Heading into the 2017 NFL season, there was a lot of excitement surrounding Jack Del Rio and the Oakland Raiders. Now, following a 6-10 finish and coaching change, there is still some excitement but plenty of questions to go along with them.
Since Jon Gruden has taken over at the helm, plenty of enthusiasm exists surrounding the Raiders and their future.
The first task facing the new coach will be which of the players he’s inheriting are worth keeping. Just like we’ve done for eight teams already, we’re going to evaluate the names with expiring contracts and try to predict which ones may be leaving or staying.
With just $25 million in available cap space, these decisions may be harder than expected.
Oakland Raiders Unrestricted Free Agents
Cornerback, David Amerson
Safety, Reggie Nelson
Kicker, Sebastian Janikowski
Linebacker, Navorro Bowman
Tight End, Lee Smith
Defensive End, Denico Autry
Long Snapper, Jon Condo
Quarterback, E.J. Manuel
Defensive Tackle, Justin Ellis
Safety, Keith McGill
Cornerback, Travis Carrie
Gruden and the Raiders already made one move, which is why Amerson is on this list. His release saved the team more than $6 million off their 2018 cap number, so it’s a start. It’s also an easy call to say he won’t be back.
With limited cap space and the fact Reggie Nelson will turn 35 shortly after the beginning of the season, the safety may not be retainable.
However, there isn’t a clear starter on the roster and any free agent worth handing the starting job to is going to cost even more.
Drafting one is a possible solution, but the only safety projected this high at this point is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick who most consider stronger as a cornerback than safety.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is almost as recognizable as a Raiders player as their own logo is. Be that as it may, his time with the franchise may be over.
The only problem is his 2017 replacement Giorgio Tavecchio didn’t exactly inspire boatloads of confidence with his 76.2 percent made kicks percentage.
Prediction: Nelson will get two more years in Oakland while Janikowski leaves in search of a ring.
Oakland Raiders Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Linebacker, Shilique Calhoun
Linebacker, James Cowser
Guard, Denver Kirkland
Cornerback, Erik Harris
Kicker, Giorgio Tavecchio
Defensive Tackle, Demetrius Cherry
Exclusive rights free agents don’t have any bargaining power, so the Raiders really can’t afford not to bring any of these guys back.
There aren’t too many teams who just can’t find space on their training camp rosters.
Shilique Calhoun is probably the pearl of this group having appeared on over 240 snaps for the Raiders in 2017. While most of those came on special teams, he’s got potential and could certainly find his way onto the final roster again in 2018.
Tavecchio will enter camp being the longest tenured kicker in Oakland if my previous prediction comes true, but it doesn’t mean he’ll get the job when it’s all said and done.
There are new rookies getting set to enter the battle, and available veterans are always waiting for their chance to get a fresh start.
Prediction: Calhoun survives the final cuts in camp, and Tavecchio meets competition in the pre-season. They all come back for camp though.
Potential Cuts by the Oakland Raiders
Linebacker, Bruce Irvin
Remember the part where I said the Raiders have some hard decisions coming up? Well, Irvin presents just one of those.
Compared to expectations and salary cap numbers, Irvin really hasn’t performed the way Oakland thought he would when they brought him over from Seattle.
However, towards the end of 2017, he seemed to turn a corner and almost looked like the guy they thought they were getting in the beginning. This really complicates things.
If Gruden and staff believe the latest version is the real one, then keeping him becomes a strong possibility. If they buy the majority of his work in silver and black, then they could instantly save $8.25 million.
Prediction: This won’t be decided until after the NFL Draft and really can’t be predicted until then.
Wide Receiver, Michael Crabtree
Crabtree has played for the Raiders for the past three years in what has been an up-and-down ten seasons in the NFL.
With a tumultuous end to his 2017 season, Gruden may not be looking to retain the talented 30-year old who will be 31 before the first kickoff.
Finding a trade partner may be a bit difficult given his cap number over $7.5 million, so they’ll have to sell lower than they’d like.
A fourth-round pick is a win for Oakland. The extra cash is a bonus.
Prediction: Crabtree gets shipped to the NFC. Could San Francisco be an option?
The Raiders have a hot new coach and plenty of talent already on hand. What they don’t have is cap space to add significant pieces to the roster.
A combination of what happens to these names with expiring contracts and potential releases will lend a lot to what happens in 2018 and beyond.
Thanks for checking out this look into the Raiders’ free agent picture. Come back to Lifestyle Sports 101 for even more as I make my way through all 32 teams in the National Football League.
Note: The Oakland Raiders have no restricted free-agents for 2018.
David Harrison is a Senior Columnist and NFL Draft Analyst for Lifestyle Sports 101. You can find him on Twitter, on the Locked on Bucs podcast, and at The Pewter Plank where he is a co-expert producing Buccaneers focused content.