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Grading the Raiders’ first-week free agents

So far, the Raiders have yet to nab any “truly premium” free agents.

Free agency started for the Raiders this season when tackle Jared Veldheer left Oakland for the Arizona desert, and the Raiders were stung by one of the biggest signing failures of recent memory.

Rodger Saffold had agreed to a mega-deal with Oakland before a failed physical nullified the deal and landed him back in St. Louis.

Between Veldheer and Saffold, it’s truly hard to tell who’s better. Veldheer, who signed a five-year deal with the Cardinals worth up to $35 million, was reportedly offered a similar package with the Raiders.

Reports have the overall maximum figure at $30 million, though it may have been the better deal.

For Saffold and new Raiders tackle Austin Howard, the contracts that were offered happened to be front-loaded.

What that means is that the two players’ first year salaries are larger than the second and third year. Saffold would have received $13 million in salary for 2014, and Austin Howard will receive $8 million this season, $5 million as a roster bonus, $2.9 million in salary and a $100,000 workout bonus.

All the information available to SFBay makes it clear that Saffold’s deal did not include a $22 million bonus, rather a $9 million bonus with incentives, and the $13 million base salary for the first year.

After the first two seasons, Howard will not receive any bonus other than the same workout bonus.

Veldheer, who was represented by his brother instead of an experienced sports agent, likely received a similar deal.

Reports from Raiders camp indicate that Veldheer’s brother was “almost impossible to deal with,” essentially putting the kibosh on his future in Oakland.

Instead of accepting the Raiders’ offer, Veldheer took a backloaded deal from the Cardinals. Backloaded deals include less money up front, and escalate towards the end of the deal, often ending with the player being released from the team or taking a pay cut.

Arizona has a whole lot of contracts coming due over the next few years, and Veldheer might fall victim to both the business of football — as well as mixing football business with family.

Free Agent Grades

The pass-rushers the Raiders have signed have been older and near the end of their careers. Having Saffold in the mix for the run-game would have been a huge boost for Oakland, though I understand the displeasure with the price tag.

Austin Howard OT — Five years, $30 million

Howard is only 26 years old, and should only get better over the next few years. His contract, while fairly large, isn’t terrible. Oh, and the Jets’ offensive line only allowed seven sacks all of last year.

Grade: A-

Justin Tuck DE — Two years, $11 million

Tuck is a bit older. But that’s not always a bad thing. He has experience, and the 11 sacks he recorded in 2013 say that he’s not yet slowed down. Jared Allen racked up a number of sacks last year. So, why not Tuck this year?

Grade: A+

Lamarr Woodley DE/OLB — Two years, $12 million

Woodley is similar to Tuck in age, not in statistical production. That’s fine, though, since he was in coverage for about 50 percent of snaps. The one question mark, is whether Woodley can be effective starting from the three-point-stance. He played 4-3 defensive end in college, but that was a decade ago.

Grade: B+

Antonio Smith DT — Two years, $9 million

The first interior pass-rusher signed by Oakland this year was hardly a fugazee. Smith is certified, with 18.5 sacks over the last three seasons and a master of the bull-rush. Oakland appears thin at defensive tackle, though Smith has only missed one game since 2006.

Grade: A-

Tarell Brown CB — One year, $3.5 million

Former 49er Brown doesn’t even have to move. Brown has had six interceptions and 39 passes defensed since 2011. National media has the opinion that San Francisco has a weak secondary — they don’t, and Brown was a big part of it.

Grade: A-

Raiders free agency notes


  • Henry Melton would be a nice addition to the defensive front, but it appears more and more likely that he won’t even get in a visit before signing.Coming off an ACL tear, Melton has been the most disruptive interior rusher over the past few seasons, but may be having a hard time getting paid.For this reason, there’s still a chance that he lands in Oakland and doesn’t leave for a while.
  • I really do like what McKenzie has done thus far, though the Saffold thing killed it a bit. It’s not that he was that good of a player, more that it could have affected other visits.
  • If there’s one thing the blunder should point to, it’s the way the NFL handles the legal tampering period. Greg Papa alluded to this Thursday morning, that the league should make medical records more available.There should be a database for all 32 teams to use, thus avoiding this sort of thing in the future, for both players and teams.
  • Oakland has the talent to move towards a 3-4 defense. Whether they will, or not, is really dependent on a few things. First, they’d probably need to draft a whole lot of defense. Second, beyond missing on the offensive side, they’d need to manage turnovers to make it effective.I wouldn’t count on a full shift this season, though they can switch up looks a whole lot more now.
  • Ted Thompson, McKenzie’s mentor over the last 17-or-so years, has a serious knack for making picks out of nothing. He’s brilliant, and McKenzie has trailed in his footsteps so far. Many people have asked me on Twitter: “Do you think the Raiders will get better by trading down, or miss out on a top talent?”The answer is yes, and no, the Raiders should trade down, and probably will. In fact, I can see the Raiders trading down twice in the first round alone. This draft class is S-T-A-C-K-E-D.


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