You don’t need to possess football expertise to see the Raiders need talent across their roster. They need playmakers and starters at various spots, including edge, safety, receiver, running back,and linebacker.
One could also argue the Raiders need corners and tackle despite the draft capital invested their past two seasons. Moreover, I make the argument that they will probably make a change at QB, more out of timing and value than talent.
Still, a less obvious position need exists that might surprise you. On paper, guard seems like one of the Raiders strongest positions. They employ Kelechi Osemele at left guard and Gabe Jackson at right guard. Each played at Pro Bowl levels and rank among the best players on the roster. Both were instrumental in the Raiders 2016 playoff team. Jon Feliciano has also-played well in spot duty when either player is out but he’s a free agent after this year.
Perhaps, the Raiders will continue using Jackson and Osemele asanchors to their offensive line. They need a veteran presence alongside RodneyHudson and this past game against the Bengals was evidence of that since neither Jackson nor Osemele played and the line struggled. K.O. is 29 while Gabe is 27, so they still have value.
However, Jackson and Osemele could also be the next victims of the Reggie McKenzie era purge. Jackson was one of McKenzie’s best picks as a third round selection in the 2014 draft. Osemele was a marquee free agent signing by McKenzie and Jack Del Rio. We’ve already seen Gruden move many other players brought in by McKenzie and Del Rio so it is not a reach that he makes a change at guard.
Not to mention, both players had subpar seasons this year. Even early in the season, the interior offensive line lacked the same surge and consistency we expected. Some of that falls on growing pains in anew scheme with Gruden and o-line coach Tom Cable coming in 2018.
It is also important to point out both guards played with rookie tackles beside them for most of the year. Timing is important on the offensive line, so inexperience and instability can affect that cohesion across the line.
Moreover, injuries were a factor this year. Osemele only played in nine games while Jackson has missed nine starts. Still, both weren’t too great last year, either.
The bottom line is Osemele and Jackson might find themselves as cap casualties because both players can be cut with zero dead money. They are among the highest paid players at their position and on the Raiders’ roster, but Gruden and the Raiders might determine that money is better used elsewhere.
In fact, Oakland can save $10 million by cutting Osemele and another $7 million by releasing Jackson. That’s $17 million they can use to fill needs at other position.
Of course, it is unlikely the Raiders find anyone better than either Kelechi or Osemele on the open market.
Nonetheless, guard is traditionally an easy position to fill in the middle rounds of the draft. It is an undervalued position since they usually don’t have the size or athleticism as tackles. Hence, I would not rule out the Raiders selecting a replacement for both Kelechi and Gabe in this year’s draft.
Moreover, the Raiders have plenty of draft capital and getting a guard cheap in the draft might make more sense for a team that is inevitably in transition. Not only does it appear they’ll have a really young team next year, but it is also their last season before the new stadium.
Let us also not forget Feliciano has made 8 starts in his career between the two guard spots and he tweeted that he should be a starter before the season. He could seek that deal elsewhere which would leave the Raiders without their top three guards.
Either way, I don’t think the Raiders would let Feliciano walk and cut both Jackson and Osemele. Instead, I think they’ll let Feliciano walk and keep either Jackson or Osemele. Jackson will probably get the nod since he is both younger and cheaper even if he isn’t as big or as versatile as Osemele. The Raiders will probably cut Osemele which will allow Jackson to move to backt o his natural position at left guard. Gabe moved to right when K.O. entered the picture.
Ultimately, the Raiders could also let Jackson and Kelechi play out their contracts. Both players offer the team great play. Plus, they could be let go later in the season if the Raiders struggles again next year. Even in that scenario, the Raiders would be smart to draft a guard in the middle rounds to compete with those guys and eventually fill their role since Feliciano will probably walk either way.
The point is, guard is one of the Raiders most overlooked free agency and draft needs. They’ll have tough decisions to make about keeping, cutting or trading both Osemele and Jackson. I’m sure they’d trade either or bothif they could get anything.
Regardless, they’d be smart to start planning for a change at guard as that money could be used elsewhere than guard on a rebuilding team. Making a change at guard is the move and roster need that not many people don’t discuss.