The Oakland Raiders had one of the least talented rosters in the NFL for the two years since general manager Reggie McKenzie came to the team. With salary cap limitations and a roster littered with bad contracts, McKenzie has dug the Raiders out of that hole and is building this offseason. McKenzie has used the 2014 free agency period to fill many need positions and add talent.
His work is not done by any means, but credit McKenzie for what he has been able to do. The Raiders were desperate for improvement along the offensive and defensive lines. As a result, McKenzie has overhauled those positions, adding offensive linemen Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe, and Austin Howard. Along the defensive line, he added Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, and Antonio Smith. The argument can be made that these are over the hill veterans, but talent wise, both lines are much improved. He also has given himself the luxury of short contracts to players, who are mostly in the 29-32 age range. That's a step forward not back.
Oakland had major holes at the cornerback position, so McKenzie went across the bay to land two former San Francisco 49ers. He added Carlos Rogers to fill a desperate need as a slot cornerback and brought in Tarell Brown to start opposite former first round pick DJ Hayden. Both Rogers and Brown were integral parts to a very solid 49ers defense that carried the team to postseasons and a Super Bowl appearance.
The Raiders had major needs at the skill positions and McKenzie recognized their shortcomings. He was able to land running back Maurice Jones-Drew to pair with a motivated Darren McFadden. Jones-Drew choose the Raiders over the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. McFadden has had serious injury concerns, so bringing Jones-Drew as well as the development of Latavius Murray, upgrades the running back position. This is a team that ran the ball very well in 2013 and built on that strength with offensive line and running back help.
McKenzie knew that the Raiders passing game was seriously inept. He made a high reward, low risk trade to bring in Matt Schaub to provide some stability at quarterback. Schaub is coming off a terrible 2013, but is still a better option than anyone currently on the Raiders quarterback depth chart. He will also have the luxury of adding another young, developmental quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft to learn behind Schaub. He also helped Schaub by landing wide receiver help in James Jones. Jones comes from another winning organization in the Green Bay Packers. Jones not only brings skills, but a presence to help the other members of a promising wide receiving corps. Rod Streater, Denarius Moore, and Andre Holmes can all benefit from his insights.
All that McKenzie has done via free agency has allowed him the freedom to take the players he wants in the 2014 NFL Draft. His philosophy has always been best player available. Now, he can implement that philosophy because he is not bogged down by trying to fill countless needs. Head coach Dennis Allen and McKenzie have repeatedly stated that a team is built through the draft. Now, they have to find the right pieces to take this team into playoff contention.
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