The Oakland Raiders haven't been the talk of the NFL very often in recent years, but they're clearly the league's most fascinating team with free agency approaching.
While other teams are either up against the cap or have been using their money to re-sign free agents or set up deals with free agents who will officially hit the market Tuesday, the Raiders have been hoarding. No franchise tag for offensive tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston, perhaps their two best players, which was curious. No extensions for running back Rashad Jennings, offensive lineman Tony Pashos, defensive tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker or defensive end Jason Hunter, all starters last season. No signs that the Raiders want to bring back oft-injured running back Darren McFadden. No indications of anything, really. Just hanging on to all their money before free agency begins.
The Raiders have an astounding $59.9 million in cap space to spend, and nobody has any idea what they're going to spend it on.
Is there a plan? It's hard to figure out what it is after the Raiders didn't franchise tag either Veldheer or Houston, who along with safety Tyvon Branch might be their three best players. But there has to be a plan. This is the offseason the Raiders and general manager Reggie McKenzie have been gearing up for.
McKenzie took over a bad situation, a losing team stuck with a glut of horrible contracts. It took a while to dig out of that salary-cap mess, but the team finally did, and it emerges from it this year with more cap space than anyone else. The Raiders have $10 million more in cap room than any other team. That has spawned plenty of photoshopped images on Twitter of McKenzie's head on various people and characters with the hashtag #CashRegisterReggie:
But who will they spend it on? They need a quarterback, but there's not one worth buying in free agency. Michael Vick is going to be 34 years old next season; he makes no sense for a rebuilding team.
The Raiders need offensive linemen, but the market is thinning. Tackle Branden Albert is apparently going to Miami. The Ravens are reportedly close to re-signing tackle Eugene Monroe. One of the very few reliable rumors anyone has heard the past few days is the Raiders are hot after Rams lineman Rodger Saffold, and maybe they can land him. Veldheer, who would have been a nice start to free agency for the Raiders, seems poised to join the Cardinals. Houston, who would have been a good building block on the defensive line, will be a hot commodity when free agency starts and might leave too.
The Raiders haven't been linked as a favorite to land any of the big-name free agent cornerbacks or safeties on the market (though that doesn't mean they won't sign one). Maybe they're planning to add a receiver.
But for a team with almost $60 million in cap room, there's been very little buzz about what the Raiders will do. Saffold, if he does end up in Oakland, would be a nice addition, but he's not a franchise changer. The Raiders need some franchise changers, especially with all that money to spend.
The Raiders and McKenzie have a plan, of course. There has to be one. The team didn't set out on a long-term plan to free up all that cap space without thinking about what to do with it. They'd be the laughingstock of the league if they don't land at least a couple of impact players. We just have no real idea or even educated guesses what that plan is. That's what makes the Raiders the No. 1 team to watch in free agency. Anything seems possible with them.
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