To say that the first week of the new NFL calendar year was a rollercoaster ride for the Raiders would be a supreme understatement.
The rising optimism of having close to $70 million in cap space began to spiral down the tracks when the team was unable to come to terms with Rashad Jennings, Jared Veldheer, and Lamarr Houston on new contracts. They had to void the new contract of lineman Rodger Saffold due to a mysterious shoulder injury, and suddenly there was the PR nightmare of “who would want to come to a team that was in such disarray?”
All roller coasters have twists and turns and ups and downs. General manager Reggie McKenzie, however, has been able to get the team back on the high side of the track and has made many shrewd moves that Raider Nation can feel more excited about.
Here are the moves that the Raiders and effects on the team from the past week:
Darren McFadden: To say that the Raiders were able to get “DMac” back at such a reduced rate is an understatement. McFadden signed a one-year deal for $1.654 million to come back to Oakland to a) prove that he can be an every game/every down back in the NFL, and b) prove his worth for a longer-term contract next year. This year will be a big litmus test for McFadden to see if he can shake his moniker of being “Mr. Glass” due to his past injury issues. The team is only on the hook for $100 thousand if he is cut or injured before the season.
Justin Tuck: The former protégé of Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan with the New York Giants adds a significant presence to the Raiders defensive line. At 6’5″ and 270lbs, Tuck is a standout defensive end that has great speed and will greatly upgrade the pass rush abilities for the Raiders. Tuck signed a two-year contract for $11 million and, at age 31, wants to prove that he is still among the elite DEs in the NFL. Tuck will bring experience and dedication as a two-time Super Bowl Champion, and most of all, will have a chip on his shoulder due to the fact that his former employers did not offer any significant contract to retain his services.
LaMarr Woodley: Oakland was able to continue its’ upgrades among the defensive front by signing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. At 6’2″ and 265lbs, Woodley has been a pass rush specialist for the Steelers for the past seven seasons. Much like Justin Tuck, Woodley has a chip on his shoulder due to his former team (Steelers) cutting him, and his hometown team Detroit Lions never even considering his services. Woodley will bring an added nastiness to the defense and will be a big addition to the pass rush.
Austin Howard: The Raiders were able to find a solid Right Tackle by picking up Howard with a four-year contract at $15 million guaranteed. Howard has great athleticism – he started his career as a Tight End and was able to move into the Tackle position with ease. Howard became a starter at Right Tackle in 2012 with the Jets after he beat out former Pro-Bowler Wayne Hunter for the job. At 6’7″ and 330lbs scouts say that he has a tremendous upside, and that he will be a monster in the running game.
Antonio Smith: The signing of Antonio Smith went under the radar for most Raider fans. Smith, a ten-year veteran and pro-bowler with the Houston Texans, is another solid pass rusher that plays the game with an edge. Smith has the nickname “Ninja Assassin”; this is due to his famous “samurai sack dance”, and his ferocious vigor for the game. Smith signed a two-year contract for nine million. He is a leader and former captain of the Texans and will be a huge addition to the pass rush.
Tarell Brown: The signing of Tarell Brown is an instant upgrade to the defensive backfield. Brown was a starter for the 49ers, and the Raiders were able to sign Brown for a one-year contract at $3.5 million. Brown has good size and speed and has played in some big games in the past three years with San Francisco. The Raiders will likely pencil Brown in as the opening game starter opposite DJ Hayden.
James Jones: Jones is a Bay Area product from Gunderson High School and San Jose Sate and returns to the Bay Area with a wealth of experience from the Green Bay Packers. Jones was signed to a three-year/$11.3 million contract and will be an instant upgrade to the receiving corps. Jones was able to grow as a receiver under the watchful eye of Aaron Rodgers and Coach Mike McCarthy and will be looked upon as another leader on the offensive side of the ball. The only downside is that Jones has never been a number-one receiver, but he has great hands and runs precise routes.
Kevin Boothe: This is a huge upgrade at the Guard position. The former NY Giants starting Guard brings intelligence (Cornell University) and size to the position. Boothe was originally drafted by the Raiders in 2006 and returns as a two-time Super Bowl champion. Boothe will have to compete for the starting position but is able to play either Guard position.
After all of these moves, the Raiders still have a little over $35 million available under the salary cap. There is still the need to see who will be under center for the Raiders in 2014. There has been several rumblings of Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez as possibilities but we’ll see where GM Reggie McKenzie decides to go next.