Free Agency Strategy: Play Moneyball

A lot has been made of the Raiders lack of draft selections in the 2012 NFL draft. The Raiders have just two, but are likely to be awarded a few more by the NFL when they announce compensatory picks in late March.

The best pick that can be awarded is a pick at the end of the third round and compensatory selections can’t be traded.

In the NFL there is a salary cap and salary floor to keep all the teams as competitive as possible, but when it comes to draft selection they are traded like currency for acquiring players or more selections.

With such limited resources this offseason, the Oakland Raiders may need to take a page from the Oakland Athletics to stay competitive.

The most important lesson of Moneyball was the A’s determined a way to find value in the market. They did more with less and that’s exactly what the Raiders need to do this offseason.


Don’t Overvalue the Cornerbacks

Four of the 12 playoff teams in 2011 were ranked in the top half of the league in pass defense and three of those four teams were ranked in the top four overall. The Cincinnati Bengals were the lone exception having the 9th ranked passing defense in 2011.

The remaining eight playoff teams were all well below average pass defenses and the four worst pass defenses were all playoff teams.

It was an extraordinary year for passing and a terrible year for pass defense. Most teams will be in the market for help in secondary having determined the secondary is now an area of weakness. There are no shortage of options at cornerback to assist these teams.

It’s obvious that a great pass defense is not required to win a Super Bowl and with limited draft picks and salary cap room, the Raiders should play closer attention to other areas and not overvalue the available cornebacks.

The market is going to inflate the value of the available options, particularly Brent Grimes, Brandon Carr, Cortland Finnegan and Carlos Rodgers.

The Raiders should look for bargain options like Tim Jennings, Williams Gay, Richard Marshall and Terrell Thomas to see if one might be able to help solidify the group, but the Raiders should avoid the inflated costs of the top cornerbacks.


Buy Generic

The Raiders have some decisions to make when it comes to player contracts. Kamerion Wimbley, Aaron Curry and Michael Huff need to drastically reduce their cap numbers to stick around.

There is still time to work things out, but the Raiders strategy has to be to find cheaper alternatives that can accomplish the same tasks if one or more of them are released. In some cases the generics could actually be better which could steer McKenzie to release and not worry about restructuring the player.

Manny Lawson would be a good sign a.nd fill-in at linebacker Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was his position coach when he played for the 49ers. Lawson is similar to Curry. He can rush, but he’s not a particularly good pass rusher, but he’s solid against the run. Dennis Allen would be able to utilize Lawson is a variety of ways as a blitzer.

The Baltimore Ravens have plenty of free agents and they will not be able to sign them all. One that stands out is strong-side linebacker Jarrett Johnson. Johnson is particularly good at stopping the run, which has been a problem for the Raiders since 2002.

Johnson will be a popular free agent, but he’s been extremely durable. Johnson has played in 129 straight games for the Ravens, a franchise record. Johnson is 31 and that could keep his costs down on the open market.

Jim Leonhard has been extremely consistent for the New York Jets, but he’s 29 and hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He’s not likely to command a huge sum in free agency and the Raiders could use a strong cover safety if they are forced to put Michael Huff on the street inside of pay him $8 million in 2012.


Find a Big Man

If the Raiders are planning to play the 3-4 with any regularity they will need a nose tackle that can draw the double team up the middle.

John Henderson is likely to be released due to his contact and that leaves room for run defender on the inside.

Available nose tackle’s include Antonio Garay, Sione Pouha, Paul Soliai, Aubrayo Franklin and Kelly Gregg.

Franklin and Gregg would be the perfect players for the Raiders considering their cost would be minimal. The Raiders wouldn’t need a full-time player unless they planned on shifting to the 3-4 permanently.

Pouha, Garay and Soliai are likely to be cost prohibitive for the Raiders and they will look at some of the cheaper options.

If Tommy Kelly is released the Raiders could look at Broderick Bunkley to play defensive tackle. He improved drastically under Dennis Allen in Denver and was one of the better run defenders in the entire NFL last season.

A linebacker and a tackle could help solidify a run defense that has ranked routinely in the bottom of the league.


Get a Bush Replacement

Unless the Raiders can work out a favorable deal with running back Michael Bush, he’ll hit the open market where he is likely to fetch more than the Raiders are willing to pay. It would be a surprise if the Raiders placed the franchise tag on Bush consider the hefty price tag.

Bush departure would leave a hole behind oft-injured starter Darren McFadden. Oft-injured slasher Taiwan Jones and special teams ace Rock Cartwright are the other two backs. Jones may or may not be ready for an expanded roles in the offense. Cartwright is strictly a special teams player, but he’s also a free agent.

The Raiders either need a big bruiser or just another back that can run Greg Knapps’s zone-blocking system effectively.

Good news for the Raiders is that the market for backs is deep and not many are buying.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis would be a good option because he knows how to pass protect having come from New England. Greg Knapp is much more run heavy, but it is nice knowing that the player in the game can put a body on someone to spare the quarterback a hit.

Mike Tolbert is another back that knows how to pass protect and would be great second option to McFadden. He’s built like a bowling ball and could be uses in rush and pass situations.

Justin Forsett would be an inexpensive option for the Raiders. He’s not a big back, but he had a career year in Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking system. He’d be a good pickup as a true backup to McFadden and may actually be able to steal enough carries away from McFadden to keep him fresh.

McKenzie should also keep open the possibility that Bush could be re-signed at a reasonable price.


Take Advantage of Value in the Marketplace

If Reggie McKenzie realizes a certain player is being undervalued by market, he should sign the player and rehab his value.

The Raiders could have 6 or 7 good defensive ends and still sign a defensive end that is being drastically undervalued. It’s better to sign a good player for an affordable price and let the coaching staff worry about how to utilize the player.

There’s always room on the roster for good players, so if McKenzie thinks the player is good, the coaches will figure out how to put him in position to win games.

While the Raiders will be hunting in free agency for players at positions of need, they should also keep their options open at other positions to see if the league might be undervaluing receiver, defensive end, offensive tackle, etc.

That means the Raiders should be talking to everyone, including the top free agent receivers to get an idea for what the market is going to look like and what sort of deal the players are expecting.

It may be that the Raiders need to strike now to land a number one receiver, but they wont know until there is competition in the marketplace.

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  • David

    Good article with sound advice — Lets hope the Raiders follow this kind of plan.