We take a look at the needs Oakland still has on offense despite its active free-agent signings so far in 2018
The Oakland Raiders have been one of the most active players in the free-agent market, signing well over 15 players since the free agency window opened in early March. Coach Jon Gruden has wasted no time in turning over a significant chunk of last year’s roster. Despite that, there is considerable work to be done on both sides of the ball before the season opener in September. Today, we examine the offense.
Running Back by Committee: Where Does Gruden Settle
Marshawn Lynch has restructured his contract, freeing up $500,000 in salary-cap room, but guaranteeing his base salary. That ensures Lynch will again be the Raiders’ featured back in 2018.
Beyond Lynch, it remains a murky situation. Doug Martin has signed, but he is far from a lock to make the team at this stage of his career. It should be noted, however, that Martin is ahead of DeAndre Washington in the pecking order to make the 53-man roster.
Jalen Richard is also expected to get an opportunity as Lynch’s backup, but was underwhelming last year and can’t be relied on as the primary reserve. Gruden loves versatility, so at this stage Richard will need to show his worth on special teams to cement a place on the roster. It should be noted that the third receiver after Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in Gruden’s former Raiders offense was the running back. Richard is a very good receiver out of the backfield, so it won’t be a surprise if the Raiders give him plenty of opportunity to excel in that role.
If Martin shows some burst and wiggle, the Raiders will be fine at this spot. Martin hasn’t played a full season since 2015, and averaged less than three yards per carry his last two seasons in Tampa Bay. Sure, the Bucs had significant offensive line issues, but even Art Shell’s 2006 Raiders ran at 3.9 yards per carry, and that line was the worst in team history.
Bottom line is this position is far from settled. Given the levels of uncertainty, it won’t be a surprise if the Raiders take a running back early in the draft (Day 1 if Saquon Barkley is available, otherwise Day 2).
Acquiring a True No. 3 Wide Receiver:
The need of a third receiver is dependent on how literal Gruden is with his desire to take football back to 1998. Gruden’s third option in his last Raiders offense was Charlie Garner. Nonetheless, the Raiders did draft Jerry Porter during the Gruden era to develop as the third wideout behind aging vets Brown and Rice. It would not be surprising to see a similar situation occur this year.
The Raiders have Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson as locks at the top two receiver positions. Penciled in the third position is Seth Roberts. Roberts, however, is extremely inconsistent and has had drop issues. Last year, he had a knack of being a casino owner’s dream customer by turning something into nothing.
The Raiders have explored filling this need in free agency. Paul Richardson was high on the team’s free agency wish list, while Ryan Grant and Eric Decker both met with the Raiders. Grant has since signed with the Colts, and though Decker remains on the market, but sources say it’s unlikely the Raiders will make a move for him at this time.
In somewhat of a surprise, Jordan Matthews remains on the market and would be a superb fit as a third receiver — as previously mentioned in our State of the Raiders’ Roster series. The latest stats show that more than half of all offensive plays last year had at least three wide receivers on the field. Having a competent third receiver is paramount to having a complete offense.
Moving 5 into 3 at Tight End:
The Raiders have five tight ends on their roster. Simply put, even if they go with a run-heavy offense, as expected, there is little doubt they will have only three tight ends on the roster come Week 1. Gruden has signed Derek Carrier and Lee Smith to three-year deals, so they are locks for the opener. Remaining on the roster are Jared Cook, Clive Walford and Pharaoh Brown.
Gruden used Rickey Dudley as a focal point in his offense when he first joined the Raiders, but Doug Jolley was no more than a complementary piece of the offense. Additionally, Gruden never coached a tight end in Tampa Bay to more than 400 yards receiving. This could potentially spell doom for Cook in Oakland, since he doesn’t offer much as a blocker.
Saying goodbye to Cook would free up $5.675 million on the salary cap per Over The Cap. Freeing up cap space now — given that the main waves of free agency are over — might seem futile, but the Raiders can roll over unused cap space to next year. That could be a wise move to protect their future without wrecking the present.
If Gruden feels Cook should be a focal point, Walford and Brown will most likely be cut. Brown was expected to get an opportunity as a blocking tight end, but Gruden has elected to keep Smith on the roster. Given the Raiders don’t have a truly dependable third receiver, the team could flex Cook out wide to play a hybrid third receiver role, similar to the way Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have been used over their careers.
Find a Starting Right Tackle:
Ever since Lincoln Kennedy left the team after the 2003 season, the Raiders have not been able to adequately fill the starting right offensive tackle position. Last year’s starting right tackle, Marshall Newhouse, was released, while Vadal Alexander hasn’t shown enough to suggest he’ll lock the position down in 2018.
Breno Giacomini was signed, and though he has started at right tackle since 2011 on various teams (the Texans being the latest), it’s unlikely he would simply be handed the job. David Sharpe could be touted for the role, although it’s unknown what the current coaching staff thinks of him. One option to fill the void would be to trade down a half-dozen spots in the first round and take Mike McGlinchey from Notre Dame. He could play right tackle and potentially move to left tackle once Donald Penn is no longer able to excel in his role as quarterback Derek Carr’s blind-side protector.
Next, we will examine Oakland’s defensive needs. The Raiders extremely active in free agency on defense as well, but questions remain.