The offensive line was the Raiders’ strong point last season. Holes were common for the running backs to explode through, and quarterback Derek Carr had little pressure to deal with.
However, the offensive line play declined significantly as the season progressed. The interior trio of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson played well for the most part, but the tackles were exposed. Major flaws in their games became evident.
Donald Penn’s holdout set a bad tone to start the year, and it never truly improved as the line lacked chemistry on combination blocks. Following his “retirement,” offensive line coach Mike Tice even publicly questioned whether some players, possibly his own, wanted to be coached.
With Tom Cable returning as line coach, the Raiders will likely make a few personnel moves. Maybe they’ll get the right tackle position figured out. The position hasn’t been stable since Jon Gruden was head coach in 2001 and Lincoln Kennedy manned the spot.
Penn’s season never truly got started in 2017. He held out of training camp in a highly publicized standoff with GM Reggie McKenzie.
The holdout was compounded because Marshall Newhouse, Penn’s replacement throughout camp at left tackle, had been the projected starter at right tackle. It resulted in both starting offensive tackles not getting ample time in their rightful positions in order to jell as a unit.
Penn and left guard Kelechi Osemele arguably comprised the best left side in the league in 2016, but their combination blocks seldom clicked. While Penn wasn’t horrible, he didn’t play to the standards he set since joining the Raiders in 2014. A broken foot sidelined him for the season’s final two games. His decline in play, coupled with his age (35 at the start of next season) and recent injury history could place him on the cusp of the 53-man roster if the Raiders want to move in a different direction. Penn’s release would cost the Raiders $3 million in dead money, but would save more than $5.13 million on the cap.
A part-time starter for a few teams since entering the NFL in 2010, Newhouse was McKenzie’s first signing in last season’s free agency period. However, an anticipated training camp battle for the starting right tackle spot was put on the back burner when Penn held out, resulting in Newhouse receiving no snaps at right tackle.
Despite intentions of competition in camp, it was evident Newhouse would start at right tackle upon Penn’s return. Newhouse had some positive moments, but struggled as the year progressed. Right tackle remains a position to fill this season, so Newhouse could be cut if the Raiders want to go in a different direction. Releasing him would cost the Raiders no dead money and save the team $1.75 million on the cap.
The fourth-round draft choice had a solid developmental year under Tice. The rookie was inserted into the lineup at left tackle for the season’s final two games after Penn broke his foot. Sharpe had been training at right tackle, so getting thrown in at left tackle against the champion Eagles’ defensive line and the Chargers’ Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram was a struggle.
Sharpe looked the part of a solid lineman at times, but often appeared overmatched. Since-ousted Oakland coach Jack Del Rio praised Sharpe for his work ethic and progress throughout the season, as Sharpe transformed into a much leaner and stronger frame. With Penn seemingly in decline, and the right tackle position wide open, Sharpe has a great chance to be a key contributor in 2018.
Alexander showed some promising signs in 2016 before digressing significantly this year. He was given the majority of snaps at right tackle during training camp, but never seized the position. He was given some snaps at right tackle, but struggled so much the coaches were quick to pull him for Newhouse. At this stage, it appears Alexander’s ceiling is as a solid backup whose best chance of being active on game day is being able to play at least one other position, possibly right guard.
Free agency targets:
The offensive tackle free agency class consists of some “name” players, but very few worth investing in.
The best player in the class is Nate Solder, but he’s almost certainly not leaving the Patriots. Andre Smith (Bengals) and Greg Robinson (Lions) will most likely be overpaid somewhere, especially since the market is so lacking.
The lack of talent ensures Penn will likely remain with the Raiders at left tackle. Newhouse’s position is far from guaranteed. If the Raiders are looking to improve at right tackle through free agency, their best option is Cameron Fleming.
Fleming has spent the past four seasons with the Patriots, playing primarily right tackle. Performing well at both right and left tackle, Fleming is only 25, so he could be signed as the medium- to long-term solution at right tackle the Raiders have been seeking for more than a decade.
However, Fleming could be out of the Raiders’ price range. If that proves the case, Oakland would be wise to address the spot via the draft. Lower-tier free agents such as Chris Hubbard (Steelers) and Ty Nsekhe (Redskins) would be solid options as backups, although they wouldn’t add much more than what the current backup personnel offers. If the Raiders deem that to be the case, it will be imperative for Cable to coach Sharpe and Alexander up to stabilize the team at right tackle.