Raiders

Raiders have salary-cap flexibility heading into pivotal NFL offseason

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AP

Raiders have salary-cap flexibility heading into pivotal NFL offseason

The Raiders got plenty of draft capital in return for trading Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, but that wasn’t the main benefit of those deals.

Mack was worthy of a market-resetting contract for NFL defensive players either before last season or the next, and he got it after being sent to the Chicago Bears last September. Cooper will get serious cash from the Dallas Cowboys as soon as this offseason, following his third Pro Bowl campaign in four seasons.

The Raiders initially planned to pay both guys in addition to an expensive offensive line, and high-priced quarterback Derek Carr.

Those Cooper and Mack deals are no off the books and the Raiders, thanks to some poor drafts, don’t have a big-money extension coming up for a long, long time. They don’t have any long-term commitments beyond Carr, and their recent top draft picks are still on rookie deals.

That has given the Raiders tremendous salary-cap flexibility heading into a pivotal offseason meant to springboard coach Jon Gruden’s second Raiders stint.

The Raiders have roughly $71 million in salary-cap space in 2019, according to OverTheCap.com. That ranks fifth in the NFL, and would allow the Raiders to pursue most anyone in free agency.

The Raiders can clear even more space should they chose. They could save $10.2 million by cutting elite left guard Kelechi Osemele, and another $4.6 million by parting with receiver Seth Roberts. They could save $5.475 million by axing Donald Penn, coming off a season largely spent on injured reserve, and $5 million more by cutting backup quarterback AJ McCarron before the NFL league year begins.

Paying roster bonuses to Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead, Lee Smith and Kyle Wilber essentially locks those guys to the roster.

There was never a danger of Carr being cut, but his $19.9 million base salary next season is now fully guaranteed.

New general manager Mike Mayock has stated his “buyer beware” approach to free agency, and Gruden, who ultimately has final say, has a soft spot for established veterans.

They signed a ton of unrestricted free agents to short-term deals. They might follow a different path this year.

Truly, the Raiders can do most anything they want.

“We’ve got some money this year, and we’ve had at least three meetings already about free agency,” Mayock said in a sitdown with reporters a few weeks ago at the Senior Bowl. “We’re stacking that board right now, as we speak. Between Jon and I and our pro scouting staff, that’s as important a board to stack as our draft board. We have some money and we would love to come out of it with a couple of starters. We have an awful lot of holes and we’re not going to fill them all. The more you can do in free agency, the more surgical you can be in the draft.”

Let’s take a look at player the Raiders have on the books, and their soon-to-be free agents. The figures are the 2019 salary-cap numbers for the Raiders’ highest-paid players, via OverTheCap.com:

Quarterback

Derek Carr $22.50 million
AJ McCarron $5.0 million
Nathan Peterman $645,000

Running back

Keith Smith $1.5 million
DeAndre Washington $787,299

Wide receiver

Jordy Nelson $5.368 million
Seth Roberts $4.650 million
Keon Hatcher $570,000

Tight end

Lee Smith $2.616 million
Derek Carrier $1.7 million
Darren Waller $720,000

Offensive line

Kelechi Osemele $10.2 million
Rodney Hudson $10.17 million
Donald Penn $7.225 million
Gabe Jackson $7.0 million
Kolton Miller $3.061 million
Brandon Parker $930,758
David Sharpe $645,000
Denver Krikland $645,000
Cameron Hunt $570,000

[RELATED: Tucson, Birmingham reportedly parterning to host Raiders in 2019]

Defensive line

Justin Ellis $4.75 million
PJ Hall $1.069 million
Eddie Vanderdoes $869,303
Arden Key $830,844
Maurice Hurst $649,761

Linebacker

Tahir Whitehead $4.291 million
Kyle Wilber $1.5 million
Marquel Lee $708,426
Nicholas Morrow $647,500
James Cowser $645,000

Defensive back

Karl Joseph $3.781 million
Gareon Conley $2.854 million
Nick Nelson $744,669
Makinton Dorleant $570,000
Montrel Meander $570,000

Specialists

Andrew DePaola $905,000
Drew Kaser $720,000
Johnny Townsend $624,389

All others under contract but not listed have cap figures of 2019 for $570,000 or less.

[RELATED: Raiders hire new strength and conditioning coach]

Free agents

CB Rashaan Melvin (UFA)
TE Jared Cook (UFA)
RB Marshawn Lynch (UFA)
S Marcus Gilchrist (UFA)
DT Johnathan Hankins (UFA)
WR Martavis Bryant (UFA)
DT Clinton McDonald (UFA)
WR Brandon LaFell (UFA)
S Reggie Nelson (UFA)
RB Doug Martin (UFA)
CB Leon Hall (UFA)
DE Frostee Rucker (UFA)
DT Ahtyba Rubin (UFA)
K Mike Nugent (UFA)
Dwayne Harris (UFA)
DE Kony Ealy (UFA)
Bene Benwikiere (UFA)
G Denzell Good (UFA)
OL Chaz Green (UFA)
DE Jacquies Smith (UFA)
OT T.J. Clemmings (UFA)
G Jon Feliciano (UFA)
S Erik Harris (RFA)
DE Shilique Calhoun (RFA)
CB Daryl Worley (RFA)
CB Dexter McDonald (RFA)
RB Jalen Richard (RFA)
S Tevin Mitchell (ERFA)
K Daniel Carlson (ERFA)
WR Marcell Ateman (ERFA)
LS Trent Sieg (ERFA)
LB Jason Cabinda (ERFA)
OT Justin Murray (ERFA)

Why Raiders will keep close eye on NFL franchise tags in 2019 offseason

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AP

Why Raiders will keep close eye on NFL franchise tags in 2019 offseason

NFL teams can start tagging players Tuesday. Don’t expect the Raiders to slap one on any of their prospective free agents during this two-week tagging window, but they will keep a close eye on others who do.

There’s a glut of top-flight edge rushers set to hit the market, and though most won’t reach it thanks to franchise (and, far less likely) transition tags. There are backup plans enacted when teams can’t reach a long-term pact with an elite player.

As a quick refresher, players who sign and play on the tag get a lofty sum (it varies based upon the tag designation) for one year of service. It’s a tool teams use to retain a top player’s rights – the Raiders could’ve used one on Khalil Mack this offseason had they played hardball and retained his rights without a long-term contract – but it’s not a long-term solution.

It’s typically a security blanket to keep a star player, and tags could get applied in volume this offseason on edge rushers especially. Dallas (DeMarcus Lawrence), Houston (Jadeveon Clowney), Seattle (Frank Clark) and Kansas City (Dee Ford) could all essentially take pass rushers off the market. Other teams can sign franchise players, but it costs a pretty penny and draft compensation.

The Raiders wouldn’t go that big to sign a veteran free agent, especially after being unwilling to lock Mack down last summer.

Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah, New England’s Trey Flowers and Minnesota’s Anthony Barr are also possible tag targets, though those guys seem less likely to receive a designation.

The more guys who get tagged, the more competitive things could get for remaining veteran free agents. There are plenty available in the NFL draft – the Raiders could snag one with the No. 4 overall pick – but adding a veteran leader up front might help a young defensive line.

The Raiders might go after tag prospects at other positions, so they’ll want as few as possible to open options when free agents can sign with other teams in mid-March.

[RELATED: Raiders less affected by Jaylon Ferguson's NFL Scouting Combine ban]

For those who don’t think the Raiders are out of the tag business on spec, only Jared Cook could be considered a tag candidate. He’s coming off a career year, but he’ll be 32 soon and the franchise tag for tight ends is approximately $10.9 million. That’s too steep for one year of Cook, who could end up leaving Oakland after two solid seasons for the Raiders.

The tag window opens Tuesday and closes March 5, and the Raiders will keep an eye on what the tags do to shrink the available free-agent talent pool.

2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. first-round picks for 49ers, Raiders

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2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. first-round picks for 49ers, Raiders

No team will change the fortunes of the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft quite like the Oakland Raiders, and that much is clear in the latest mock draft from ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

In his second mock draft of the year, Kiper Jr. projected the Raiders would select three different players in the first round than he did a month ago. Oakland has three selections after trading edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper, both of whom were first-round picks themselves. 

Meanwhile, the Raiders' counterparts across the Bay are projected to maintain their focus on the edge. Here's how Kiper Jr. thinks the first round will shake out for the 49ers and Raiders. 

49ers, No. 2: Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "Two former first-round picks along the defensive line (Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas) have struggled in San Francisco, but neither has the pure pass-rushing ability of Allen, who had 17 sacks and five forced fumbles last season. Allen would fill a glaring need."

Analysis: San Francisco ranked in the bottom-third of the league in sacks (37) in 2018. There are options in free agency, but adding a cost-controlled top prospect would help the 49ers preserve their already abundant salary-cap space and allow them to address their pass-rushing deficiency immediately. Allen appears as pro-ready as any player in this draft, and is a strong consolation prize for missing out on Nick Bosa.

Raiders, No. 4: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "Expect coach Jon Gruden and new [general manager] Mike Mayock to target a pass-rusher with one of their three first-round picks. Gary (6-6, 283) has some versatility to kick inside and play tackle, but he has a high ceiling as an end. When he's locked in, he can dominate a game."

Analysis: Kiper Jr. had Gary seventh on his big board a couple weeks ago, and projected him to be selected ninth in his first mock draft.  Gary said last week he is "the best player in the draft," and although that confidence probably isn't why he's moved in Kiper Jr.'s eyes, the Raiders could certainly use some bravado on the edge after trading Mack just before the season.

Raiders, No. 24: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "We know that Jon Gruden loves playmakers -- I heard him talk about them for years. And Murphy is one of the best defensive playmakers in this class, a ball hawk who had seven interceptions over two seasons at Washington."

Analysis: Murphy might have been the best college cornerback in 2018, and he was a first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus' estimation. Kiper Jr. projected Murphy as the third CB off of the board in his latest mock draft, so the redshirt sophomore could represent great value for Oakland if he falls to the back end of the first round.

Raiders, No. 27, Brian Burns, Florida State

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "This match is all about helping the Raiders improve their pass rush, as the 6-5, 235-pound Burns is a pure speed edge rusher. He needs to get a little bigger, but time in an NFL strength and conditioning program should help. "

Analysis: Two edge rushers in Silver and Black? After the Raiders posted the fewest sacks by a team in the last 10 years, that'd be music to Mayock and Gruden's ears. Last year, Burns recorded three fewer sacks (10) by himself than Oakland's entire pass rush.