Can we please give Reggie McKenzie some credit for the moves he made along the offensive line last year? After allowing Jared Veldheer to walk and the failed signing of Roger Saffold, everyone (including Veldheer’s mom) was telling McKenzie that he was an idiot. He signed Donald Penn to a 2-year, $ 9.6 million deal. Penn was not only way cheaper than Veldheer, but he was way better. The Raiders and Cardinals had terrible rushing attacks, but running off left tackle (which Penn and Veldheer play) the raiders were much better. According to Football Outsiders, the Raiders averaged 4.14 adjusted line yards a carry while the Cardinals averaged just 2.93 yards. The Raiders were also better in pass protection according to Football Outsiders.
If the Raiders re-sign center Stefan Wisniewski, and I think they should, the only position of need along the offensive line is at right tackle. McKenzie’s 2013 second round pick, Menelik Watson, seems like a great person, but hasn’t panned out as a starting right tackle. The Raiders averaged a league low 77.5 yards rushing per game last year. Most of Oakland stuffing percentage came when running off of the right end and right tackle according to Football Outsiders. Luckily, some options should be available to McKenzie and the Raiders in free agency.
Target 1: Andre Smith
The one thing we know about McKenzie, is that he likes his offensive linemen powerful. With the addition of guards Gabe Jackson and Austin Howard, McKenzie’s clear message was that the Raiders are going to be big and strong. There aren’t many NFL players bigger or stronger than Andre Smith. The Bengals RT will likely be cut this offseason, as he tore his triceps last year and carries a big cap number.
Pros: Smith is an absolute monster in the run game. This is the type of RT a run-first team is looking for. He can move people and create a new line of scrimmage. He is also competent in pass coverage.
Cons: Smith’s release is not a sure thing so the Raiders may not get a shot at him. It is not know how well he is recovering from his triceps tear. Smith has also had weight issues and may not be in shape after not playing for an entire year. He also may not be the smartest dude in the world as he tried to board a plane with a gun.
Contract: 3 years, $9 million, $4 million guaranteed
Target 2: Bryan Bulaga
McKenzie loves to pick up Green Bay castoffs and Bulaga is surely going to be on his radar. The Packer’s right tackle has been a staple since McKenzie and company drafted him in Green Bay in 2010. He has been the best offensive lineman on a team that protects Aaron Rodgers.
Pros: Bulaga has gotten better every year he’s been in the league and is still very young (25 years old). He’s great in pass and run protection. He can also bring a toughness to an offensive line that lacks an identity.
Cons: Green Bay will likely re-sign him. The offensive line there has finally jelled and have great chemistry. He has a history of injuries, having not played a full season since his rookie year. He is going to command a lot of money as he is in his prime.
Contract: 6 years, $36 million, $16 million guaranteed
Target 3: Doug Free
The Cowboys offensive line is its strongest asset, but they’re going to have to let Doug Free go. They don’t have the money to pay Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Free (among other free agents). Free and the rest of the Cowboy’s offensive line has had a great year opening holes for a record breaking running back in Murray. When running off of right tackle, the Cowboys are third in the league in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders.
Pros: Free has become a great pass protector and uses great leverage to open holes in the running game. He still has a few good years ahead of him as he is 31 years old. He’ll be blocking for Latavius Murray, who shares more similarities with DeMarco than just a sir name.
Cons: Free did not play well after getting his last contract extension. There is a fear that he could become complacent on what will likely be his last contract in the NFL. He is coming off of a foot injury that may hinder him early next season.
Contract: 3 Years, $9.5 million, $4.5 million guaranteed