In re-signing the likes of Taiwan Jones and Khalif Barnes, the Oakland Raiders have been quietly going about assembling the pieces to construct their 2014 roster. But an important deadline came and went today, and the Raiders interestingly enough, just let it go by. The important deadline of course, was the deadline to drop their franchise tag on players. The Washington Redskins opted to use the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo, the Carolina Panthers dropped it on Greg Hardy, and the New Orleans Saints used their franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham. By doing so, those teams kept their key from hitting the open market. And with a couple of key players the Raiders have expressed an intense desire in retaining, it seems somewhat curious that the deadline to franchise a player came and went — and the Raiders did nothing.
It is definitely a curious non-move by the team, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There was a lot of speculation and suspense about whether or not the team would use the franchise tag on one of their two biggest pending free agents, defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, or offensive lineman Jered Veldheer. Had they opted to franchise Houston, the team would have been on the hook for a little over $13 million. If they’d used it on Veldheer, it would have cost them a bit over $11 million. While they have more than $66 million under the cap to operate with, those salaries would still be a relatively big cap hit for just one player.
A team using the franchise tag on a player runs the risk of causing friction between the player and the team. The situation with Jimmy Graham and the Saints is a prime example of that. However, by letting a player hit the open market, the club also faces the possibility of having to pay even more for their services, should their value skyrocket. Such is the case with Lamarr Houston. With a thin market for impact defensive ends, the versatile Houston could command a king’s ransom in free agency. By not committing that much money to Houston through the franchise tag, the Raiders also put themselves in a better position to pursue an impact player like Jared Allen or Justin Tuck and not have to commit the type of money they’ll command and the money it would take to keep Houston. If they pursued a player like Allen or Tuck, they could fill out the rest of the defensive line with more cost effective players. And though Houston is versatile and a solid defender, his six sacks last season don’t seem to warrant a $13 million dollar payday. Plus, he’s already said that it might be time to move on, indicating that he’s not with the team long term anyway.
Given GM Reggie McKenzie’s comments about it being vital to sign Veldheer to a multi-year deal, it’s entirely feasible that they decided to forgo using the franchise tag on him because there is a structure already in place, and it’s unnecessary. It doesn’t seem entirely likely that McKenzie would not have used the tag on him if he wasn’t confident in having a deal done soon.
It was a very interesting day for Raider fans, and gives some insight into the differences between having McKenzie at the helm versus having Al Davis there. Rather than overpay for a player like Houston, on a knee-jerk reaction, McKenzie is showing patience, discipline, and a thriftiness that can be a benefit to the club. No doubt, those are all attributes he learned while in the Green Bay front office. He seems to be willing to let the process play out, and target players who A) want to be in Oakland, and B) who are cost effective yet still impact players.
It may seem like the Raiders have all the money in the world to play with, but that $66 million dollars can go really, really fast, and they might not have a lot to show for it if they aren’t smart about it. The fact that McKenzie allowed the franchise tag deadline to pass without doing anything is interesting, and could potentially pay terrific dividends for the organization.