Alex Marvez of Fox Sports has come out with his latest top 10 list of available free agents. With just over 2 weeks left before training camp, it’s a good time for teams to evaluate their situations and figure out who they might pick up in time their camp. The Oakland Raiders have 88 players on their roster (90 is the max allowable) and may be looking to fill those final two spots. So lets play GM and find out if any of these free agents make sense for the Raiders. First, we must assess the salary cap situation.
At last count, the Raiders had approximately $1.34 in cap space. Now that would seem like plenty of money to use on a free agent at the veteran minimum, but not so fast. As of right now that number only takes into account the top 51 of the 88 players currently on the roster. That means that 2 more players need to be accounted for at some point between now and the regular season. The Raiders still have two draftee’s that they have yet to sign, Tony Bergstrom and Juron Criner. If we assume that Bergstrom ($516,504) and Criner ($426,140) sign for the maximum amount allowable under the new CBA, then that leaves just $397,356 to work with. That number might as well be 0 since only an undrafted free agent could sign for such an amount.
Enter Tyvon Branch. It has been reported that there’s been some progress in negotiations between Branch and GM Reggie McKenzie on getting the safety a long-term contract. If Branch signs a multi-year deal, it would open up enough cap space for the team to go after a free agent before the start of training camp on July 29th. So for the purpose of this article, we will work under the assumption that Branch will have a deal by the July 16th deadline.
Now that we have adequately dismissed the single most important aspect of this entire situation, let’s move on.
Marvez’ list includes 2 running backs, 2 wide receivers, 2 offensive linemen, 1 tight end, 1 quarterback, 1 defensive lineman and 1 safety.
Right off the bat, we would have to eliminate the 2 wide receivers (Plaxico Burress, Braylon Edwards) because it simply is not a position of need. Even with Denarius Moore’s hamstring injury, the Raiders have last year’s #1 receiver in Darrius Heyward-Bey, and explosive wideout Jacoby Ford, along with OTA standout rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater. Not to mention former top pass catcher Louis Murphy, and the very capable Eddie McGee.
Ditto for the QB (Donavan McNabb) and the safety (Jim Leonhard) on the list. I don’t think the Raiders need a 4th quarterback on the team, and all safety positions are locked up.
Defensive end was once a position of need, but the return of Matt Shaughnessy and the signing of Dave Tollefson have also eliminated the lone DE on the list, Andre Carter from consideration. Carter had a good year in 2011 with 10 sacks, but he seems poised to re-sign with the Patriots, so that’s a wash all around.
Now lets get to the players on the list that play a position in need of either a starter, or in need of some depth.
Cedric Benson, RB
The elephant in the room here is obviously Cedric Benson. He has been rumored for months to be on the Raider’s radar, but nothing has come of it. The main reason for the rampant speculation is because of Darren McFadden and his injury history. Benson is a big name, and would make some headlines if signed by the Raiders. But that really is all he would bring to the table, his name. I’m going to defer to our own Max Sadowski on this one. He detailed here exactly why the Raiders should “not” sign Benson. If the team needs a runner for short yardage purposes, they need to look no further than their 240 lb. fullback Marcel Reece. Case closed.
Verdict: Raiders should pass
Ryan Grant, RB
This one is easy. Ryan Grant simply isn’t the type of back the Raiders would be looking for if they were in the market. Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson are already filling the role that Grant would fill, so he just simply isn’t an option. Besides that, he’s 29 years old and coming off of a leg injury.
Max Starks, LT
Starks is a big (6’08″, 245lbs.), slow left tackle coming off of an injury. While the Raiders could use some depth on the offensive line, Jared Veldheer is going to have a lock on the LT position for a long time to come. Also, Starks is just too big and slow to flourish in Gregg Knapp’s zone blocking scheme. So cross Starks off the list.
Jeremy Shockey, TE
Shockey’s production has declined every single year from 2007-2011. Last season he had 37 receptions for 455 yards, his worst season ever. Some of you may argue that even his worst season is better than the Raider’s top TE last year (28 receptions, 368 yards by Kevin Boss), who isn’t even with the team this year. I would counter that there is plenty of young talent at the TE position this year. I would much rather have a Brandon Myers or David Ausberry on their way up, than an aging Shockey on his way down.
Vernon Carey G/T
Again, we’re looking at a big-bodied offensive lineman (aren’t they all) that is just not a fit for the zone blocking scheme that prefers lighter, more nimble offensive linemen that can hit their spots in a hurry. At 6’05″ and 240 lbs. Carey just simply does not fit the bill.
There you have it. Of the top 10 free agent prospects available, and not a single one makes enough sense to sign right now. Of course, situations and circumstances may change between now and the start of camp, but for now it looks like the Raider’s best bet is to stay put. You may see a free agent signing or two during the span of 2 1/2 before July 29th, but it will almost certainly not involve any of the “top 10″ listed above. If, and when, Tyvon Branch signs a long term deal, expect the team to sign a couple of no-name players that can help the team depth-wise. Other than that, you can look through the current 88-man roster and those are the names that we’ll be seeing in Napa.