ALAMEDA, Calif. -- One of the toughest decisions facing Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie this offseason will be what to do about center Stefen Wisniewski, who is one of several Oakland players set to become free agents in March.
A second-round pick in 2011, Wisniewski has missed only three starts over the past four seasons while anchoring Oakland’s offensive line. He began his career at left guard before being moved to his more natural position at center.
Although he had a down year this past season, Wisniewski only gave up one sack according to Pro Football Focus, and was responsible for only three of the hits absorbed by quarterback Derek Carr.
But in its season-ending ratings, Pro Football Focus ranked Wisniewski just 22nd of the NFL’s 32 centers. Wisniewski ranked 11th in 2013 and 17th in 2012.
That could be why the Raiders weren’t willing to meet Wisniewski’s asking price when the sides tried negotiating a contract extension during the season.
Wisniewski isn’t an elite center, but he wants to be paid much more than the $938,000 he made in base salary in 2014. That was the final year in a four-year, $4.1 million contract Wisniewski signed coming out of college, a deal that included a $1.5 million signing bonus.
Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey is the highest-paid center in the NFL at more than $8.8 million annually. Alex Mack of Cleveland is next at $8.4 million, and Carolina’s Ryan Kalil is third at $8.1 million.
Fourteen other centers in the league make an average of $3 million or more, and Wisniewski is likely seeking a deal in that same neighborhood or possibly higher.
Whatever his asking price, the Raiders obviously don’t agree with it and so far seem willing to let Wisniewski hit the free agent market. They could use the franchise tag on him, though that seems unlikely and would probably end up costing the team more than if it had met Wisniewski’s price tag to begin with.
If Wisniewski does wind up signing with another team, there aren’t many quality options available in free agency. Rodney Hudson from Kansas City graded out third overall, according to Pro Football Focus, but might not be high on the Chiefs’ priority list. Likewise Brian De La Puente of the Chicago Bears.
McKenzie already has a long list of holes to fill. Losing Wisniewski would just add another one.