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The Raiders have a lot of salary cap space. Roughly $64.5 million by spotrac.com’s latest count. They have 18 unrestricted free agents and 11 of 22 starting spots to fill. The pressure’s on to show progress in the win column in 2014, lest the power structure crumble to the ground.
Raiders brass and outsiders alike consider this as important an offseason as there’s ever been.
It would seem a perfect time to splurge a bit in free agency, bring in some big names and enjoy an offseason of excess. Head coach Dennis Allen made crystal clear what many within the organization have been saying quietly for weeks: that ain’t gonna happen.
The Raiders are going to build their team the old fashioned way.
“Everybody looks at our salary cap and says, ‘They’re going to go after every free agent that’s out there. That’s just not the case,’” Allen said Thursday in a one-on-one interview with CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We’re going to identify some guys and we have the ability to go out and get some guys (in free agency), but I just don’t believe that’s the way you build your football team.
“You can (help) your football team by augmenting through free agency, but you build your team through the draft. There will be some impact-kind of players that we try to go out and get, but the draft will be – just as it was last year – a big deal for us.”
Then the Raiders need to find immediate impact players in the early rounds of this draft and reap greater dividends from the 2013 class. In sum, young players must perform beyond their experience level to make the quantum leap Raider Nation is hoping for. While that expectation’s a tad unrealistic, Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie refuse to deviate from a plan they believe will pay off in the long run.
Building a foundation of draftees will keep the Raiders right with the salary cap – thanks in large part to a team-friendly rookie wage scale – and reward the deserving once rookie deals expire.
It’s a break from the Raiders' recent trend, which was to use short-term deals to get through a period of deconstruction and find solid salary-cap standing. The Raiders experienced dramatic turnover last season and will again in 2014, but they’d rather stem that tide in future seasons.
“Although we have a lot of cap room, we have to make sure we make good, sound decisions because we’re trying to build this thing, not just for the one-year fix,” Allen said in a press conference. “We’re trying to build this thing for the long term. And the way you’re able to sustain success is you’re able to keep quality players on your football team and supplement your roster going out in free agency and acquiring some talent outside your building.”
The Raiders priority is re-signing some of their own players, including left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston and running back Rashad Jennings. Then they’ll move on to free agency, although the Raiders aren’t going after a number of A-list free agents. The Raiders would consider signing one, maybe two at a maximum, from free agency’s top tier.
“We want to accumulate as many good players as possible,” Reggie McKenzie said in a January meeting with local press. “The philosophy is not to dump every dollar and cent into one or two players. That’s not what I want. We’re not at that point with our team that we’re able to do that because we have more than one or two needs. We had to figure out how to get as many good players as we can. Would that leave enough money or cap space to get one big player, we’ll do that too. We’re going to do things that make sense for the big picture, which is the overall overhaul of the roster.”
The roster will again be filled with team-oriented players of high character, which is important to those making decisions.
If the Raiders are to succeed in improving this roster through the draft, McKenzie, Allen and Co. can’t afford to miss. That puts added pressure on each pick, especially in the early rounds. Each mistake sets the Raiders back during a period where they need to keep progressing on.
“There’s obviously a sense of urgency, but I don’t think it’s (greater) than any other year,” Allen said. “We want to try to improve this football team and get this organization back to winning championships. That’s what this organization needs to be able to do.”