Oakland Raiders: Rodger Saffold

Reggie McKenzieAP Photo/Johnny VyOakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is doing what he can to bring in veteran leaders.
What started out as nothing short of embarrassing -- the Rodger Saffold debacle -- has leveled out quite nicely for the Oakland Raiders and third-year general manager Reggie McKenzie, thank you very much.

No, McKenzie has not made what Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece called for the weekend before free agency began, when he told me he wanted McKenzie to eschew "safe" signings in favor of "smart, calculated, fearless, Raider-ass moves."

As in bold, outside-the-box transactions that would make opponents once again quake in their cleats at the thought of the Silver and Black. But anyone who thought McKenzie was going to make a splash, like some reckless spendthrift at worst or high-stakes poker player at best, with the near $65 million in salary-cap space was simply not paying attention.

Besides his words -- he said last year he was not necessarily going shopping at Macy’s -- his actions have had a decided "Moneyball" feel to them, almost as if the bargain-hunting ways for undervalued vets of the Raiders' Coliseum co-tenants, Major League Baseball's Athletics, have been transferred to McKenzie from Billy Beane by some sort of East Bay osmosis.

For the Oakland faithful, then, the Raiders losing free agents Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston and Rashad Jennings was akin to the A’s saying adios to the likes of Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito. Kind of.

And with that as your backdrop, and in not only signing eight veteran free agents, plus re-signing three of their own in safeties Charles Woodson and Usama Young and running back Darren McFadden, and acquiring quarterback Matt Schaub in a trade for a sixth-round draft pick before he restructured his contract to make it more cap-friendly this season, McKenzie is following his blueprint to a T.

Now, whether that translates to something better than a third straight 4-12 record remains to be seen. But McKenzie is doing what he set out to do, Saffold be damned.

"What we're trying to do is add some veteran leadership, guys who have some production, and just make sure we upgrade this team," McKenzie told the Bay Area News Group last week. "And that's the bottom line, trying to upgrade the team through production and the leadership."

Defensive end Justin Tuck comes with two Super Bowl rings and turns 31 on March 29. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has a ring in two trips to the Super Bowl and turns 30 in November. Receiver James Jones beat Woodley in the Super Bowl and he turns 30 on March 31.

Offensive linemen Kevin Boothe, originally a Raiders draft pick who won two rings with the New York Giants, and Donald Penn, a Pro Bowl left tackle, both turn 31 before the season opens.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck sacks Kirk Cousins
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Raiders hope Justin Tuck still has something left in the tank.
Defensive end Antonio Smith, who has 27 sacks the past five seasons and has gone to a Pro Bowl, turns 33 in October, while cornerback Tarell Brown, who has started 42 of his past 45 games, is 29 and right tackle Austin Howard, seen as a rising star on the line with only two sacks allowed last season, is the relative babe at 27.

Even Schaub -- a two-time Pro Bowler who was due to make $11 million this season before the restructure lowered his base salary for 2014 but still enables him to make between $15 and $20 million the next two years, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter -- turns 33 in June.

"I definitely can see Matt Schaub being the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders for more than just a year or two," coach Dennis Allen said. "You look at Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, all these guys are beginning to get up there in age, so I think that [Schaub] can play for a while."

Yes, things have quieted down a bit around the Raiders' compound since that initial Saffold fiasco angered more than a few at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway and had more wondering what, exactly, McKenzie was doing in the initial hours of free agency. He had lost the Raiders' two best free agents in Veldheer and Houston and agreed to a massive five-year, $42.5 million deal, with $21 million guaranteed, with an injury-prone right guard in Saffold before the Raiders medical staff flunked him with a bad shoulder and the deal was off.

With McKenzie already having a bad run with injured players in drafting D.J. Hayden last year as well as acquiring a sore-armed quarterback in Matt Flynn, throwing so much cash at an offensive lineman who may have required surgery and missed the offseason programs was too much to stomach.

And while one report had owner Mark Davis vetoing the Saffold deal amid rumors of "buyer's remorse," a Raiders source told ESPN.com that Davis merely let his feelings be known that he was not entirely on board with signing another injured player, but the personnel staff could do whatever it, ahem, liked.

Semantics? No doubt. But this much is true: McKenzie has rebounded after a rough start to free agency two weeks ago and stayed his course as he and Allen prepare for what could be a make-or-break season for both.

"The good news is that we've had some experience in that area," Allen said of roster turnover. "When you look at the guys that we're bringing in here, they're guys that have been a part of championship teams and they understand what it takes to win and win at a high level in this league. They're guys that can help us bring along some of these young players that we feel like have a chance to develop into good football players for us.

"It's a challenge, but that's the fun part."

It was 1960s activist Jack Weinberg who made popular the slogan, "Don't trust anyone over 30." McKenzie, though, is seemingly putting all of the Raiders' trust there ... and in guys about to turn 30. It's part of his plan, for better or worse.

Free-agency review: Raiders

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Most significant signing: Cornerback Tarell Brown. Oakland signed him away from crosstown rival San Francisco. Brown received a one-year, $3.5 million deal. He is a solid player, and I think he can be the Raiders' best veteran cornerback in a few years. If D.J. Hayden can improve and stay healthy in his second season, the Raiders have a solid pair of cornerbacks. I like this move over some of the other bigger defensive players the Raiders signed, such as Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, because of value and impact at the position. I also like the pickup of former Green Bay receiver James Jones on Monday evening. He is a solid player who should become the Raiders' most reliable receiver. This is exactly the type of signing a team with a surplus of cap room should execute.

Most significant loss: Left tackle Jared Veldheer. Defensive end Lamarr Houston is a close second. Veldheer gets the nod as the worst whiff because the Raiders have not replaced him (more about that later). The Raiders had the most salary-cap room in the NFL, and it was telling they couldn't keep these two good, young players. Successful teams keep their own players. For the Raiders to create holes and, in Houston's case, get older in the process is not efficient free-agency management.

Biggest surprise: The event surrounding tackle Rodger Saffold. This has been the league's strangest story of free agency. The Raiders tried to replace Veldheer with Saffold. After that deal was widely panned because Veldheer is considered a better player than Saffold, the Raiders voided the deal because Saffold failed his physical. The Rams, Saffold's previous team, were well aware of his physical condition and quickly signed Saffold. Now the Raiders, despite all their cap room, have a gaping hole at a premium position.

What's next? The Raiders reportedly have $51 million in cap room (still the most in the NFL). They still have to build their roster, so there is plenty of work to do. It is bargain time in free agency, so the Raiders should have the ability to pick and choose whom they want to sign. In addition to finding Veldheer's replacement, the Raiders are also looking at quarterbacks. Possibilities include a trade for Houston's Matt Schaub, Mark Sanchez and perhaps Michael Vick.

Raiders Twitter mailbag

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
We are knee-deep in free agency, so let’s wade in with an offensive line-themed Twitter mailbag…


Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Raiders

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
Apparently, the Rodger Saffold fiasco and the Oakland Raiders losing out on an offensive lineman had no bearing on Mel Kiper’s Mock Draft 3.0.

No, he did not stay with his pick for the Raiders at No. 5 overall -- he went with Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins both times before.

The way Kiper sees things shaking out , Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will fall to Oakland, and the Raiders will scoop him up. Makes sense in the way that Oakland needs a franchise quarterback and, as many observers note, Bridgewater is the closest thing to an NFL-ready QB in this draft.

But are the Raiders ready to hand over the keys to the franchise to a rookie? Depends upon what else they do in free agency.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Raiders

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
In his first two mock drafts, ESPN’s Mel Kiper selected a playmaker for the Oakland Raiders, sending Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins to the East Bay both times with the No. 5 overall selection.

The pick echoed what Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in January, that he wanted, well, a playmaker. Now, in the wake of the Rodger Saffold fiasco -- in which the offensive lineman failed a physical by Raiders standards after agreeing to a five-year, $42.5 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed, but was healthy enough to go back to the St. Louis Rams -- have needs changed?

Is an offensive lineman more of a priority in the draft, or maybe even a quarterback. Or is Watkins still Kiper’s guy? Stay tuned ...
The Rodger Saffold fiasco paints two pictures of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, neither one of which is very flattering.

No. 1 – In over his head?

McKenzie targeted an injured Saffold and was ready to overpay for the offensive lineman’s services -– a five-year, $42.5 million deal, with $21 million guaranteed –- to the point of allowing left tackle Jared Veldheer, whow many saw as the Raiders’ best player, regardless of position, to walk in free agency. Veldheer signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday.

No. 2 – Experiencing buyer’s remorse?

Perhaps McKenzie, a day after coming to terms with the, ahem, terms of the massive deal for Saffold, realized what a bad deal it was and found a way out by “failing” Saffold in his physical.

As ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported, there was a “strong disagreement” between the Raiders and St. Louis Rams, with whom Saffold spent his first four seasons. Basically, the Raiders had issues with Saffold’s shoulder and failed him in his physical; the Rams had no issues, and Saffold went back to St. Louis on a new five-year deal.

So sure, since Saffold never signed his contract, the Raiders aren’t out that money or cap space and have dollars to spend. But McKenzie is back to square one when it comes to Oakland’s left tackle situation, even if Saffold had been earmarked for right guard with left tackle money.

Menelik Watson endured an injury-ravaged rookie season at right tackle (he was penciled in to start the year on the left side after Veldheer went down with a triceps injury) and Khalif Barnes is probably more of a “flex” situational player now on the line.

On the free-agent market, Charles Brown is still out there, as is Anthony Collins and Michael Oher, though Oher is primarily a right tackle now. Plus, the Raiders do have the No. 5 overall pick in May’s draft and could perhaps now target Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson. But that takes away from McKenzie’s stated goal to get a “playmaker” with his first pick.

Then again, he also said then he wanted to retain Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston and running back Rashad Jennings and expected oft-injured running back Darren McFadden to test free agency.

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and McKenzie has yet to speak publicly. Still, questions about the team’s offseason plan and overall direction are beginning to bubble up within the Raiders’ compound.

An NFL Network report had Saffold needing surgery that would have still had him ready for the season. But Raiders owner Mark Davis, perhaps already gun-shy with last season’s acquisitions of injured players D.J. Hayden and Matt Flynn, quashed the deal.

Davis did not immediately respond to a text.
The Oakland Raiders reaching an agreement late Tuesday night with former New York Jets right tackle Austin Howard on a five-year, $30-million contract, with $15 million guaranteed, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, was the Raiders’ second “acquisition” of the day.

Though it is early in the free agency game, it’s never too early to throw out a lineup, right? So how does this grab you for a rebuilt offensive line?

LT Menelik Watson -- Yeah, that’s putting a lot on his plate, but it’s March.

LG Khalif Barnes -- Performed admirably after making switch in November.

C Stefen Wisniewski -- The anchor of the line.

RG Rodger Saffold -- True, a lot of coin for a guard, but Raiders like his versatility.

RT Austin Howard -- Has previous relationship with offensive line coach Tony Sparano.

Four wild cards -- RT Matt McCants, G/T Tony Bergstrom, RG Mike Brisiel, G Lamar Mady.
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.
Jared Veldheer will be 27 years old by the start of next season. The 6-foot-8, 322-pound left tackle was limited to five games for the Oakland Raiders this past season after undergoing surgery on his left triceps in training camp and agreed to a five-year, $35-million deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

Rodger Saffold turns 26 this summer. The 6-4, 312-pounder was originally drafted by the St. Louis Rams to be their cornerstone left tackle, but injuries – knee, pectoral, shoulder, head – have contributed to him being used at right tackle and guard in his career. He agreed to a five-year, $42.5-million deal, with $21 million guaranteed, to come to Oakland.

On the surface, it does not seem like an even swap, given Saffold’s injury history and being seen more as a versatile piece to the offensive line than as a building block, and the Raiders paying Saffold more than Veldheer will receive in Arizona

But, as ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner wrote, “Last season, Saffold's greatest value came in his versatility as he began the season at right tackle but stepped in on the left side when Jake Long suffered a knee injury and also started six games at right guard. While Saffold played well at tackle, he flashed Pro Bowl promise at guard.”

Saffold has not played a full season since his rookie year in 2010 and has missed 17 games over the past three seasons. He's started 44 of the 47 games in which he’s played.

Veldheer tweeted the following:
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 ...
While both Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen have said they want to retain left tackle Jared Veldheer, they are not the only ones interested in his services.

According to several reports, the Arizona Cardinals have made a big push for Veldheer, which would reunite him with former Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer. And while it is believed the Raiders have presented a preliminary offer to Veldheer and he was going over it over the weekend, the Baltimore Sun reported that Veldheer was “expected” to sign with Arizona for between “$7 million and $7.5 million” when free agency officially opens at 1 p.m. PT Tuesday.

This past weekend marked the window in which agents and teams could discuss potential contracts.

Several other reports have the Raiders kicking the tires on other tackles, including Eugene Monroe, considered the top left tackle on the market after four years in Jacksonville and last season in Baltimore, and Rodger Saffold, who spent last season playing right tackle and right guard in St. Louis. The Sun reported the Raiders were “expected” to sign Saffold for “roughly $8 million,” though he was still talking with Tampa Bay.

The Raiders have 17 of their own unrestricted free agents but also have close to $65 million in salary-cap space. Nothing, though, becomes official until Tuesday.

Losing Veldheer would seem to be a P.R. fail for the Raiders, who chose not to use the franchise tag on him that would have paid him $11.654 million this season. Unless, of course, they sign someone considered an upgrade, and to a more fiscally responsible contract.