The Raiders have 18 players on the cusp of unrestricted free agency. All of them obviously won’t be coming back. Most might not be an apt description. Some? Perhaps a select few.
General manger Reggie McKenzie spoke extensively about upgrading wherever possible during a Thursday roundtable with local press, a necessary exercise following a 4-12 season due in large part to a real lack of talent.
He said the team has interest in re-signing left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston, running back Rashad Jennings and free safety Charles Woodson.
It’s uncertain how many of the other 14 the Raiders will pursue. McKenzie made it crystal clear that the Raiders need to create strong starting 11s.
That might come at continuity’s expense. It might leave a defense with seven starters headed for free agency in a state of flux. McKenzie says the Raiders are ready for that.
“Hopefully there will be a few of the guys coming back and whether it’s that same role or whatever, at least we’ll have some guys to choose from if we can get ‘em back. If not, we’re going to upgrade,” McKenzie said. “…continuity helps, but great players and really good players will help more.”
There’s a lot to dissect in that quote, most notably that returners may not have the same role. McKenzie was steadfast in his desire to upgrade several key spots.
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McKenzie singled out some of the Raiders best. Houston and Veldheer are the best players around, though McKenzie prefers not to use the franchise tag to retain them. Jennings had a breakout second-half of the season. Woodson played well but showed signs of wear near season’s end, when he played outside his comfort zone.
The 37-year old said he hoped to extend his second stint as a Raider, and McKenzie confirmed that interest is mutual.
“I thought he was very solid and could contribute, and I told him so,” McKenzie said. “And I told him I would like to talk about getting him back here.”
The Raiders had other solid contributors heading out the door, like cornerback Tracy Porter and defensive tackle Vance Walker who deserve a return engagement.
Others, including running back Darren McFadden, are likely headed out the door.
While free agency opens March 11, the Raiders can sign incumbent players right away. Action won’t crank up until the NFL scouting combine in late February, though some easy-to-do deals could happen earlier. Locking some up early could help, considering how much the Raiders have ahead this offseason. They’d like to keep some continuity, but improve depth and talent around them.
“We feel like we have some good players, that we can have some productive players, for whatever role they will be playing in, but we are not set anywhere,” McKenzie said. “We're going to upgrade from every position. We have a lot of free agents ourselves that we're going to have to try to sign, so it's a lot of work to do.”