As entertaining an Al Davis-esque spending spree in free agency would be, the Jon Gruden, and Mike Mayock led Raiders are best served being meticulous buyers in the market. While RaiderNation is salivating at every free agent available, the head coach and general manager must approach the madness — which officially gets underway March 13 (but teams can legally tamper two days prior) — Cool Hand Luke style.
So far, so good.
“Obviously we aren’t looking to add players that are at the end of their career. We’re looking for blossoming young players, those guys usually don’t get to free agency,” Gruden told a throng of media at the NFL combine. “The pickings are slim for everybody, but there are a couple diamonds in the rough. We’ll see where the market goes, but you don’t want to spend all your money that you have on a few free agents, you want to try and keep some of that money available in case a trade might develop during the draft.”
But can the brash Gruden stay tempered? After all, he has cash to burn with an estimated $69 million in cap space. And he went on the record with Howie Long in an interview stating players are “dying to be Raiders”. Yet, with Mayock in tow, Gruden is partnered with a personnel man whose bread and butter is the NFL draft. And that’s where the Gruden Raiders foundation must be built. Free agency is a mere supplement to roster building. Find one diamond and try to extract it while buoying depth with other signings.
It’s painfully obvious the Raiders are lacking both depth and quality. This is what happens to a roster when it’s deconstructed and being built back up. Gruden and Mayock aren’t one or two signings away from being a playoff contender, and as such, the focus in free agency this offseason should be contributors and depth. That’s tier two and below. Leaving the tier one FAs for Las Vegas when income tax drops from California’s 13-percent mark to zero.
Surely, Gruden-Mayock tandem can chase top-prize free agents in running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Tyrell Williams, edge rusher Trey Flowers, linebackers C.J. Mosley or Anthony Barr, and safeties Adrian Amos or Eric Weddle, but those are big-ticket items. Landing one or two — if at all possible — would be a boon for the retooling Raiders. However, landing them still doesn’t put the Raiders over the top as prohibitive postseason favorites.
Chasing second-wave free agents like defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, edge rusher Preston Smith, linebacker Josh Bynes or Kwon Alexander, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, safeties George Iloka or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, would put the Raiders in more financially responsible scenarios. The guaranteed money — something that is likely to be flying at free agents when the legal tampering period opens — wouldn’t be as gargantuan with second-tier players and below.
Because if the draft is where the foundation pieces are cultivated, free agency a month before that grand event is complimentary.
“The reality is that, there has to be a complete game plan in place, and you have to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the draft and how you go out and fill those complimentary holes in free agency,” Mayock said. “From my perspective, free agency is always looked at with caution. There are more busts over time than there have been Pro Bowl players. What are you looking to do in free agency? Fill some holes. We have some holes we need to fill.”
The hope here is the Raiders do not drastically deviate from the course with the money surely burning a gaping hole in Gruden’s wallet.