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.

Why Drew Rosenhaus hopes Antonio Brown-Raiders trade sets precedent

Why Drew Rosenhaus hopes Antonio Brown-Raiders trade sets precedent

Antonio Brown's agent hopes his client is a trendsetter. 

Despite Brown having three years left on his contract deal and the trade necessitating a massive amount of dead money on their books, the Pittsburgh Steelers traded Brown to the Raiders for just a third- and fifth-round pick. Drew Rosenhaus thinks the deal could set a precedent for players under contract who are unhappy in their current situation. 

“What I hope it does is maybe bring some more balance," Rosenhaus told NBC Sports' Peter King in his Football Morning in America column. "There aren’t many players like Antonio Brown but perhaps—and I’m not suggesting that everybody go out and try to renegotiate their deal or ask for a trade—but I hope it gives players more leverage throughout the league.

"I hope it gives agents more confidence that they can affect something in a way that can make a positive change for their clients. Maybe this is a deal that’s bigger than just one particular contract.”

As Rosenhaus himself notes, Brown is a unique case. He is one of the very best players at his position, catching at least 100 passes for at least 1,200 yards and at least eight touchdowns in each of the past six seasons. Brown made the Pro Bowl in each of those years, and was first-team All-Pro every season from 2014 to 2017. 

Furthermore, his relationship with the Steelers was especially strained. Beginning with his Facebook Live stream from inside the Pittsburgh locker room in 2017 and culminating with his benching in Week 17 last season, it became clear that Brown's relationship with the Steelers was no longer tenable. A player without Brown's pedigree likely wouldn't have had the same leash before the Steelers ultimately decided to part ways. 

[RELATED: Brown takes jab at Bills for false rumors]

Still, Brown's trade definitely represents a departure from business as usual in the NFL. This is an owner-driven and owner-dominated league, where player contracts are not guaranteed and the average career lasts about three years. The Brown saga, frankly, was far more NBA-like. 

If football players begin to have more power like their basketball peers, Brown's trade to the Raiders would mark a clear turning point. 

Rashaan Melvin says he cheated Raiders fans during season with the team

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Rashaan Melvin says he cheated Raiders fans during season with the team

Rashaan Melvin said his goodbyes to the Raiders after the Lions announced a deal that would bring the cornerback to the team.

But Melvin's farewell to the Silver and Black was a bit of a sad one. Melvin said he felt as though he cheated the fans:

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Im thankful for every opportunity God has placed in my life. We all must go through some things to get to what is actually meant for us. I greatly appreciate the Oakland organization for giving me the opportunity to further my career this past season. I respect the raiders organization, I respect the tradition, and I respect the die hard fans that has and will forever believe in raider nation. I feel like I cheated the fans, and organization, and a long list of players that came before me that made the organization what it is. It was always a life time dream of mine to wear the silver and black. It really hurt me that I wasn’t able to be myself, and play the style of play that I know I was capable of playing. To all my guys in that locker room I appreciate you guys for making the year special through everything. I cherish the relationships that were created on and off the field. I respect you guys, and I wish you boy’s the best!! Y’all ball out for the City of Oakland 1 more time or for however long y’all there! Respect!! #22 #raidernation ✊🏾✊🏾

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This, of course, appeared to be more of him not feeling as though he played to his potential. Playing for the Raiders had been a dream of his.

Melvin only started in seven games last season which could be partly why he's feeling the way he's feeling. 

"To all my guys in the locker room, I appreciate you guys for making the year special through everything."