At 1 p.m. PDT, March 13, 2012 the NFL’s free agency period starts and the Raiders must be under the salary cap. There are a number of player contracts that have not yet restructured or otherwise addressed which will likely have an impact on the salary cap and the Raiders’ free agency plans.
The two sides aren’t talking and extra guarantees are triggered on Friday and Wimbley is likely to be released before they do. Wimbley’s release would save the Raiders just $2 million in cap space and leave the Raiders without a strong-side linebacker on the roster.
His contract is due to pay him $4.75 million in 2012. It’s far too much for part-time backup with Henderson’s miles. The Raiders would save approximately $4 million by releasing Henderson, but that also leaves the Raiders with a need for a run-stuffing defensive tackle
Kelly’s cap number is nearly $9 million and one would expect a restructured contract would have reduced his $6 million in base salary in order to save the Raiders valuable cap space, but nothing has been announced.
With only a few hours to go before Kelly’s $8.9 million cap number counts against the Raiders, one has to wonder if Kelly is in the team’s future plans.
If the Raiders released both Kelly and Henderson, they would either need to move Lamarr Houston inside or begin the search for a defensive tackle in free agency.
Once the Raiders are comfortably under the cap, they can start trolling the bottom of the free agent market to see if they might be able to land a player or two. Don’t expect the Raiders to land any big fish, they don’t have the cap space to lure the top free agents.
There are a few free agents on the market that can help the Raiders that aren’t elite players and the Raiders should aggressively pursue them.
OC Option 1: Chris Meyers
Greg Knapp has returned to the Raiders and will re-introduce the zone-blocking system to the offensive line. Knapp spent the last two seasons in Houston coaching the quarterbacks and would have worked closely with Meyers. So would have the Raiders new offensive line coach Frank Pollack, as he was the assistant offensive line coach in Houston last season.
Considering Meyer’s ties to the coaching staff and the Raiders’ desire to get a young offensive line up to speed in the scheme quickly, Meyers should be one of the Raiders biggest priorities in free agency.
Meyers shouldn’t cost considerable amounts of money to sign as he only fits in the zone-blocking system.
OC Option 2: Scott Wells
If the Raiders miss out on Meyers they can always take a look at Wells. Wells has a link to the Raiders of his own having been selected by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL draft during which time Reggie McKenzie was responsible for scouting college players for the Packers.
Wells is also well-versed in the zone-blocking scheme and could help the Raiders jump start the transition. Like Meyers, Wells fits best in the zone-blocking system and that will keep his cost in an affordable range.
DT/NT Option 1: Broderick Bunkley
If the Raiders release Henderson they will be in need of a two-down defensive tackle to support the run.Bunkley played under Dennis Allen last season and fits the two-down run support role perfectly.
Best of all, Bunkley doesn’t figure to cost an arm and a leg in free agency.
DT/NT Option 2: Aubrayo Franklin
Should the Raiders want a nose tackle that offers nearly zero pass rush ability, they might look at an affordable option like Franklin.
Franklin would be great against the run, but the Raiders would have to make sure they had more of a pass rush on the field in nickel and dime situations.
The traditional nose tackle that offers little to no pass rush is a dying breed and the Raiders will have to determine if a specialist like Franklin is worth the cap dollars.
ILB Option 1: Joe Mays
The Raiders desperately need players that can support the run and Dennis Allen also coached Mays last season. While Mays’ coverage ability is merely average, he’ll come cheap enough that the Raiders would use him primarily on running downs.
Rolando McClain would remain the team’s top ILB, but Mays would enable the Raiders to show more 3-4 looks and Mays would definitely push McClain for playing time as the middle linebacker.
OLB Option 1: Manny Lawson
The Bengals turned Lawson into a two-down strong-side linebacker playing in the 4-3 defense. The release of Wimbley would create just that type of need on the Raiders roster.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver coached Lawson for five years in San Francisco from 2006 to 2010 and knows his strengths and weaknesses. Lawson excels at defending the run, something the Raiders haven’t done well over the last 10 seasons.
The Raiders shouldn’t waste any time bringing Lawson in for a visit because, although Lawson isn’t likely to be a hot commodity, the market for outside linebackers is extremely thin.
ILB/OLB Option 2: Jameel McClain
McClain is primarily a two-down run stopper, but he’s not terrible in coverage either. He’s been over-shadowed by Ray Lewis in Baltimore, but has played well enough to garner some interest as a free agent.
An added bonus is that McClain can play inside in the 3-4 and probably slide outside in the four-man front. That should fit perfectly with Allen’s multiple front defense.
CB Option 1: Richard Marshall
Marshall produced nicely in cornerback in 2011, but he didn’t start until late in the year. Marshall is 27 and entering his prime, provided the market for his services doesn’t push his salary out of the Raiders’ range, he should and will be considered a starter with good potential.
Raiders should be heavily interested in the available cornerbacks and don’t be surprised if Marshall is one of the primary targets. His best fit is outside and not covering the slot. If the Raiders decide to continue to use Huff as the slot cornerback Marshall would figure to be a good fit outside.
CB Option 2: Terrell Thomas
It will be difficult for any team to give Thomas a full value contract he deserves because he is coming off a torn ACL. However, Thomas was on of the best when it came to defending the run from the cornerback position. He’s been liability in coverage at times, but that’s largely the product of the New York Giants pass rush as Jason Pierre-Paul had not yet burst upon the scene.
The Raiders would roll the dice on Thomas’ health as he is just 27 and would still solidify their group of cornerbacks.
CB Option 3: Tracy Porter
Porter is looking for his big payday, but if his cost remains reasonable the Raiders could be in the mix. With only sophomore’s DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa left at the position the Raiders will be looking to add depth at cornerback via free agency and the draft.
Porter had a down year and that’s a concern considering he was playing for a contract. Dennis Allen is familiar with Porter from his time as secondary coach for the New Orleans Saints.
Expect the Raiders to a least inquire and hope the market remains cool for Porter’s services.
CB Option 4: William Gay
Gay is yet another cornerback entering his prime that the Raiders should take a long look at in free agency. Gay isn’t spectacular at anything, but he’s a solid cornerback that is a more than capable second or third cornerback.
Gay should also remain affordable as teams will recall him surrendering a 30-yard touchdown to Eddie Royal in the playoffs last season.,