Raiders

Raiders have less cap space, fewer needs heading into 2017 free agency

Raiders have less cap space, fewer needs heading into 2017 free agency

The Raiders have had tons of salary cap space in years past. General manager Reggie McKenzie created it with tough decisions early in his Raiders tenure, and used it on veteran free agents aplenty.

That’s not his ultimate goal. He prefers to build through the NFL draft and reward homegrown players for hard work.

Free agency is a supplement, one to be used with caution. The best never leave their club, inflating value on many who hit the open market.

McKenzie had to bandage his roster in recent seasons while a young, drafted foundation grew. That effort drew mixed results. Patchwork didn’t produce much in 2014, when aging veterans generally cashed the Raiders’ checks.

[BAIR: Ranking the Raiders' free agent needs by position]

McKenzie spent big on players in the prime the past few seasons, and hit on several key components signed early in the free agency period. Count Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn, Bruce Irvin and Michael Crabtree as home runs. Nate Allen was a swing and miss. So was LaMarr Woodley and Matt Schaub. Sean Smith might fall into that category in time, or reverse a trend after a so-so 2016 season.

The Raiders made a bunch of splash signings in recent offseasons. That number could decrease this time around.

The Raiders have $43 million in salary cap space heading into the start of free agency. That’s a lot, not as much as before.

The NFL’s legal tampering period begins on Tuesday morning, a two-day stretch where teams are allowed to contact player representatives and negotiate contract terms.

Players can formally agree to new deals and sign contracts starting Thursday, the formal beginning of free agency. Terms are often agreed upon during this negotiation window.

The Raiders can afford to sign players in free agency. They could use help at inside linebacker, slot cornerback, running back, receiver and along the defensive line.

The big splashes should decrease in volume. Extending quarterback Derek Carr is a top offseason priority, with big money going to Khalil Mack in the relatively near future. Gabe Jackson and Amari Cooper are also players worth rewarding down the line.

“You try to do the best that you can to work the contracts so you can keep as many good players as possible,” McKenzie said in January. “But, we all know that you cannot have a roster of a lot of multi-million dollar players. That’s just not the way this system works. So, we’re just going to have to continue to strive to get good players for the lesser amount. I mean, it’s just the way it is. Our quarterback is going to command a high dollar. Khalil’s going to command a high dollar. So, we’ll work around it. But we don’t feel, at this point, threatened by it.”

The Raiders owe big money to Hudson, Osemele and Smith among others, so another giant class of big contracts may not be advisable despite fans wanting big names like Dont’a Hightower, Tony Jefferson and Calais Campbell arriving together.

The Raiders could use some depth on offense, but free agency might be means of improving a defense that didn’t live up to internal expectation despite having Irvin and Mack rushing strong off the edge.

There is talent available in free agency’s second wave, which comes after the opening salvo. Teams with significant cap space get associated with many players looking for a competitive market in a relatively week free agent class. The Raiders will look for good scheme fits, depth and maybe to see if some of their own free agents can return as they continue to strengthen a playoff roster still lacking in a few areas.

Melifonwu back at Raiders practice, designated to return off IR

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AP

Melifonwu back at Raiders practice, designated to return off IR

ALAMEDA – Obi Melifonwu participated in a Raiders practice Tuesday afternoon, his first session in months.

The second-round safety has been on injured reserve all season and hasn’t done football activities of any kind since suffering a knee injury in a preseason game in Dallas.

He had arthroscopic knee surgery and was put on the shelf for the season’s first half. Melifonwu's professional career barely started and then quickly stopped. That's why Wednesday's practice was such a big deal. 

“It was awesome to get back out there, finally,” Melfonwu said. “It’s been a while. It was beyond fun to just be out there and practice with the team."

He nearing a return to game action. That’s why the Raiders designated him to return off injured reserve. Wednesday marks the start of a three-week practice window where the Raiders can decide whether to put him on the 53-roster.

He’s expected to do so when eligible. Melifonwu was first able to practice this week, and can join the 53-man roster after Week 8. His NFL debut could come in Week 9 at Miami.

He can't wait, especially because he's physically ready now. 

"I feel 100 percent," Meilfonwu said. I feel fine."

The Raiders still struggle covering the aforementioned skill players, using young linebackers or an undersized safety against those guys. The Raiders have given up the most yards to tight ends and running backs in the NFL this season. Melifonwu was drafted to help cover tight ends and running backs right away in sub packages, with a long-term eye on a full-time starting spot.

"I bring versatility, and I think I’m a guy who can fit into a lot of different spots," Melifonwu said. "Wherever the coaches need me to fit and help the team win, I’m all for it."

He has missed significant development time while out. He also missed most of training camp with an apparent ankle injury. The team hopes he can be ready to contribute when eligible despite missing so much time. The downtime was difficult, but Melifonwu now hopes to hit the ground running.

"It was definitely tough," he said. "As a competitor, you always want to be out there helping your team win. As a guy who hasn’t been hurt, it was pretty tough. It comes with playing football. I’m just glad to be out there now."

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

NaVorro Bowman hasn’t been a Raider long. The inside linebacker visited the team’s training complex Monday morning, signed a one-year, $3 million contract that afternoon and was on the practice field a few hours later.

Bowman’s in something of a rush. His new team plays the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Bowman plans to face them.

That’ll take a crash course in Raiders defense. There’s new terminology to learn and roles to master, even if he hones on a specific package.

It won’t be easy. Even a perfect week might come up short with but one real practice in an incredibly quick turnaround.

It’s rational to think he won’t be ready, fair to give him two weeks practice before a Raiders debut.

That’s not the tack he’ll take.

“Hey,” Bowman said, with a wry smile. “I’m going to show you something.”

He understands the situation. The Raiders are 2-4, in desperate need of an AFC West win. A loss might put the Raiders too far down to rebound. The four-time All-Pro knows he’s needed, and believes he can help if he can get some scheme down.

“It’ll take a lot of hours, a lot of studying, a lot of repeating the same words and things like that,” Bowman said after Monday’s walk-through. “It’s part of being a good football player. You have to put the time in. It doesn’t come easy.

“I’m the guy to do it. I won’t let them down. I’ll put the work in that’s needed to be done.”

Immersing in brand new can be a cleansing process. Bowman left the only NFL team he’s ever known Friday when the 49ers cut him loose. He wanted to spend his career with one team. After seven-plus seasons, a switch was required. He didn’t like losing snaps. The 49ers wanted to go younger at the position. A trade was attempted. He didn’t like the suitor, and the 49ers respectfully pulled back. An outright cut was the decisive action.

It gave Bowman an opportunity to choose his next step. He didn’t go far. Bowman’s new job sits 35 miles north in Alameda, which offered plenty of advantages for a family man.

“My twin girls are five and my son is eight and they’re in school,” Bowman said. “They’re doing really well so you always want to keep that going as a parent. You don’t want to keep switching them in and out. That played a big part in what I was going to do. For the Raiders to show as much enthusiasm in wanting me to come here made my decision a lot easier.”

Enthusiasm was evident in two ways. The bottom line comes first. The Raiders offered $3 million to make this deal quick, adding a solid sum to the $6.75 million base salary guaranteed by the 49ers under his previous contract.

The second was clear in a Monday morning conversation with Jack Del Rio. The Raiders head coach spoke plainly, saying Bowman could make a major impact as a player and veteran leader of a shockingly young position group.

“It was really upfront, letting me know their position and how bad they want me,” Bowman said. “He let me know exactly what he wanted to get out of me coming here and being a presence for this defense. Being more vocal, getting guys to understand the urgency to be really good at the NFL level.”

His lessons start Tuesday morning. Starting weakside linebacker Cory James introduced himself in the locker room Monday and asked Bowman when he’ll start watching film. The answer: bright and early.

Bowman has a game to play Thursday. That’s possible because he didn’t have to relocate. He can just hit the ground running. He’s been constantly learning new systems during the 49ers coaching carousel, so he’d a quick learning. He also sees similar concepts between schemes.

“It’s not too different,” Bowman said. “The terminology is really the hard part. I’m a fast learner. I went out there today and I think I did pretty well. I’ll get in here early tomorrow and learn from my mistakes and try to keep getting better.”

That’s Bowman’s first goal. He also wants to show knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries haven’t sapped his effectiveness as many believe.

“I’m only 29 years old,” Bowman said. “I still have a lot of juice left in me.”