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The Raiders' evolving quest to attract stars

3/17/2015

We are entrenched in phase two of NFL free agency, and the Oakland Raiders haven't made much of a splash.

They’ve tried. They were planning to court Ndamukong Suh and Randall Cobb but couldn’t get in on them before the pair was spoken for in the three days before free agency officially started.

Once free agency got going and his market was soft, the Raiders tried to swoop in on defending NFL rushing king DeMarco Murray by offering a chunk of their substantial room under the salary cap. But Murray opted for the Philadelphia Eagles, noting he had bigger offers elsewhere.

They dabbled with the idea of cornerback Darrelle Revis for the second straight year as well. The Raiders also were connected to former Carolina star pass-rusher Greg Hardy, but Oakland owner Mark Davis strongly shot that down. Hardy's market is different because of his domestic violence conviction, which was later dropped, and the potential discipline he is facing from the NFL.

The Raiders have spent money, committing about half of their nearly $70 million of cap room by signing several players. The list starts with center Rodney Hudson. He will account for $13 million of the cap this year, a large number for a center. Hudson, now the highest-paid center in the NFL, is a fine player. He will make Oakland’s offensive line better. But centers aren't usually free-agent prizes. No other team got close to Oakland's price, although the Kansas City Chiefs did try to keep him.

Oakland, which has signed a league-high nine players from other teams, also did nicely by getting a trio of likely defensive starters in tackle Dan Williams, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Nate Allen. The Raiders are lengthening their roster and making it deeper. That’s a solid, smart approach, especially after they signed several older players last year. Many of those players failed to help as the Raiders went from 4-12 in 2013 to 3-13 in 2014. None of the eight players Oakland has signed this time around is older than 28, so this approach is better.

But Oakland has been unable to get a big fish to bite. Davis joked to the San Jose Mercury News just before the start of free agency that he was getting the “Brinks truck” ready. Last month, new Oakland coach Jack Del Rio made it clear he was excited for Oakland to be in on big players.

"Those are things I talked about in the interview process that were important, and they’ve been followed up with actual commitment of capital, which I’m excited about," Del Rio said. "So as you go into this phase of free agency and acquiring players, we have cap space and we have a new staff full of teachers. We have a young quarterback. We have a good, young man off the edge in Khalil Mack. We’ve got a good left tackle. We’ve got corners. The things that we need to get started, we have. So now we have to start adding good, quality people that are fired up to be part of the Raiders."

Oakland can still participate in the big-ticket market if a player gets unexpectedly cut later in free agency, which is possible. The Raiders could have a surplus of cap room while others are struggling to stay under the cap. That could be an advantage. It also could help them in the trade market if a team decides to unload a player. If the Vikings end up trading running back Adrian Peterson, the Raiders (whose offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave worked with Peterson in Minnesota) could emerge as a possibility.

So there are still opportunities for Oakland to spend. But for two straight offseasons, the Raiders have had chances to land big-time players. And they haven't come. It is an open secret in the player agent world that Oakland is a tough sell. A recent history of losing, poor facilities and an uncertain future for the franchise are all factors.

Several agents surveyed are not surprised Oakland hasn’t landed a highly-sought-after player. Agents believe it will take one star to dip into the Oakland pool to show others that it’s OK.

This could be an issue as the Raiders try to reach the league’s minimum spending floor of 89 percent of the cap in cash from 2013 to 2016. The Raiders will likely need to spend big in the next two years to get there.

Oakland likely will have a lot of cap room next year as well. Once again, their ability to get a big-money player to make the Raiders an option will be brought into the question. All the Raiders can do is continue to try to convince stars to come and hope the players they have start winning. That would make Oakland an attractive option for free agents in the near future.