The Oakland Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2002 when they represented the AFC in Super Bowl XXXVII. On top of that, the Raiders had to deal with serious salary cap issues during most of that stretch that severely limited their ability to rebuild their roster. Most of their salary cap issues stemmed from illogical contracts that the late Al Davis negotiated toward the end of his career in addition to multiple botched early draft picks. Sadly, Davis’ Hall of Fame worthy contributions to the NFL and the Raiders franchise are now marred by the mistakes he made late in his career. Fortunately for his son Mark, who is now the team’s principal owner, and General Manager Reggie McKenzie, the days of the Raiders salary cap woes are a thing of the past.
For the second-straight season, the Raiders will enter free agency with a massive amount of salary cap space at their disposal. They are currently projected to have $51.6 million available, and with the 2015 class of NFL free agents expected to be one of the best ever, having boatloads of money to spend in free agency couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Raiders are still a long ways away from being considered legitimate AFC contenders. But for the first time in recent memory, they have the kind of young talent on their roster that can attract big names on the free agent market. Despite leveling off in a big way toward the end of the 2014 season, Quarterback Derek Carr looks like he has the ability to be the long-term answer at a position that Oakland has been desperately trying to fill since Rich Gannon retired following the 2004 season. Likewise, Khalil Mack, the team’s 2014 first round draft pick, was ranked as the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL as a rookie by Pro Football Focus. The Raiders are hoping that both players have the type of talent that, combined with a huge contract offers, can lure some of the best players available in 2015 to Oakland.
Aside from having money to spend, the Raiders also have connections that make them a seemingly perfect fit for several of the top free agents on the market in 2015. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh reportedly wants to play for a west coast team that is a contender, while also getting a contract that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in the league. The Raiders hit on two of his three wishes, and with Oakland reportedly prepared to offer Suh a contract that would pay him close to $20 million per year, there is a very good chance that Suh will be wearing a silver and black Raiders jersey in 2015. Another free agent the Raiders are expected to pursue is tight end Julius Thomas. While Thomas has spent his entire professional career playing for the Denver Broncos, one of the Raiders’ biggest rivals, it is hard to ignore the facts that Thomas grew up rooting for the Raiders and that his Dad and Grandpa have been Oakland season ticket holders for over 15 years.
Other big names that the Raiders may pursue include wide receivers Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, and Jeremy Maclin. Their offense is in dire need of an elite wide receiver to pair with Carr, and should any of these four playmakers hit the free agent market, expect Oakland to be among the first teams to call them. The most likely of the four to hit unrestricted free agency is Cobb. The Green Bay Packers have an adequate replacement for him in Davante Adams, and will likely prefer to spend big money on improving their defense. Cobb is an easy player to connect to the Raiders due to his familiarity with McKenzie and currently Oakland wide receiver James Jones. Whether it’s Cobb or one of the others, expect to see the Raiders aggressively pursue the best available free agent wide receivers this offseason. If the Raiders are able to sign a true No. 1 wide receiver, it will open the door for them to address other needs in the 2015 NFL Draft.
If the Raiders can add three or more marquee free agents this offseason to go with their two picks in the top-35 of the 2015 NFL Draft, they will likely be in line for a dramatic turnaround in 2015.