USA Today has given grades for free agent moves thus far and chose the Oakland Raiders for the dubious honor of receiving the worst grade of any team in the league. While one team, the Cincinnati Bengals, received an incomplete, no one received a letter grade worse than the D- handed to the Raiders.
By the time the piece was written, the Raiders had signed eight free agents. Offensive linemen Austin Howard, Kevin Boothe and Donald Penn, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, defensive linemen Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, cornerback Tarrell Brown and wide receiver James Jones.
According to USA Today, the Raiders scored so low in large part because of the fact that they had so much cap space but have not made many big signings. They also made the same comment that most have made about the fact that many of the free agents brought in by the Raiders are on the older side for NFL players. Finally, they say that the Raiders signed two guys in Woodley and Smith who do not fit with the scheme the Raiders run.
While the Raiders have not had a great free agent period, a D- seems overly heavy handed. Every point that USA Today makes is valid to a degree. No, they did not make any splash signings but depending on who you ask, that is not a bad thing. Big splashes often mean big contracts and overpaying. That was never in the cards for this administration and staying away from such deals is seen as a strength in franchises like Green Bay and New England.
They are also correct about the fact that the Raiders are signing veteran players. What they fail to note is the fact that the team was all but devoid of such leadership before hitting the free agent market. The Raiders simply do not have a lot of experience or veteran presence on the roster.
At least not until now. Clearly the Raiders will be adding more young talent through the draft and likely through remaining free agents as well. Who knows, maybe they even make a trade or two. Plus, let’s not forget that it is already an incredibly young roster.
Finally, as for the scheme fits, this is not nearly as big of an issue as USA Today makes it seem. Woodley was brought in for his pass rushing abilities and he can do that with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. He played the position in college and his style of football is an aggressive, move forward first style. Playing as a down linemen should work in favor of that downhill style. As for Smith, he was a 3-4 defensive end who said he was double teamed on pretty much every single play. Sounds like a guy who can move inside to defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme pretty well.
No, the Raiders do not deserve an A for their moves so far. They have not been the most active of teams, nor have they brought in any true game changers. The best two players they have signed are James Jones and Tarrell Brown. Both are very good but neither is elite. But at the same time, USA Today seems to be making a much bigger deal out of obvious issues than they should be.
The Raiders have some serious work to do but what they have done so far isn’t a bad start. Reggie McKenzie has set himself up with a nice foundation built in the trenches and if he continues to build on this path, the Raiders will be a much improved team in 2014.
My grade for the moves made so far? I tend to go with incomplete at this point, but if forced I would give the Raiders a B- for the moves they have made.