Menu
Home / NFL / The Direction of the Raiders Remains a Mystery

The Direction of the Raiders Remains a Mystery 83

On Thursday, in a surprising move, the Oakland Raiders released cornerback Stanford Routt after he played only one year of the five-year, $54 million contract he signed last year.  It was the first major roster move for first-year general manager Reggie McKenzie, and certainly not the last for a team projected to initially be around $15M (low estimate) over the salary cap.  McKenzie seems determined to give direction to a franchise marred by instability over the last decade, but as of now, most Raiders fans still have to be wondering where the team is heading. It could be years before the Raiders are in contention again, but so much depends on the moves the front office makes and their franchise quarterback, Carson Palmer.

The Raiders have invested heavily in Palmer.

There are some facts Raiders fans will have to accept.  The first is that the Raiders’ fate over the next two years is tied to the success of Palmer.  The team invested heavily in Palmer, both financially and with two high draft picks they traded for the former Bengals quarterback, and his performance will dictate the fortunes of the franchise in the near future.  Palmer is due $12.5M, not an exorbitant amount for a franchise quarterback, but a lot more than he deserves based on his 2011 and 2012 performances. To put it in perspective, Palmer and Michael Vick have the highest base salaries in the NFL; however, in terms of average salaries and cap hits, Palmer is 12th and 10th, respectively. Over 26 games, Palmer has completed about 61% of his passes for 6700 yards, 39 touchdowns, 36 interceptions and four fumbles for an 81.5 quarterback rating.  Although Palmer has not posted a QB rating over 90 since 2006, there is reason to hope that with a complete off-season Palmer with the Raiders staff will help him perform better in 2012.

Raiders fans also need to come to grips with the Raiders’ horrific salary cap situation, with early projections before the Routt move putting the team’s cap around $140M.  Now, every year, many teams re-work contracts and get well under the salary cap situations to make off-season acquisitions.  Here are some of the biggest Raider cap hits heading into 2012:

Player

Base

Bonuses

Total

Richard Seymour

$7.5M

$7.5M

$15M

Carson Palmer

$12.5M

$12.5M

Kamerion Wimbley

$11.0M

$11.0M

Tommy Kelly

$6.0M

$2.89M

$8.89M

Darren McFadden

$5.65M

$1.07M

$6.72M

Michael Huff

$4.0M

$1.83M

$5.83M

Aaron Curry

$5.7M

$5.7M

Shane Lechler

$3.8M

$1.85M

$5.65M

Rolando McClain

$970K

$4.6M

$5.57M

Looking at these players, here is where Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked them in PFF’s ratings and where they rank in terms of how much their salary caps are in terms of their positions.  For example, Seymour graded out as the 11th best nose tackle in the league, but is 2nd (to Haloti Ngata) in terms of nose tackle salary cap hits:

Player

PFF Ranking

Salary Cap Hit Ranking

Richard Seymour

11th

2nd

Carson Palmer

16th

10th

Kamerion Wimbley

3rd

4th

Tommy Kelly

32nd

5th

Darren McFadden

28th

9th

Michael Huff

46th

6th

Aaron Curry

30th

19th

Shane Lechler

3rd

1st

Rolando McClain

21st

23rd

 (Sources: www.profootballfocus.com and www.spotrac.com)

If nothing else, it pays to be a Raider: no other franchise generally overvalues or mis-forecasts the performances of its players as bad as the Raiders do. While they have hit on some players (like Wimbley), it is obvious the Raiders have overpaid about six of its top nine paid players.  At first glance, its clear Kelly, Huff, and Curry need to take pay cuts or be released, as they are not measuring up to the value of their contracts.  While Lechler is an elite punter, he is scheduled to make double what the next punter, Dustin Colquitt of Kansas City($2.28M), is forecasted to make. Despite commensurate value for his performance, it is not beyond reason to think McClain could be cut.  It is doubtful all these players would 1) be willing to renegotiate or 2) McKenzie would want to bring them back.  Expect to see a couple of these names on the market in the near future.  Outside of these players, cornerback Chris Johnson ($3.5M) and defensive tackle John Henderson ($4M) could be also be on the chopping block.

When healthy, McFadden has been a stellar playmaker.

Running back Darren McFadden has been a point of contention for many Raiders fans.  The oft-injured running back is one of the most dynamic running backs in the league when healthy, as he’s a top-notch runner and an electrifying playmaker.  The issue with McFadden, however, is that he’s injured so often (he’s missed 12 of the Raiders’ past 32 games), and therefore can’t contribute on the field. Because of this, many fans argue that Michael Bush might be a better value.  Bush has not shown that he can handle the load of a full 16 game campaign. Even though he was not the feature back the entire season, he showed signs of wearing down late, averaging a mere 63 yards a game over the last six games of the season.  There is likely no team that would be willing to give the value needed for it to be worth the Raiders trading a playmaker like McFadden, so the correct decision is to keep him on the roster for 2012.

As for Routt’s release, it was puzzling on many fronts, as the Raiders 1) currently do not have a lot of salary cap space 2) do not have the draft picks to add replacements and 3) Routt’s salary did not balloon until 2013 to $11.5M.  Not only was Routt’s $5M base salary fairly reasonable, the Raiders are still on the books for $5M in guaranteed pay and will still take a $2.2M cap hit.  The move also makes the Raiders very thin at cornerback, a position that was once considered a strength for them a few years ago.

For the 2012 draft, the Raiders currently only possess fifth and sixth round picks, and it is important to emphasize the word currently, as Oakland is a team that dispenses its draft picks like a Pez machine. Additionally, the NFL could award the Raiders one or two compensatory picks (some project as high as a third rounder) for their losses in free agency. For 2013, the Raiders have already given up at least a second round pick in the Palmer trade (that would escalate to a first round if the Raiders make the AFC Championship game), and another conditional pick after dealing for Aaron Curry. Taking a look over the last decade’s Super Bowl champions, no winner made a big name trade or free agency signing the preseason before they went to the big game. It is not just lip service to say that championship teams are built through the draft, and the Raiders have not put themselves in a position to keep youth and talent flowing into their roster through the draft.

Al Davis, the face of the Raiders for decades.

So, although the Raiders organization is dealing with the loss of a legend after the death of Al Davis, and has a new general manager and head coach, it will be interesting to see the direction these new “captains of the ship” guide the franchise.  They are already handicapped by a limited draft and a tight salary cap for the 2012 season, and they have no choice but to keep Palmer on their roster, as there are no better options for them in free agency or the draft (unless they pull off a miracle trade to get back into the first round for Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III).  If the Raiders are able to make some cuts, and have key players renegotiate their salaries, it is possible they could find a wide receiver in a deep free agency class to improve their their roster.  However, given how limited the Raiders’ options are, Raiders fans should be prepared for the reality that their fortunes in 2012 will be directly linked to Palmer’s performance and health this year.

– Follow me on Twitter: @Shaner021

– Follow the Sports Kings on Twitter: @RealSportsKings

Share

Recent comments