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Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Inside Slant: The Raiders' spending spree

By Kevin Seifert

The Oakland Raiders entered the 2014 free-agent market with an unenviable and counterintuitive task: They needed to spend like crazy in order to comply with the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Given the pressure involved -- and the leverage removed -- by some $60 million in initial cap space, it's not surprising the Raiders have made some debatable decisions. The most obvious: The sequence of events that allowed left tackle Jared Veldheer to depart and Rodger Saffold to agree on a massive deal to replace him before the Raiders voided the transaction because of concerns about Saffold's shoulder.

For better or worse, most of the big-spending opportunities in this market have vanished. So at the moment, it's worth taking a closer look at what the Raiders have done and where they need to go. Remember, the CBA requires each team to spend 89 percent of its cap space between 2013-2016 to be in compliance.

As you can see from the chart, the Raiders committed $32.05 million in cash, and almost the same amount in cap space ($31.84 million), for 2014 on the first seven free agents they signed. (The totals do not include Veldheer's apparent replacement, Donald Penn, who agreed to terms Tuesday.)

According to ESPN Stats & Information, those moves leave the Raiders with an estimated $30.8 million in cap space. They've committed about $88 million in cash to their roster for 2014, which by my count leaves them around $30 million short of the pace they would need to set in order to be on track for the 2016 compliance deadline.

Penn will account for some of that cash, and the Raiders can save some of it for their 2014 draft class. But they will have plenty left over for, say, a veteran quarterback if they choose to pursue one via trade or free agency later this spring.

There were two big questions to follow here as the Raiders looked for people to take their money: Would the cap surplus dilute their personnel values, and would their commitments put them in a less flexible situation for future years?

You have to wonder if the Raiders were a bit jumpy in the decision to hand Saffold -- a player who the St. Louis Rams preferred at guard rather than tackle -- a deal that included $21 million guaranteed. You can also debate the likely negligible impact of three aging defensive linemen on the team's long-term trajectory.

Antonio Smith (32), Justin Tuck (30) and LaMarr Woodley (29) could all be productive in 2014, but surely their best years are behind them. Each smartly jumped at the Raiders' interest and signed deals in the opening days of the market, a time when players older than 27 typically are relegated to the sidelines.

But the good news for the Raiders is that all seven of the players in the chart signed "pay-as-you-go deals" that have no fully guaranteed money after the first season. That means the Raiders could part ways with any and all of them without paying another cent and with a negligible amount of dead money on their future cap totals.

You won't find too many people who think the Raiders have used their cap windfall to improve the team. But their offensive and defensive lines will have new looks, if nothing else. And in the end, they haven't hamstrung their future decisions at all.