Oakland Raiders: Lamarr Houston

Fans and media types alike wondered why Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was suffering from what seemed like paralysis by analysis at the onset of free agency.

Why was McKenzie, with close to $65 million in salary-cap room, seemingly sitting out the first day or so of the frenzy, allowing the likes of division rival Denver to swoop in and sign players with aplomb, while his two best young players -- left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston -- walked?

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJared Allen signed a deal with Chicago that could be worth up to $32 million.
It was, the harsher critics suggested, as if McKenzie was fiddling while Silver and Blackdom burned.

But all the while there was a thought that no one wearing silver-and-black-colored glasses wanted to face: What if, no matter how financially enticing an offer, a prime free agent simply did not want to come to Oakland?

Heresy or reality?

The Raiders got a dose of that Wednesday when NFL Network reported that veteran defensive end Jared Allen passed on the largest offer he received -- a $9 million per year bid from the Raiders -- and chose instead to go to the Chicago Bears, which, ironically enough, is where Houston went.

Early in the offseason, I suggested the Raiders re-sign Houston and make a run at Allen to play on the right side, while flipping Houston back to the left, his more natural position. Seems like the two will team up after all ... just in the NFC North.

Allen chose the four-year, $32 million deal offered by the Bears, in part because he was reportedly turned off by the Raiders not having a quarterback in place at the time, though Matt Schaub was acquired shortly thereafter.

Also, McKenzie has been saying this week that Veldheer and Houston simply did not want to return to Oakland. McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that he struggled with the notion.

Of course, many will say that McKenzie could have simply slapped a franchise tag on either player if he wanted them back that badly or, on the other end of the spectrum, that he low-balled the two.

None of that really matters now, though. Not when McKenzie accomplished what he set out to do by getting high-character, veteran locker room leaders who are still productive such as defensive ends Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, receiver James Jones and left tackle Donald Penn.

Besides, they all did want to be in Oakland.
The Oakland Raiders entertained unrestricted free agents Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley late into the night Wednesday. And if general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen were able to convince the two to sign with the Raiders, wouldn’t that take the sting out of the Rodger Saffold fiasco?

A little bit. Sure, the Raiders would still have to address their offensive line after allowing left tackle Jared Veldheer to walk and then losing Saffold to a failed physical.

But Tuck and Woodley would address an immediate need on the defensive side of the ball -- pass rush. Sure, the departed-for-the-Chicago Bears Lamarr Houston led the team with six sacks last season, but he was more of a run-stopping defensive end playing on the right side.

Tuck, meanwhile, is coming off an 11-sack season after only getting nine total the previous two years while dealing with injuries. His 60.5 career sacks ranks sixth in New York Giants history.

He does turn 31 on March 29, so he’d add a veteran presence and two Super Bowl rings. Plus, he is more than a pass-rusher, as ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano noted: “Tuck also has a reputation as a strong run defender, and has often moved inside to play defensive tackle in the famed 'NASCAR' package the Giants use when they want to load up on pass-rushers on obvious passing downs.”

Woodley, meanwhile, has 57 career sacks but is coming off a five-sack season in which a calf injury limited him to 11 games. He played left outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 3-4 alignment, so if the Raiders stick with a base 4-3, they’d have to figure out how to best utilize his talents as Woodley has 57 career sacks in seven seasons. He turns 30 in November.
The Oakland Raiders have lost what many saw as their top three unrestricted free agents in left tackle Jared Veldheer, who is headed to the Arizona Cardinals, defensive end Lamarr Houston, who is going to the Chicago Bears, and running back Rashad Jennings, who Tweeted he was in line to play for the New York Giants.

Plus, the Raiders are set to pay oft-injured offensive lineman Rodger Saffold a contract worth $42.5 million, with $21 million guaranteed, over five years, and they re-signed oft-injured running back Darren McFadden to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million.

Fans are scratching their heads. Especially in light of comments made by general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen this offseason.

Asked in January if he felt “good” about the chances of both Houston and Veldheer returning, McKenzie said simply, “Yes, I do.”

Allen was more expansive about Houston at the NFL combine, saying, “He’s certainly one of the guys we would like to have back. Anytime you have a young player that has the potential to continue to get better, and there were some things he was able to do this year ... he’s really a multi-dimensional player. He plays the run really well and he also has the ability to affect the passer, although he hasn’t had huge sack numbers throughout his career, he has been up there as far as pressuring the quarterback and being able to get hits on the quarterback. He’s certainly one of the guys that we want to try and get back.”

Asked if Jennings was somebody he wanted to retain, McKenzie said, “Yes.”

But when asked about McFadden, McKenzie gave the impression the Raiders were done with him. “Darren’s going to be a free agent and there’s been communication with his agent, [who’s] going to see what his market is,” McKenzie said. “And that’s the thing, when you’re talking about the games that he’s missed. He has no idea ... what his market value will be and I couldn’t tell you what the other 31 teams think, and his agent is leaning toward trying to figure out what that its. So, we’ll see.”

McKenzie, who entered free agency with nearly $65 million in salary cap space, has seemingly gone against everything he’s said on the record regarding his key free agents.

Of course, no personnel person worth their salt is going to let you know exactly what they’re thinking. That affects bargaining power, right? Then again, with the Raiders’ moves on the first day of free agency, it’s hard to figure out exactly what McKenzie is thinking ... unless, of course, Veldheer, Houston and Jennings simply wanted to move on.

But Veldheer’s mother Tweeted out the following to inquisitive fans:



and this:



and this:



and finally, this:



Oh, and keep in mind what McKenzie said about Charles Woodson, who has also made it clear he wants to return to Oakland: “I thought he was very solid and could contribute and I told him so. And I told him I would like to talk about getting him back here.”

Stay tuned.
The Oakland Raiders letting their two best free agents walk says many things. The biggest message to glean? General manager Reggie McKenzie did not believe left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston were as indispensable as you did and, obviously, not worth the money they were commanding.

And yet, McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen’s claims that each was a building block for the future of the franchise ring hollow now, no?

Veldheer, who played the final five games last season after undergoing left triceps surgery in training camp, agreed to a reported five-year, $35-million contract with the Arizona Cardinals and will reunite with quarterback Carson Palmer.

Houston moved to the right side last year and responded with a career-high six sacks, though only two after Week 7, and is seen as more of a run-stuffer than a pass-rusher. He agreed to a reported five-year, $35-million deal with the Chicago Bears.

The Raiders, with almost $65 million in cap space, have holes to fill and are set to replace Veldheer with Rodger Saffold, who agreed to a five-year, $42.5-millin deal with $21 million guaranteed.
It’s New Year’s Day, Black Friday and the season premiere of "The Price is Right," all wrapped in one silver and black package, with Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie channeling his inner Bob Barker.

Even if the Raiderettes were Barker’s Beauties and Oakland’s 17 scheduled unrestricted free agents were mixed and matched as the prizes in a showcase showdown, McKenzie has yet to show his hand as he sits with close to $65 million in salary-cap space. Even as Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece implored his general manager to eschew “safe moves” in favor of “smart, calculated, fearless, Raider-ass moves” when free agency begins today at 1 p.m. PT.

Thus far, the Raiders’ two biggest free agents, left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston, have been linked to the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, respectively. Oakland, meanwhile, has been reportedly kicking the tires on St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, while many see the Raiders as being interested in picking up cornerback Darrelle Revis if and when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him.

McKenzie, meanwhile, maintained his position: “What I want to do is make this team better. And that’s what we’re going to set out to do this Tuesday and really, not waiting until Tuesday but, just with our own team, just trying to get things done. We want to upgrade this football team and we intend to do that.”

Speaking at the Commitment to Excellence Dinner, which honored Reece on Saturday night, McKenzie pointed to the re-signing of offensive lineman Khalif Barnes and re-upping special-teams ace Taiwan Jones as steps in that direction.

“That’s why it’s important to keep those good players,” McKenzie said. “Khalif, the worker he is, Taiwan is here to support Marcel, and, of course, Marcel. Those are the type of guys, they know the whole Raider [way], the direction we want to go. So we want the guys to be positive for everybody in that locker room.”

True, but which guys, exactly? McKenzie’s patient approach the past two seasons was exacerbated by the Raiders needing to shed salary. Now? These are unchartered waters for the third-year GM, what with so much cap space.

But keep this in mind: He said two years ago that, even with so much cap space, that did not mean he would be shopping at Macy’s. And in January he said, “Just because I have $5 in my pocket, that doesn’t mean I have to spend all of it ... on junk.”

Reggie McKenzie, come on down ...

Top free-agent roundup: AFC West

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
10:00
AM ET
The AFC West produced three playoff teams and the eventual AFC title winner in the Denver Broncos, so it should come as no surprise that many top free agents come from the division. Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez, Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams break down the top 15:

1. Branden Albert, Chiefs offensive tackle: Kansas City won’t franchise him this year. Albert will get a nice contract elsewhere.

2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Broncos cornerback: He’s not yet 30 and still a top-tier athlete.

3. Eric Decker, Broncos wide receiver: Productive in scoring zone, will be one of the biggest wide receivers on open market, but rarely faced opponents’ top cornerback in Broncos offense.

4. Lamarr Houston, Raiders defensive end: Better suited to the left side because he’s not the prototypical speed-rusher.

Moreno
5. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos running back: Has had multiple knee surgeries, including one on a torn ACL in 2011, but he runs with passion, is solid in pass protection and a productive receiver.

6. Jared Veldheer, Raiders offensive tackle: Didn’t have a very good season in 2013 but would attract some attention as a free agent.

7. Geoff Schwartz, Chiefs guard: Was a free-agent find for Kansas City last season. Can play right tackle if needed.

8. Jon Asamoah, Chiefs guard: A better pass-protector than run-blocker. He will be only 26 in July.

9. Shaun Phillips, Broncos linebacker: He’ll be 33 in May but showed last season that he can still be an effective situational pass-rusher.

10. Zane Beadles, Broncos guard: For a movement-based front, he’s a smart, durable option who played in every game while with Denver.

McCluster
McCluster
11. Dexter McCluster, Chiefs wide receiver/punt returner: Hasn’t had a huge impact on the offense in Kansas City, but he will be only 26 in August.

12. Robert Ayers, Broncos defensive end: Had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s a late bloomer.

13. Tyson Jackson, Chiefs defensive end: Like Ayers, he had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s figuring it out as well.

14. Tracy Porter, Raiders cornerback: He’s versatile enough to cover the slot receiver, and he had one of his better seasons in 2013.

15. Kendrick Lewis, Chiefs safety: He’s only 25 but was a better player earlier in his career. He hasn’t been the same since a shoulder injury in 2012.

Raiders Twitter Mailbag

March, 8, 2014
Mar 8
12:00
PM ET
Here we are, on the cusp of free agency, which opens Tuesday. As such, let’s get this Raiders mailbag rolling…

Free-agency primer: Raiders

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, RB Rashad Jennings, FS Charles Woodson, CB Tracy Porter, RB Darren McFadden

Where they stand: With 17 remaining unrestricted free agents -- Oakland re-signed offensive tackle Khalif Barnes last week -- the Raiders chose not to use the franchise tag on Veldheer or Houston. That should not surprise anyone; general manager Reggie McKenzie said he wanted to avoid using it, and Veldheer said he did not want to be tagged. With nearly $65 million in cap space, the Raiders are primed to be players during free agency. They need help especially on the defensive line -- all four starters are free agents -- and in the secondary, and ditto with both cornerbacks and the free safety. The primary need on defense is a prototypical edge rusher.

What to expect: As McKenzie said last year, just because he has money to spend does not mean he’s going shopping at Macy’s. And as he restated this year, just because he has money does not mean he’s going to spend it on junk. True, it’s time for McKenzie to make like Macklemore and “pop some tags,” but don’t expect him to break the bank. He’ll use the money judiciously, and although the Raiders have the most cap space, they also have the most needs. It makes sense for Oakland to find a veteran quarterback to serve as a bridge, of sorts, while McKenzie strengthens to team around said quarterback, someone the staff trusts and already knows. Targets could include Josh Freeman, Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez (if and when the Jets cut him). Defensively, Jared Allen could fit the bill at defensive end.

Raiders stay away from tags

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
7:35
PM ET
The Oakland Raiders didn't utilize the franchise tag, or even the transition tag, on either left tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston, which should not be seen as a shortcoming by general manager Reggie McKenzie … though it is easy to see why fans might be frustrated by the Raiders not locking up either player. Especially since they have some $65 million in cap space with which to play.

But remember: McKenzie said he did not want to use the franchise tag -- which is $13.1 million for defensive ends, $11.7 million -- and would rather work out long-term deals with the free agents he wants to retain. And yes, McKenzie said he wants to keep both players.

Plus, Veldheer said he does not want to be tagged anyway.

Free agency does not begin until March 11, so McKenzie still has time to work out deals with either one or both before they hit the open market.

Franchise/transition tags: Raiders

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
8:00
AM ET
The franchise tag, when it comes to the Oakland Raiders, is more of a nuclear option. Sure, general manager Reggie McKenzie carries the "football" around with him, and he's glad to know it's at his disposal, so to speak.

But McKenzie, who will never be confused with Dr. Strangelove, would much rather stay away from it and stick to the bargaining table. Especially with the window for teams to begin slapping the tag on their players beginning today and ending March 3. Free agency begins March 11.

"It's always a possibility, yeah, but I don't like to really go there as my option," McKenzie said last month. "I would like to negotiate a deal. But the franchise, the transition, those tags, the franchise tag is just one of those deals that is made available for you. You don't want to use that as, this is our [only] option. Hopefully we wouldn't need to."

For one thing, it's expensive. For another, the use of it, while making a player very rich for one year, also runs the risk of alienating said player.

Which is why the most likely Raiders player to be so designated, left tackle Jared Veldheer, has already made his objection to such a prospect known -- even if the franchise tag number for an offensive lineman is sure to rise from the $9.828 million of 2013.

"From that [payday] aspect of it, it's definitely an awesome deal," Veldheer told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game earlier this month. "It would just be nice to have more security in being a Raider for longer than just one year. This is a place that I want to be at for the rest of my career if I could."

The 6-foot-8, 322-pound Veldheer was the Raiders' third-round draft pick in 2010 out of Hillsdale College. He was limited to five games last season after undergoing surgery on his left triceps in training camp, though he looked strong when he returned.

"It's tough when that kind of stuff happens because ... [a one-year tag] goes against everything that's been said about [me], 'We want to make you a cornerstone of the team, build around you,'" Veldheer said. "It doesn't really back up any words with the right action."

The Raiders' only other true franchise tag candidate would seem to be defensive end Lamarr Houston. And that seems just as unlikely.

Raiders Twitter mailbag

February, 8, 2014
Feb 8
11:00
AM ET
The Super Bowl is done so the season is officially over. Let's get our Twitter mailbag going ...

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders last played a game on Dec. 29, and the final game of the 2013 season -- Super Bowl XLVIII -- goes down Sunday with the Denver Broncos facing the Seattle Seahawks in New Jersey. So with that as our backdrop, let's get our first offseason Raiders Twitter mailbag party started ...

The next big thing: Raiders

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
12:00
PM ET
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Now that the Oakland Raiders have answered any questions about who will be their head coach next season -- Dennis Allen is returning for his third season after consecutive 4-12 campaigns -- and we know that all but three of Allen’s top-tier assistants will return, the team’s focus turns to its own roster.

It is a three-step process for the Raiders, really, as they must decide which of their pending 18 unrestricted free agents they want to keep. General manager Reggie McKenzie has already publicly identified four in left tackle Jared Veldheer, running back Rashad Jennings, defensive end Lamarr Houston and free safety Charles Woodson.

Depending upon who they retain, the Raiders will then make runs at free agents to not fill holes, but be frontline starters. McKenzie intimated he could go after a quarterback (Josh Freeman? Josh McCown? Mark Sanchez, if and when he’s cut?) while adding that a prototypical edge rusher (Greg Hardy? Justin Tuck? Jared Allen?) is also atop Oakland’s needs. Still, McKenzie says he will not spend the Raiders’ $60 million in cap space foolishly.

Then comes the draft as the Raiders hold the No. 5 overall pick. McKenzie may have spoken too soon in evaluating Texas A&M junior quarterback Johnny Manziel, but he did call him a playmaker and the Raiders do need playmakers. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins also fits that description, no?
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders are scheduled to have 18 unrestricted free agents and conversations with the agents of the players general manager Reggie McKenzie wants to retain have already begun.

Among those McKenzie is hopeful will return to Oakland next season are left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston, free safety Charles Woodson and running back Rashad Jennings.

[+] EnlargeMcFadden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarren McFadden is a player the Raiders may not bring back next season.
McKenzie, who met Thursday with six reporters who cover the team regularly, was asked if the franchise tag would be a possibility in retaining a certain player.

“It's always a possibility, yeah, but I don't like to really go there as my (first) option,” McKenzie said. “I would like to negotiate a deal. But the franchise, the transition, those tags, the franchise tag is just one of those deals that is made available for you. You don't want to use that as, 'This is our (only) option.'

“Hopefully we wouldn't need to.”

Woodson, 37, meanwhile, made it known late in the season that we wanted to return, so long as the Raiders would have him.

“I thought he was very solid and could contribute and I told him so,” McKenzie said. “And I told him I would like to talk about getting him back here.”

On whole, the defense played with 10 new starters last season and defensive linemen Jason Hunter, Vance Walker, Pat Sims and Daniel Muir, along with Houston, will be free agents, as well as cornerbacks Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter and Phillip Adams and safety Usama Young, as well as Woodson.

So yeah, there is a feeling that the Raiders might have to start over again next season on defense, right?

“I don't think we'll have 10 new guys (again),” McKenzie said. “Hopefully there will be a few of the guys coming back and whether it's that same role or whatever, at least we'll have some guys to choose from if we can get them back. If not, we're going to upgrade.

“But the continuity part of it on defense, that's tough ... you still want to get better and if we can, if whatever that number is, six, seven, eight, it's still going to be some changes. But continuity helps, but great players and really good players will help more.”

One player McKenzie seemed ready to part with was oft-injured running back Darren McFadden.

“Darren's going to be a free agent and there's been communication with his agent,” McKenzie said. “He's going to see what his market is. And that's the thing, when you're talking about the games that he's missed, he has no idea -- and when I say ‘He,' I'm talking about his agent -- he has no idea what his market value will be and I couldn't tell you what the other 31 teams think.”

McFadden has missed 19 of the Raiders' past 41 games and 29 in his six-year career.

“And his agent is leaning toward trying to figure out what that is,” McKenzie said. “So, we'll see.”

The Raiders' other five pending UFA's: receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford, tight end Jeron Mastrud, and offensive linemen Khalif Barnes, Tony Pashos and Andre Gurode.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders have 18 pending unrestricted free agents and, it has been written in this space before that defensive end Lamarr Houston should be one of the team’s top re-signing priorities.

ESPN.com NFL Insider Mike Sando agrees.

Joseph
Houston
In an Insider piece on ESPN.com, Sando lists Houston as one of his 25 “Must-Sign” free agentsInsider, ranking him No. 8 on his list.

“The Raiders do not possess enough talent to let productive young players get away,” Sando wrote. “Houston, 25, tied Cameron Wake with 41 quarterback hurries this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Not bad for a 300-pounder.”

Not bad indeed, especially for a guy who made the switch to the right side after playing on the left the first three years of his career.

Houston started out strong, getting four of his career-high six sacks in the Raiders’ first seven games. But he wore down a bit as the season went on and only registered one sack over Oakland’s next eight games before getting one in the season finale.

He said after that game he believed the Raiders and coach Dennis Allen “might be looking to move on and have me go to another team and find something more what they want for their system and their scheme.”

Allen was taken aback by Houston’s comments.

“I did see that quote, and that’s not the case,” Allen said in his season-ending media conference. “Obviously, I sat down with Lamarr ... and had a nice discussion with him. We’d love to have him back. We think he fits our system and what we’re trying to do, and we think he’s a guy that we can build with.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES