McKenzie: Raiders well prepared with Carr, Mack extensions on horizon

McKenzie: Raiders well prepared with Carr, Mack extensions on horizon

The Raiders once again march into the offseason with significant salary cap space. That’s been the case a few years now, since general manager Reggie McKenzie got his franchise right with the cap by exchanging bad contracts for good.

McKenzie currently has $46.5 million available, according to overthecap.com, to spend on draft picks, free agents and his own players.

There are teams with more money available, but there’s plenty to do what’s necessary.

A top priority will be keeping superstar quarterback Derek Carr and edge rusher Khalil Mack in silver and black.

“You can say that,” McKenzie said last week. “The good thing is we do have time, but I’m not the type to wait until the last minute. Those two guys are not only great players but they are great men. They are true Raiders and I want to make sure we do the best that we can to make sure that they stay Raiders.”

McKenzie accurately points out the Raiders have some time to work these deals out. The Raiders have a fifth-year option on Mack, a luxury afforded teams on all first-round picks. He’ll have two years until the open market creeps up, with a possible franchise tag to extend that stretch.

There’s less sand in Carr’s hourglass. There’s no fifth-year option on the second-round pick’s four-year deal, meaning their franchise quarterback is ready to enter a contract year.

The Raiders don’t want him anywhere near free agency or the franchise tag’s exorbitant pricing on quarterbacks. A contract extension could come this offseason to keep Carr a Raider long-term – his broken fibula should have zero impact on contract talk – meaning the Raiders must in time adjust to life with a massive cap number for their quarterback.

McKenzie and his staff prepared well for that day. They have signed veteran free agents to contracts with up-front money that essentially become pay-as-you-go deals over time. That provides flexibility should money be needed elsewhere and not stuck to an underperforming player.

The Raiders might have to make tough decisions regarding popular supporting players who could command more money elsewhere.

“You can’t keep everybody,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said shortly after the season. “You can’t pay everybody, especially once you start paying your quarterback what he’s going to end up making, which I’m sure will be a pretty nice amount. So we’ve been fortunate the last few years, we’ve been able to do more other places because we didn’t have a lot put in the quarterback number. As that number goes up, it’ll limit some of the things you have to do.”

Attrition will happen as some quality players leave for greater riches, but there are several top NFL teams with highly-paid quarterbacks. For example, five of the top six teams with highest-paid quarterbacks in 2016 made the playoffs.

“Hopefully it won’t beat up the roster that much,” McKenzie said. “You try to do the best that you can to work the contracts so you can keep as many good players as possible. But, we all know that you cannot have a roster of a lot of multi-million dollar players. That’s just not the way this system works. So, we’re just going to have to continue to strive to get good players for the lesser amount. I mean, it’s just the way it is. Our quarterback is going to command a high dollar. Khalil’s going to command a high dollar. So, we’ll work around it. But we don’t feel, at this point, threatened by it.”

Big cap numbers for Carr and Mack also places a premium on drafting and developing players well. Those guys are cheaper, and can keep roster strength high.

The Raiders prefer to reward their own players but have to spend smart, starting with the 13 players set to become unrestricted free agents later this spring. That group includes running back Latavius Murray, tackle Menelik Watson, receiver Andre Holmes and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley.

“We’ll have decisions to make,” Del Rio said. “I’m sure we’ll want to keep as much of the nucleus. We have a good, young nucleus of players here. We want to keep as much of that nucleus intact as possible. That will be the plan going forward.”

Raiders name former Chargers DC as assistant head coach-defense

Raiders name former Chargers DC as assistant head coach-defense

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has hired former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano, the team announced on Monday evening. He will be the team’s assistant head coach on the defensive side of the ball.

Pagano has spent most of his coaching career in San Diego, working with the Chargers in various capacities since 2002. He was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in 2012, where he led that unit for five seasons.

Pagano and Del Rio worked together in 1997, when Pagano was a New Orleans Saints defensive assistant and Del Rio was the assistant strength coach.

Pagano was a longtime linebackers coach before becoming a play caller. He has worked with several quality pass rushers and has proven to be adept at creating pressure.

The Raiders created a position for Pagano, who will help a defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed and dead last in sacks. Pagano was looking for a different gig after new Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn hired Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator. 

Ken Norton Jr. remains defensive coordinator, but Pagano will bring experience and creativity to the game-planning process.

He has worked within a 3-4 defensive scheme, but has experience in all formations. The Raiders run multiple defensive fronts.

Pagano is the assistant coach on defense, while offensive line coach Mike Tice has a similar title on the offensive side. The Raiders have a vacancy on the staff, and are looking for a new defensive backs coach.

John Pagano is the younger brother of Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano.

McKenzie: Osemele gave Raiders OL teeth, Nelson eased Woodson's loss

McKenzie: Osemele gave Raiders OL teeth, Nelson eased Woodson's loss

Raiders general manager built a foundation of talent heading into the 2016 offseason, but needed more to get his team over the hump. Draft picks were essential, and expected. He had significant salary cap space, where he could find some immediate impact players on the open market.

McKenzie signed six unrestricted free agents, a few of them at a hefty price. Most veteran imports worked out well, though some thrived more than others.

It was a solid group that, in addition to the 2017 draft class and some key undrafted pickups, helped McKenzie win the Pro Football Writers of America’s executive of the year award.

He singled out two members of the 2016 free-agent class that helped set the tone for a 12-4 regular season and the team’s first playoff berth since 2002.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele was the first. The former Baltimore Raven signed a record contract for interior linemen but was worth the price, adding attitude to the offensive line during an All-Pro season.

“I think Kelechi solidified our offensive line, from the standpoint of what we wanted from our run game, from a physicality standpoint, what we had always talked about from Day 1,” McKenzie said Thursday in a conference call. “He added to that and he put some teeth into the whole offensive mentality. I felt like that was an impact. I was happy to see him get his first Pro Bowl. That was good to see.”

McKenzie also highlighted free safety Reggie Nelson’s efforts. He signed late in the offseason for relatively cheap, but was voted a team captain after his first preseason as a Raider and helped the secondary function with confidence. That was required after losing the eminent Charles Woodson to retirement.

Nelson also had five interceptions and two fumble recoveries, including three takeaways that secured victory.

I thought Reggie [Nelson] made some plays and was a true leader back there. When we lost Charles Woodson, from the leadership standpoint, communication standpoint, I felt Reggie came in and did a solid job to help ease that transition. You can never replace a Charles Woodson, but he was able to help ease that transition, especially when we had a young rookie back there (in Karl Joseph).”

Let’s take a look at the Raiders unrestricted free agent class and how they fared:

LG Kelechi Osemele
Contract: 5 years, $58.5 million ($25.4 million guaranteed)
Impact:Osemele ranks among the league’s elite left guards, and brought a nastiness to the Raiders offensive line. He helped immensely in the run game, and didn’t allow a quarterback sack all season. He was a Pro Bowler and a first-team All Pro, the results McKenzie hoped for after offering Osemele a massive contract.

LB Bruce Irvin
Contract: 4 years, $37 million ($14.5 million guaranteed)
Impact: Irvin started slow but rounded into a dominant player and an excellent compliment to star edge rusher Khalil Mack. Irvin had seven sacks and an NFL-high six forced fumbles, showing enough versatility to play well in coverage and against the run.

CB Sean Smith
Contract: 4 years, $38 million ($15 million guaranteed)
Impact: Smith was benched in his first game, and struggled against Julio Jones in his second, but played better after than and largely well the rest of the year. His quarterback rating against was 114.0 and he allowed too many big plays. More is expected from a No. 1 cornerback. Smith had shoulder surgery after the season and vowed to be better in 2017.

FS Reggie Nelson
Contract: 2 years, $8.5 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Impact:Nelson wasn’t perfect in his first year as a Raider, but made some big plays during a Pro Bowl year. He had seven takeaways, including five interceptions, and some big hits in the clutch. He was a solid leader in the back who should be better with a year’s experience in a new system to his credit.

S Bryden Trawick
Contract: 1 year,  $675,000
Impact: Trawick was brought in to be a solid special teams player, and he thrived in that role. He was strong in kick and punt coverage, with a team-high 14 special teams tackles. He showed some defensive prowess late when forced into action, and the safety made some nice plays over the last two games.

LB Daren Bates
Contract: 1 year, $850,000
Impact: Bates is a special teams player first and, along with Trawick, helped anchor the coverage units. He had seven special teams tackles over the year.