The Raider’s plan moving forward with Carr & Mack’s two mega-deals
May 8th 2014, the NFL Draft is underway, the top ten is flooded with talent. Future Pro-Bowler Jadeveon Clowney is the first off the board. The Raiders are sitting at five, in desperate need of help on the defensive side of the ball. They watched as three straight offensive players were taken. A division one AA pass rusher from Buffalo by the name of Khalil Mack falls into Oakland’s lap; it’s an unknown to many as to if his highlight reel will translate to the spike in competition, and there is doubt he can make the jump.
It’s day two, and the Raiders have the 4th pick in the 2nd round (36th overall). Quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater have all been taken, but Derek Carr remains on the board.
Carr is being overlooked due to the fact that his bloodline’s track record is not on par with that of the famous Manning's. Once again, the Raiders seized the moment and drafted Carr, capitalizing on the scouting department seeing what the doubters could not and finding their star QB of the future.
Fast forward to June 22nd, 2017, the Oakland Raiders signed Derek Carr to a record setting 5 year 125 million dollar deal, 70 million of which is guaranteed, locking down the 2 time Pro-Bowler through the 2022 season at an average of 25 million a year.
The team also picked up Khalil Mack’s 5th year rookie option, something the Raiders couldn’t do with Carr, as he was drafted in the 2nd round. Mack’s 5th year option pays the average of the top five at his position, equaling 13.8 million in 2018. The only man ever to be named 1st team all pro at multiple positions in the modern era is getting a massive pay increase from his 5.9 million in 2017, yet he is still underpaid considering the historic four year performance he’s given since entering the league.
Drafting two perennial all pros in the same season is a coach’s dream. Some scouts and GMs are grateful just to be able to bring one into the building over their whole tenure with a team, but Reggie McKenzie managed to make that happen twice in two days’ time.
The question now becomes: how do you build a roster around one record setting offensive contract, when you have another record setting defensive contract on its way? Khalil Mack will demand upwards of 20 million a year, with 65+ million guaranteed and deservedly so.
Add those monster contracts to the league’s highest paid offensive line, top it off with some overpaid, underperforming veteran players, and you have a massive cap problem on your hands. The Raiders currently have 8 million rolling over from the 2017 to the 2018 salary cap, bringing the total to a measly 14 million available for next year.
To better Oakland’s situation, the first thing to do is locate the misspent funds by determining which players are no longer worth their price tag. The second is to determine the team’s weaknesses. For Oakland’s sake, the team’s money and their weakness both lie in the secondary. Starting safety Reggie Nelson (8.5 million), as well as corners Sean Smith (9.5 million), and David Amerson (8.5 million) are all performing far below what their pay grades entail.
Nelson’s contract is up after this season, while cutting both Smith (PFF’s 79th corner) and Amerson (PFF’s 104th corner) would be beneficial to the cap and the defense. That brings the total cap space to 28 million in 2018, enough to sign Khalil Mack to an extension and structured so that a majority of his signing bonus is prolonged until the 2019 season, when the cap space substantially increases. This should leave the Raiders with roughly 22–24 million, enough to add a productive journeyman corner to go along with the 2017 1st round pick Gareon Conley and a pair of 2nd round safeties in Obi Melifonwu and Karl Joseph.
Depending on the quality of the free agent market, Oakland has the option of releasing veterans Bruce Irvin (8.25 million) and hometown favorite Marshawn Lynch (6 million). If the aging stars do not impress during the remainder of the 2017 season, they could see themselves hitting the open market as cap casualties. Irvin is currently the 5th highest paid at his position, yet Pro Football Focus ranks him 55th overall. The team is 26th in yards per game defensively, dead last in both sacks and interceptions and set the record with zero INTs through the first nine games of a season. Lynch on the other currently grades out as PFF’s 10th best runner, but has been blatantly underutilized through out the season.
The fact that Mack had 75% of his team’s sack production through week 11 speaks wonders on how bad the other side of the defensive line is. 53 is double teamed on every passing situation that isn’t a 3-step drop. Teammates should be able to feast on one on one blocks throughout the defensive line, but the production just isn’t there this year.
Cleaning house of all the named veteran contracts would equal somewhere around 36–40 million in funds available to seek out far more productive players such as Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, or Vontae Davis to cure the secondary woes that plague the Oakland Raiders. Typically cleaning house comes with consequences, but you don’t pay players top dollar to be a liability on the field.
Pass rush reflects the secondary and the secondary reflects the pass rush. No one can cover if the quarterback has all day to throw and the pass rush can’t get to the quarterback if wide receivers are wide open. If the needs are not met through free agency, Oakland will need to draft the best player available between the two positions.
If the season ended today, the Raiders would be the not-so-proud owner of the 13th overall pick in next year’s draft, but I see them making a push for the playoffs through the rest of the season. It is safe to say that Oakland should end up between pick 20–25 as they are only a game out of 1st place in the AFC West and wildcard contention, in what looks to be fairly weak competition amongst those in the AFC playoff race.
A number of experts and current mocks have two of the draft’s top corners Denzel Ward, or Levi Wallace not going until the twenties. Undersized speed rusher Arden Key of LSU would also be an interesting fit opposite of Khalil Mack. His lightning-quick 1st step and rare bend for someone 6'6, would make for quite the sack duo, forcing teams to draw less attention to Mack in blocking schemes, as well as giving opposing wide receivers less time to get open.
Oakland might be contractually top heavy, but the team is only a few roster additions away on the defensive side of the ball from being a true contender. A quality player opposite both Conley and Mack would do wonders for a team that only needs to trim the fat and plug some holes. Regardless, the Raiders knowingly must build through the draft over the next 2–3 years; it’s financially the most beneficial way to maneuver around the massive piles of money both Carr and Mack will demand.