COMMENTARY | Although they sit at a 2-4 record, the Oakland Raiders have overcome several obstacles this season, most of which many thought they could never overcome.
Several experts picked the Raiders to finish the 2013 season fighting for the No. 1 pick in 2014, but the team has played much better than that.
The rag-tag bunch that general manager Reggie McKenzie put together is playing well, especially on the defensive side of the football. As it stands, Oakland ranks in the top half of the NFL in passing defense, rushing defense, sacks and forced fumbles.
Ten of the team's current defensive starters weren't even on the team last year, yet somehow the unit has made tremendous strides despite the bargained veterans McKenzie signed in the offseason.
After living through salary-cap hell during his first two seasons as Oakland's general manager, McKenzie will have nearly $70 million to spend next season. With so much money to spend, the Raiders are likely to sign a few big names before next year begins.
But as it stands, Oakland has some players right now who can play with the best of them. Here are players McKenzie needs to re-sign in 2014:
Lamarr Houston, DE
Lamarr Houston is in the final year of his rookie contract, and McKenzie needs to secure his signature for the long-term.
Houston already has three sacks this year, one shy of his total for all of last year. He's been a key player on Oakland's completely revamped defensive line, and he's proved how durable he can be after playing every single game since the Raiders drafted him in 2010.
Oakland is rebuilding right now, yet the defense is still playing with heart. Houston is a big reason for the defensive turnaround, and he's only getting started in what is sure to be a successful NFL career.
Charles Woodson, FS
The old guy can still play.
After spending seven years with the Green Bay Packers, Charles Woodson returned to the place where it all started for him. He's been the anchor of an overhauled secondary that was abysmal last season, and he's energized the crowd that was ecstatic when he decided to return to Oakland.
The feeling of having him back in Oakland just feels right, and McKenzie needs to make sure Woodson retires a Raider. His wisdom and veteran presence has been beneficial to the young guys in the locker room, and his success on the field has been even better.
Jared Veldheer, OT
The Raiders were dealt a huge blow when left tackle Jared Veldheer needed surgery for a partially torn triceps in August.
Veldheer was the Raiders' best offensive lineman in a group that struggled mightily in 2012, and his absence is still being felt nearly halfway through this season.
at 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds, Veldheer is an absolute giant on the blindside. After watching Terrelle Pryor get sacked 10 times against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6, re-signing Veldheer and rebuilding the offensive line is an absolute must for McKenzie.
Jacoby Ford, WR
When healthy and used properly, Jacoby Ford has the ability to be one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL.
In his rookie year in 2010, Ford averaged an astounding 18.8 yards per catch and was a dual-threat in the return game as well. His 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame and lightning speed is reminiscent of Cliff Branch, the Raiders' three-time Super Bowl-winning wide receiver.
Ford is a prototypical Al Davis receiver. Just throw the ball downfield and he'll outrun the closest defender for it. With the Raiders running a quicker style of offense with Pryor at quarterback, Ford could do some serious damage if offensive coordinator Greg Olson decides to utilize his talents.
Kevin Burnett, LB
Despite conflicting reports from spotrac.com and rotoword.com on the details of Kevin Burnett's contract, it's still evident that McKenzie needs to re-sign him.
After having career years in Miami for the last two seasons, Burnett has continued that dominance in Oakland. He finished with 15 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble when the Raiders defeated the San Diego Chargers 27-17 in Week 5, and he's arguably been the best player on the Raiders' revamped defense.
Burnett is second on the team with 43 tackles, but 37 of those have come by himself.
He's been all over the field this season, and he's done a nice job resurrecting his career after struggling mightily when he first entered the league. The Raiders need him to continue that resurrection while wearing silver and black.
Steven Slivka covers the Oakland Raiders for the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSlivka
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