Murray's future largest offensive question mark for Raiders

Murray's future largest offensive question mark for Raiders

The Raiders had a top 10 offense this season, with balance uncharacteristic of previous seasons. The run game got going behind an expensive offensive line worth its massive weight, and quarterback Derek Carr led a dynamic air attack always cool under pressure. They’ll want to keep a good thing going, which should be easy with most members of the offensive depth chart under contract.

Running back Latavius Murray, tackle Menelik Watson and receiver Andre Holmes – Seth Roberts is an exclusive rights restricted free agent -- are key exceptions set for unrestricted free agency. Tight end Mychal Rivera and backup quarterback Matt McGloin are also headed for the open market.

That’s a small sum, with just one steady member of the starting lineup.

The Raiders are expected to extend Carr’s contract this offseason, but there might not be many new faces on offense.

Let’s take a look at each position group and identify where upgrades might help.

RUNNING BACK

The Raiders have an interesting decision to make here. Murray scored 12 touchdowns and averaged 4.0 yards per carry as the leader of a three-back pack, and should draw interest on the open market. If he re-signs, the Raiders seem set at running back.

Murray insists he wants to return, but another team may offer a deal the Raiders don’t want to match. That scenario could lead to his departure and a new power back in free agency or the draft.

The Raiders prefer to re-sign their own players, a point made clear by general manager Reggie McKenzie on Thursday. 

"When you're talking about a guy who is 6-foot-3, close to 230 pounds, there's not a whole lot of similar you can get there," McKenzie said in an interivew with JT the Brick on 95.7 The Game. "He's one of those kinds that don't come around too often when you talk about size. I'm always in position to want to re-sign our own players, but the finances of it always will play a part. You never know there's 31 other teams out there who may be communiciating to his representatives. We'll see where it goes, but we like to re-sign our guys."

They have productive, yet smaller options in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. The Raiders have been good drafting backs in the lower rounds – Murray was a sixth-round pick himself – and could mine for more production later in the NFL draft.

QUARTERBACK

Derek Carr will return to full strength from surgery to repair a broken fibula and plans to be the team’s starting quarterback for years to come. Connor Cook was drafted in the fourth round last year, showed quality arm strength and should be the primary backup moving forward.

Matt McGloin wants to go somewhere he can compete for a starting gig. That isn’t Oakland. The Raiders will need quarterbacks for camp and maybe one sticks, but they had just two on the 53-man roster in 2015.

RECEIVER

Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree headlined a productive group that came through time and again under pressure. It also waned some near season’s end. Both guys were battling injury late and certainly want to avoid that in 2017, when they’ll be primary targets yet again.

Slot receiver Seth Roberts is an exclusive rights free agent and is easily retained, but an upgrade is possible here. Holmes wants to return, but the market might dictate that considering his ability as a downfield receiver.

The Raiders receivers had far too many drops in 2017, Crabtree and Roberts especially. A sure handed possession receiver might be of benefit, especially a young player who can develop add injury protection to the unit.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Raiders spent significant funds building a stout offensive line in recent offseasons, and it paid off in 2016. That unit was tough to handle, and became the engine that allowed skill players to thrive. The line weathered injuries at right tackle, and had the depth necessary to keep going strong.

Menelik Watson is an unrestricted free agent, and the oft-injured athlete’s market value remains truly uncertain. Austin Howard remains under contract and could start at right tackle, though competition could come from Vadal Alexander.

Left tackle might be a spot addressed in the draft, with Donald Penn entering a contract year and unsure of how long he’ll play beyond that. The Raiders even have options there with a deep, versatile line. Left guard Kelechi Osemele could slide outside when the time comes

TIGHT END

Lee Smith was lost to a broken ankle in Week 4, but the blocking tight end will be at full strength for the offseason program. The same should be said for Gabe Holmes, an exclusive rights free agent who should be brought back. Clive Walford still headlines the group, though the Raiders expect more from the 2015 third-round pick. The group could largely stand pat, with Rivera leaving in free agency and a few camp players added to the mix.

Raiders offensive lineman next in line for extension with Carr's deal done

Raiders offensive lineman next in line for extension with Carr's deal done

The Raiders locked up Derek Carr last week, signing their franchise quarterback to a five-year, $125 million contract extension.

He isn’t the only member of the 2014 draft class worthy of a raise. Edge rusher Khalil Mack will get a big one, likely at some point next offseason. The Raiders have some time with Mack after exercising a fifth-year contract option available for first-round picks.

General manager Reggie McKenzie didn’t have that luxury with Carr, and his 2014 second-round pick cashed in before formally entering a contract year.

Right guard Gabe Jackson could do the exact same thing. McKenzie prefers to draft, develop and reward homegrown talent, and the 2014 third-round pick should be next in line to do so.

McKenzie has said back in March that he’d like to extend Jackson’s contract, though there isn’t a deadline to do so.

“There’s no timetable,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “But, I alluded to earlier in the offseason that Gabe is one of the guys I want to get locked up.”

That could happen later this offseason, or further into training camp. Despite paying Carr an NFL-record $25 million in 2017, his contract is structured in such a way that there’s room for another offseason extension. That was important for Carr, that the Raiders can sign other members of this young core.

“We figured out a way to do it,” Carr said, “so that we have the opportunity to sign the other guys that I think are important to this organization.”

The Raiders have roughly $18 million in salary cap space after the Carr deal. Some of that is earmarked for the team’s top three draft picks, which remain unsigned to this point. A large sum could go to Jackson as incentive to sign up early, well before he’s eligible to hit the unrestricted free agency.

The offensive guard market is booming, with bigger deals going to a position group generally lower than other spots on the offensive line. The Raiders contributed to that inflation in 2016, signing left guard Kelechi Osemele to a five-year, $58.5 deal with $25.4 million in guarantees.

Osemele is one of eight guards with contracts worth $40 million or more, a list that includes two right guards. Jackson played left guard – the more valued position – until Osemele showed up. He moved to the right without complaint.

Jackson thrived there as well. He didn’t allow a sack in 2016, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, with 27 quarterback pressures in 735 pass-blocking snaps. Jackson has been a strong run blocker as a pro, where he has started 44 games in three NFL seasons.

Finding proper value to entice Jackson to sign while remaining on budget is McKenzie’s next task, trying to keep a valuable offensive lineman in place for years to come.

Carr plans to spread new wealth after Raiders contract extension

Carr plans to spread new wealth after Raiders contract extension

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr isn’t one for extravagance. The low-key Raiders quarterback already has some nice cars, a house and some luxury items to his name, but signing a $125 million contract extension Friday morning won't prompt a spending spree.

Cornerback Sean Smith suggested he get a Bugatti. That’s a $1 million car.

“Yeah,” Carr said with a smirk. “That’s not going to happen.”

That isn’t the 26-year old’s style. Carr had a his own plan after signing on the dotted line.

“I’ve been eating clean,” Carr said. “I’ll probably get Chick-fil-A.”

That makes sense. This is a guy who celebrated his first NFL victory with a trip through a Carl’s Jr. drive-in.

There will be other purchases. His wife Heather will get something nice in the near future. His family, especially Heather and sons Dallas and Deker, will be taken care of for life.

After all that, Carr plans to spread the wealth.

“The exciting thing for me moneywise, honestly, is this money is going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it, that it’s in our hands because it’s going to help people. Not only in this country, but in a lot of countries around the world. That’s what’s exciting to me.”

Carr and former Raiders running back Latavius Murray took a missionary trip to Haiti, an impoverished nation had a profound impact on the star quarterback.

“I’ve been down to Haiti and I’ve seen some of those struggles that they have and the kids there, and my heart just… I cry sometimes thinking about it,” Carr said. “So, just knowing that we can go down there and make a difference and help, those are the kind of things that the money makes me kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Because now we can really do some things to help a lot of people.”

He plans to support those in that area, in addition to global and domestic charities he has been involved with over the years. Don’t expect a press release accompanying every donation. Carr would rather keep those decisions private.

“I’m going to do my best to make sure no one knows what we do with it,” Carr said. “I’ll just say this, I can assure you that it’s going to help a lot of people. I’m not stingy. My business manager will probably be on me saying, ‘Hey man, that’s enough.’ I won’t get into when, how or why. It’s not all about that for me. It’s about making a difference. That’s what’s exciting for me is that we’ll be able to do that.”