The Oakland Raiders’ salary-cap troubles have been well documented.
But after paying the price for years of wild spending, the Raiders will be paroled from salary-cap jail. Next year, after shedding several contracts and being unable to build their program by keeping their own coveted free agents, the Raiders will be in better shape.
ESPN’s John Clayton has a strong grasp on the salary cap and figures that Oakland will have about $69 million in cap space for 2014. That number will likely change based on several things, but it is clear that Oakland will have an abundance of cap room next year as it continues to rebuild its roster. For the first time since Reggie McKenzie took over as general manager in 2012, Oakland will not have to cut players to get under the cap.
Before you start fantasizing about a Pro Bowl stable of free agents coming to the East Bay, a surplus of cap room doesn’t automatically mean that team can sign all the best players. Many teams have cap space good enough to do what they wish; some don’t use their surplus just because they have it. Jacksonville, for example, still has more than $25 million remaining in cap room for this season but has completed virtually all its significant spending.
I expect McKenzie to take a measured approach next year with his newfound salary-cap good fortune. He cut his teeth in Green Bay under Ted Thompson -- who built Green Bay into an elite team by not pursuing outside free agents and keeping his best players.
That’s how McKenzie aims to operate.
So there's no reason to think that good homegrown players will leave the Raiders after the 2013 season. They don’t have a ton of core players, but there are some. Defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, offensive lineman Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski and receiver Denarius Moore are among the players who should be in line for long-term contracts as the Raiders build from within. Running back Darren McFadden is entering the final season of his contract and if he can stay healthy, Oakland will likely be interested in keeping him.
Once the Raiders identify these types of players and lock them up, Oakland will complement the roster with some outside purchases. But it starts from within for McKenzie.
Two things have hurt Oakland: past wild spending on veterans and poor first-round drafting. We’ve seen that with the departures of such players as Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Carson Palmer, Darrius Heyward-Bey and the likely release of Rolando McClain. Had those players not crippled Oakland’s cap, the Raiders would have been able to keep solid players such as Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bryant and Brandon Myers in free agency this year.
This nasty process has depleted Oakland’s roster. The healing begins next year, when Oakland won't be motivated by pure financial necessity and can start making prudent decisions to build the franchise the right way.