Playing GM of the Raiders (Part 3)

In part 1 of the series I looked at contract tendencies with the Raiders and in part 2 I focused on contract extensions, here we put it all together and see what mess I created.  I ran all the numbers through the OTC Oakland Raiders calculator to see where the Raiders would stand with contracts for these 4 players. The assumptions made are that the Raiders will carry over about $9 million in cap space this year and that the cap will continue to rise by a similar percentage as it has the last few years until the CBA expires at which point it remains flat. No carry over is factored in to future years nor am I cutting any players from the roster. Also I’m putting in an $18 million contract placeholder for Amari Cooper starting in 2019 even though I didn’t really discuss contract terms in the prior part.

Here is the breakdown for the next few years:

YearUnder ContractCap SpaceEstimated CapBig 4 Est. CapRemaining Per Player

The important column here to look at is the amount remaining to spend on the balance of the roster. In 2017 the roster is relatively the same as this year since the only player we did not keep was Murray and the rest of the free agents are dead weight who won’t be back. If we take the big 4 cost out of the cap we come up with the ability to spend about $2.5 million per other player on a 53 man roster. Oakland will be able to field, under those conditions, what will likely be the same playoff caliber roster as they have this year.

As we move further out we are able to slightly increase that charge which means even with these monster contracts on the books there is a path for Oakland to maintain a roster around these players. It may require moving from their current strategy with their contracts in the future as they have dumped some charges in 2015 and 2016 to help them in 2017/18 and that situation won’t likely present itself again, but again the point is to just show it’s feasible.

The key for Oakland is to draft better. While they have clearly hit on these players there have been a lot of misses in the draft for the Raiders before the Carr home run draft. When you have positioned yourself to go to a stars and scrubs contract structure (meaning that a handful of players will eat up a big portion of your budget forcing you to go cheap elsewhere) those scrubs have to be draft picks. Draft picks, even first rounders, play on scrub type contracts but can give you star performance. Only a handful of free agents in a year do the same.

If you can’t replace the cheap talent when it becomes it expensive with other cheap young players the window quickly closes. Teams like the Lions, Jets, Falcons and countless others have all seen their hopes dim through the years when the cheap talent flopped and the others could not compensate for it. It becomes a frustrating experience for all invested in a team when that happens.

The Raiders are in good shape because they will now have hit on three of the most expensive positions on the field- QB, WR, DE/OLB- in the draft. The draft philosophy from this point forward needs to supplement those players with hits at the other expensive positions. That means finding a left tackle, cornerback, and either safety or defensive tackle as the focus of the next few drafts. You can find good talent for the other spots in free agency but there are much better to get in the draft.

What would hurt the Raiders in the future is if the cap growth did in fact slow significantly. They need the cap to rise to at least $190 million by 2020 for this to work. Teams are always one step ahead of the game because they buy players on today’s dollars knowing full well that as a percentage of revenue/cap that these contracts will be undervalued two years from the date of signing. It’s would be similar to any of us buying a car where we knew ahead of time that the price might be  little tight on your budget this year but you are getting a big bonus at the end of the year or raises every year that make it much more affordable in the future. In real life most of us don’t have any real idea about our future income but teams have a better idea on that.  If the cap stops growing they lose that benefit and it gets tight. That really compromised teams in 2011 through 2013 when the cap stopped and teams never gained the benefit of free cap space in the budget.

They could probably deal with one year of limited growth but if for any reason the cap parked itself at $170 million after next year the Raiders would have trouble keeping all four guys. At that point they either have to stray on all four with their bonus structure or more likely would end up trading Cooper away down the line. If they believed things will stagnate finding another receiver in the draft by 2019 becomes pretty important.

But if you are a Raiders fan you should be enjoying this season and the possibilities in the future with Carr. There is no real reason to worry that you can’t keep things together in the future. As long as the team doesn’t do anything crazy with their contracts things should be fine. If ownership gets the spirit of Al Davis and jumps in to create contractual chaos then you may have problems but current operations have moved completely off that crazy style of cap and roster management. The makings are there right now of a really special core that can make some noise over the next five years.

So what do you think on the Raiders future?  Try your hand using the OTC calculators to run different numbers and lets see how things play out.