For Raiders fans, the past couple of seasons have been difficult.
With an out-of-control salary cap, the Raiders and new general manager Reggie McKenzie have been on a money purge, releasing or trading productive, franchise-drafted players. Tight end Brandon Myers, defensive back Michael Huff, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, among many others, have been ejected from the roster as McKenzie has labored to correct the mistakes made in the last few seasons of the free-spending Al Davis era.
But an interesting analysis by Bill Williamson of ESPN.com notes that after this season, the Raiders’ house will be in financial order.
According to Williamson, who covers the AFC West, the Raiders are expected to have about $69 million in cap space for the 2014 season.
“After paying the price for years of wild spending, the Raiders will be paroled from salary-cap jail,” Williamson wrote. “Next year, after shedding several contracts and being unable to build their program by keeping their own coveted free agents, the Raiders will be in better shape.”
The situation, says Williamson, should allow Oakland to retain core players such as receiver Denarius Moore, offensive linemen Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski, defensive end Lamarr Houston and running back Darren McFadden (who enters the final year of his contract) with long-term deals (if they continue to play well in 2013).
McKenzie, too, made a similar assessment in January, following a 4-12 season. When asked if he would have more leeway this offseason than his first, after the 2011 season -- when players such as pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley, tight end Kevin Boss and cornerbacks Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson were cut – he said the situation was improving but still not where it needed to be.
“Personally, I think we’re a year away from that,” he said of salary-cap problems. “We’re not in a salary cap situation like last year, but we still have issues and have some decisions that have to be made before free agency or when free agency starts. We’re not out of the woods by any stretch, but we are better off than last year.”
What that will mean, of course, is that McKenzie and the Raiders will go into 2014 with more money to spend, two more draft classes and the opportunity to lock up young players for long term – with financially prudent deals.
As Williamson notes, McKenzie comes from Green Bay, where building was done through the draft, not with expensive, big-name free agents, so he expects McKenzie to do the same in Oakland. Salary cap freedom will be more for retention than free-agent trolling.
With an untested quarterback tandem of Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor, a hole at tight end and a patchwork defense, the Raiders again are expected to struggle in 2013. But there may be light at the end of the silver and black tunnel in 2014.
“This nasty process has depleted Oakland’s roster,” wrote Williamson. “The healing begins next year, when Oakland won’t be motivated by pure financial necessity and can start making prudent decisions to build the franchise the right way.”