It hasn’t been done with a lot of flash, but GM Reggie McKenzie has done a fantastic job of putting together a free agent class that will not only improve the Oakland Raiders’ on the field performance this season, but will lay a solid foundation for the future of the organization. Now, before you start laughing too hysterically about that last statement, when we say that their on the field performance will be better in 2014, it’s with the understanding that the bar was set pretty low. But the pieces McKenzie has assembled to compete in the coming campaign are a vast upgrade over the talent-challenged rosters of the past few seasons — though, with the parity in the league, you just never know what can happen. And today, McKenzie further bolstered the roster by adding some terrific pieces.
Of course, the biggest signing of the day is former Jacksonville Jaguar and northern California native, Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew did not actually commit career suicide by signing with Oakland. It made sense for him and for the team. Now, in the twilight of his career, he gets to come home. Yes, he’s battled some injuries over the last couple of seasons, injuries that limited him to just six games in 2012. And though doesn’t have the pop in his step he did just a few seasons past, Jones-Drew still has some solid football left in him. Though some are quick to point out that his yards per carry were a career low 3.4 last season, he still rushed for more than 800 yards– and that was while still battling some nagging injuries– a total that was higher than what the Raiders’ leading rusher, the departed Rashad Jennings, posted last season.
Jones-Drew isn’t likely to be asked to shoulder the whole load, as the team has a bevvy of capable running backs and look to be setting themselves up for a platooning system — which is not a bad idea. Bringing Jones-Drew home to play for the team he grew up loving was a terrific move by McKenzie for many different reasons. He is not the electric back who rushed for 1,600 yards in 2011, but he’s still got some football left in him and will make a positive contribution to this team.
But the Raiders’ flashy Friday didn’t end there.
McKenzie again raided the pantry of his former team and plucked out a behemoth defensive lineman to help put a few more teeth into the team’s pass rush. The team signed former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman CJ Wilson. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder was a key component in the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run, totaling six tackles (five solo), and a sack to help Green Bay to the championship. Wilson brings his bulky frame, ferocity, and a much-needed ability to stuff the run, to the Raiders’ revamped defense.
Despite letting both Lamarr Houston, and Jared Veldheer walk as free agents, the Raiders finally managed to keep one of their own. McKenzie announced that he’d wisely agreed to terms with free agent defensive tackle Pat Sims, a starter in all sixteen games for the Silver and Black a year ago. The 28-year-old, 6-foot-2, 310-pounder posted a career best 54 tackles last season to go along with a pair of sacks. Though not nearly as heralded as Houston, Sims was incredibly solid and one of the few defensive bright spots last season. Bringing him back not only adds some much needed depth to the defensive front, but also a solid contributor, a very potent run stuffer, and another veteran leader.
The Raiders haven’t been nearly as flashy as some of the other teams around the league, but they have quietly put together one of the better free agent classes this offseason. There is no question whatsoever that the talent level on the roster is better than it has been in some time, and it should yield terrific results on the field. McKenzie’s overhauling of the organization, and the specific players he’s brought in will no doubt help turn the culture in Oakland around, which will help build a solid foundation for the team to continue building on. After some false starts and botched plays, McKenzie seems to be firing on all cylinders and finally has the organization headed in the right direction.