Playing GM of the Raiders (Part 2)

In part 1 of our look at the Raiders I examined some of the contract strategies of Oakland and set forth a few possible parameters for contract extensions. In part 2 I will make some rough estimates for salaries for the Raiders upcoming free agentsand when the time is right to strike. I’ll order the bigger names down by when I think the decision should be made on the player and try to give an estimate of cap charges that could be used in the future.

Derek Carr

Free Agent Year: 2018
Recommended Extension: 2017 League Year

This is the domino that needs to fall first. It’s the biggest contract and the one deal where the team is going to need to make an exception with contract structure in order to get this done in a reasonable fashion. When you look around the NFL at young players considered proven you are basically looking at fully guaranteeing $40 million upon signing, most of which will be paid out in the first year of the contract, and another $20-25 million in injury protection. That is virtually impossible to do without a signing bonus especially with other moves the Raiders should make.

You can make an exception in contract structure when dealing with a quarterback. It is a given around the NFL that the QB is in a different class. This was apparent in the old draft contracts and it’s apparent in all the incentives even given to backups if they start. Using the signing bonus can also have them sign Carr to a more traditionally valued contract. If we compare Carr to someone like a Matt Ryan, Ryan came in around 94% of the value of Aaron Rodgers, the leading QB at the time. Carr using that model would sign for about $23 million a season. I think in their current cash only, two year guarantee system, they would have to blow way beyond that number to get him to sign.

With two other big names coming up, Oakland should want to trail the market with Carr not lead it. The top receiver currently makes $15 million a year. The top pass rusher over $19 million. You don’t want to set expectations that Carr’s contract at $25M leads to $17 and $21M deals for the other two. Oakland can use this to help in their other contract talks.

While there is no urgency to do it I think it’s imperative that the Raiders lock up Carr this upcoming year. Carr has a small cap charge in 2017 ($1.7M) so using up room on him rather than a poor free agent signing is a better use of cap space. If they get into the franchise tag game with Carr it really messes up their ability to stagger contracts. Yes they may have to use it at some point in time, but if they have Carr on an exclusive $24M tag in 2018, what do you do in 2019 when Mack and Carr would both be free agents?  Better to pay more now that haggle over a few dollars for a player you know you are keeping for the long haul.

Next year will also see Matthew Stafford likely get a new contract as well as Kirk Cousins move off the tag. Stafford is likely going to push the QB market to at least $25 million a season and Cousins could set a new floor. Both increase the market and the price for Carr. You want Carr done before them if possible.

There are a number of ways to do the contract but if the team would opt for a $20 million signing bonus they can probably have cap charges of around $17 million a year from 2017 to 2019 and then $20, $23, and $22 million from 2020 to 2022.

Khalil Mack

Free Agent Year: 2019
Recommended Extension: 2017 League Year

After this season the Raiders will pick up an option on Mack for the 2018 season which will likely put his 2018 cap charge around $14 million. My initial thought on Mack was to also extend him next season as well to take the benefit of spreading five years’ worth of cap charges out across seven years, but I may be slowly changing my mind on that idea.

The benefits of that type of contract are twofold. A team using that structure will likely knock a few million in the effective value of the contract. Secondly, it locks a player in on today’s dollars rather than the dollars to be paid two years from now. This is how the Texans were able to easily afford JJ Watt despite a record setting, at the time, contract and why Watt is not the highest paid defensive player and is paid less per year than Olivier Vernon.

That said, part of me wonders if the pass rusher market is at a breaking point. Watt, technically in his first extension year in 2016, is injured and there are concerns about whether he will or won’t be dominant again. Justin Houston is hurt. Suh hasn’t made the big impact in Miami. Muhammad Wilkerson and Malik Jackson have not lived up to the contracts. Fletcher Cox, Marcel Dareus, and so on. The list goes on and on of players who look overpaid, except right now for Von Miller.

Miller is of course going to be the comparable given for Mack which probably puts Mack in the vicinity of earning $20 million a season. If the Raiders are planning an all cash contract model it may not be that much different than using the franchise tag twice and bidding farewell at age 30 if they don’t plan on extending early. This would give Oakland the ability to spend more now but perhaps less in those two tag years. Either way it’s a consideration.

Still for the time being I’m going to assume Oakland will stick with their all cash model and I think that makes extending him this upcoming year the better choice.  That will give them two years to take on some extra cap charges in 2017 and 2018 and also use around $17M of salary that is virtually guaranteed as part of a “new” $70 million guarantee to match Miller’s contract. The cost certainty of an early extension should also eliminate the premium that may come from no bonus.

Miller earns $25.5 million in his first year which the Raiders can now spread over 3 years. The Raiders could do something like a $10M raise in 2017, $2M raise in 2018, and then the balance in 2019. The cap charges would then be about $16M in 2017 and 2018 and $14 million in 2019.  From there you can follow the Miller outline with future cap charges of around $17M, $19M, $18M, $18M, $18M.

Latavius Murray

Free Agent Year: 2017
Recommended Extension: None

Murray comes off an impressive game against the Broncos, but I’m not sure if he is considered a vital part of the offense. The team currently doesn’t seem to have a replacement on the roster but running backs are often an easier position to find in the draft. There is some variance in the market but Id imagine that his floor is around $5.2M (Giovani Bernard of the Bengals) with a $6.5M ceiling (L. Miller). Murray rushed for 1,000 yards last year and has a knack for scoring touchdowns, but I think with bigger free agents to cover they may only stick with him on the lower scale.

One thing that drove the prices for the higher talent (L. McCoy, D. Martin, Miller, D. Murray and C. Ivory) is the fact that they went to teams with question mark quarterbacks. Derek Carr is pretty much in the proven category so you are not signing someone to take the pressure off him. You would have done so last year, but not in 2017. This becomes a supplemental piece and supplemental pieces should not be paid a high salary.

The best argument for a return is that he could be off the books by 2019 when Mack’s new contract makes things much tighter and certainly by 2020 when it’s Coopers turn. If he stayed on a contract worth around $6 million, Id anticipate cap charges in the ballpark of $9M (2017), $5.5M(2018), $4.5M (2019), and $5M(2020) using the Raiders typical contract structure and keeping the charges low later in the contract. I’d much rather use cap room on Mack next year than on a running back.

Gabe Jackson 

Free Agent Year: 2018
Recommended Extension: 2018

Guard contracts have risen in the last year, but not to the point where a player like Jackson is not affordable. Given the age on the Raiders line at the tackle spots I would think it makes more sense to keep Jackson than Murray if the choice was one or the other. Jackson is not a Pro Bowl talent or an exceptionally high draft selection to push his value near the top players at the position, but he should surpass JR Sweezy’s $6.5M a year contract from the Bucs and cap off below Brandon Brooks $8 million a year contract in Philadelphia.

If the Raiders choose to not address Mack next year than Jackson’s is a contract you probably want to finish next season to just keep the team together and have a good feeling around the team, especially if they let Murray walk. Since the team is made up of so many free agents you don’t want the drafted players to feel as if there is a double standard on contracts and this is the perfect type of player to benefit from that.

The one risk with letting Jackson play out the contract is the potential to leave in free agency, but the team’s exclusive rights between January and March should be enough time to strike a deal. They could extend Jackson next year as well it would just lessen the amount of cap room they can allocate to Mack, unless they wanted to do a bigger signing bonus for Carr than the $20 million suggested above, which is probably the only way to fit all three in next season and still have room to breathe.

I would certainly expect the Raiders to use an all cash contract with Jackson which will mean a big cap charge, probably in the ballpark of $11 or $12 million in 2018. That should be reasonable since they will have cap room to spare that year. From there I would expect $6 million in 2019, and $5.5 million in 2020 and $6 million in 2021. Those should be fair charges that are easy enough to absorb.

Amari Cooper 

Free Agent Year: 2020
Recommended Extension: 2019

Cooper is one of the bright young receivers in the NFL and on pace for a monster season. The sky is the limit for Cooper and while normally I would always lean towards a very early extension I don’t see this as being a very easy negotiation as receiver negotiations seemingly never go smoothly.  There are a big group of really good young receivers all of whom will be receiving extensions in the next few years, and all before Cooper. I’d say the timing of Cooper’s extension will have much to do with that. There is also the consideration that his contract will be coming up towards the expiration of the current CBA and while the Raiders have generally not been the norm when it comes to business, in the last go around many teams avoided pricey extensions during that period of uncertainty.

In general Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, both set for free agency a year before Cooper, will be the market setters. The last time around where there was a similar situation the top receivers (Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas) all landed on the franchise tag before signing new contracts in July. Those were the pieces that had to fall before the players set for free agency the following season (Julio Jones and AJ Green) could agree on new contracts.

If they sign earlier than that its possible Cooper could be done a year earlier.  Of the two Evans is the more likely to sign early and it would not stun me if he signed this offseason. But as long as Beckham is unsigned I’d think Cooper will wait too.  My expectation is that once Beckham signs the Raiders will offer Cooper a shorter term contract for $1 million a year more similar to what the Bengals did with Green and a similar structure to what Evans gets in Tampa. In 2020 that may be $18M a year.

This contract is so far out in the future that it’s no concern for Oakland right now. Carr and Mack should be reasonable enough in value by then and many of the current higher priced players will be off the team. The earliest Cooper could sign is 2018 and a lot would need to happen around the league for the two sides to come to an agreement that early, in my opinion. In general projecting the Raiders roster in 2019 or 2020 this far out is pretty futile since so many contracts will have expired and free agent decisions will be dictated by draft success/failure and where the team is in terms of record.

In the final part of our look at the Raiders I’ll put it all together and see what their future cap might look like if we take these contracts into account.