that will struggle in less than optimal situations. Oakland has to identify them and abstain from giving them a look.
Free Agents can absolutely help teams turn their situation around. Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye showed us it is possible when the Jaguars signed them two years ago. Anquan Boldin always benefited whatever team signed him and there are many more examples, but there are even more cases of desperate teams throwing piles of cash to shiny free agents just to see them not pan out and become (very rich) busts. The Raiders have to make sure this doesn’t happen to them if they want to avoid another losing season.