Analysis: Raiders rebound after rough start to free agency

Analysis: Raiders rebound after rough start to free agency
March 18, 2014, 2:45 pm
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While there's tremendous work left to do, the experience already coming to Oakland should help the Raiders compete in the clutch.
Scott Bair

Programming note: NFL free agency is well underway! Check out Scott Bair's Raiders free agent tracker and watch SportsNet Central every night at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the latest football news.

UPDATE: (5:05 p.m. Tuesday evening) -- The Raiders agreed to terms on a contract with offensive tackle Donald Penn on Tuesday evening, a pair of NFL sources told CSN Bay Area.


The Raiders still have several holes to fill. That Rodger Saffold situation hasn’t been forgotten. Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston will still be missed.

The Raiders stumbled but didn’t face plant during the first wave of free agency thanks to a series of smart, sensible signings with a common theme. The Raiders are going after winners.

Every new free agent signed save right tackle Austin Howard has been to the playoffs within the last three years. There are six Super Bowl rings and eight NFL championship appearances between them.

That’s vital experience for a team that struggled to close games last season and must learn how to win. Make no mistake -- the Raiders have just started down the road to respectability. They must strike gold in this draft, mine depth from free agency’s remnants and secure a veteran quarterback to provide offensive stability sorely lacking last season.

[RELATED: Report: Raiders, Texans in Schaub trade talks]

It's still a vast improvement over last Wednesday’s disastrous team physical that sent Saffold home without a contract. Roughly a week later the Raiders still have $32.299 million in salary cap space with items yet unchecked – the Raiders are still in play for left tackle Donald Penn, and their search for a passer won’t come cheap – but they’re in a better place for signing several key defenders. The list includes defensive lineman Lamarr Woodley and Antonio Smith and cornerback Tarell Brown. Adding veteran receiver James Jones was a coup, and guard Kevin Boothe provides depth.

But Justin Tuck got positive momentum rolling again. The longtime New York Giants defensive end wanted to stay in the Big Apple, but the Raiders’ two-year, $11 million offer drew him West. Tuck decided that, if he was going to take 60.5 sacks arose the continent , he might as well bring some talent with him.

[REWIND: Tuck: 'I'll be a recruiter of defensive talent']

Woodley was an easy sell. They have the same agent and came as a virtual package deal. Smith followed the next day and Brown after that.

“I think it’s a domino effect,” Brown said. “Anytime you bring in guys that have won a lot of games, have played in a lot of big games as well and have had a lot of success in this league, it definitely helps. We can put things in perspective and guide younger guys in the direction of saying, ‘Look, get under my wing and this is how you do it in the NFL to be successful.’ So, bringing those guys in, it’ll definitely help this team out. That includes me as well. We just all have to get on one page and make sure that we all get the common goal, and that’s winning day in and day out.”

[RELATED: Jones: 'I can give this offense a spark']

Experience also means you’ve been around and taken a lot of hits. Every new free agent save Howard is 29 or older and didn’t receive significant offers from their old team, which can be construed as a sign their skills are in decline. That’s a risk inherent in courting older players at key spots, and the Raiders must support them with youth and some with regular rotations to maximize this new talent. While there's tremendous work left to do, the experience already coming to Oakland should help the Raiders compete in the clutch. 

“With our presence in the locker room and our presence on the practice field, hopefully we can show the young the guys what it’s going to take to get to the next level,” Jones said. “Hopefully, that will rub off on them and we’ll be able to turn it around and do some great things.”