The Oakland Raiders resigned the veteran offensive tackle/guard Khalif Barnes last week as they begin to rebuild last years shaky front line. The Raiders have many more questions at offensive line as they move forward but bringing back Barnes is a step in the right direction.
Barnes is entering his sixth season as a Raider and by all accounts is a great leader in the locker room. He started all sixteen games in 2013 as the team shuffled around the lineman more than a dealer does cards in Vegas. He stepped into Jared Veldheer’s position at left tackle for 11 games and played the last five at left guard. He led the team in snaps according to profootballfocus.com with 1,068 as well as penalties.
Barnes did an admirable job in Veldheer’s absence but his penalties and inconsistency was frustrating to watch at times. He will have to clean up some parts of his game but overall having him back creates continuity, depth and versatility.
With Barnes resigned the Raiders need to shore up the rest of the offensive line unit immediately. With all the injuries and position changes in 2013 the line should be priority number one for Dennis Allen. Veldheer simply needs to be signed as soon as possible. The tackle continues to wait for the Raiders to make a commitment to him and they should do so. Other than his recent injury Veldheer has proven he can be an all-pro lineman and misses very few snaps.
If for some reason the Raiders cannot or will not compensate Veldheer the NFL draft will have two studs at tackle available. Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are great tackles and look to be great professional players. With the number five pick overall the Raiders should have an opportunity to take Robinson or Matthews.
Robinson has jumped Matthews previously-held top tackle spot with an impressive combine showing. Most experts have said that either player will be a great addition to any team.
If Veldheer signs with the Raiders the team can take a collective sigh of relief and trade or use their first pick for something other than offensive line needs. The guard position is deep in this years’ draft and the Raiders desperately need another young talent up front. David Yankey of Stanford and Gabe Jackson of Mississippi State top the list. Both guys are big powerful blockers with long term pro written all over them.
Other guys to look at are Cyril Richardson of Baylor who despite a bad combine proved he could block for a mobile, scrambling quarterback while in college. Lastly, Xavier Su’A-Filo of UCLA plays angry and has the versatility to play either guard or tackle in the NFL. Anyone of these players has been projected in the second to third round and could have an immediate impact on the Raiders’ offense.
Free agency holds many options as well. However, if a lot of money is spent to keep Veldheer the Raiders will have to be careful in their spending as they try to woo free agents. Players who would fit nicely on the Raiders line would be the likes of left tackle Anthony Collins of the Cincinnati Bengals, guard/tackle Geoff Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs, or another Chief, right guard Jon Asamoah. All three of these guys are in their twenties still and are hoping to make multi year deals but have not been consistent enough that they will demand huge contracts.
The Raiders offensive line rebuild is solely contingent on what they do with Veldheer. Yes the draft holds a ton of line talent but Veldheer is a proven pro and signing him is the smart move. If they do not retain Veldheer risk becomes a factor in drafting or signing free agents. The Raiders signing Barnes creates depth but will not bring stability to the line. The good news is that whatever direction the Raiders go, it likely will not end up as bad as it did in 2013. The next few months will hold the true difference in creating a formidable blocking front or continuing to shuffle the offensive line deck in hopes of coming up with a winning hand.
You can follow Sam Cowhick on Twitter: @SamCowhick
You can follow cover32 Raiders on Twitter: @cover32_Oak