Free Agency Primer: AFC West
• Key free agents: OT Khalif Barnes, WR Jacoby Ford, DE Lamarr Houston, CB Mike Jenkins, RB Rashad Jennings, RB Darren McFadden, OT Tony Pashos, CB Tracy Porter, DT Pat Sims, OT Jared Veldheer, DT Vance Walker, S Charles Woodson, S Usama Young.
• Players Oakland needs back: Houston, Porter, Sims, Veldheer, Woodson.
What do the Raiders think of Menelik Watson? That answer might drive the team’s decision on guys like Barnes and Pashos, who were forced into duty and responded unexpectedly well in 2013. The ideal scenario still has a healthy Veldheer anchoring at left tackle, with Watson on the right side. As such, the Raiders will pursue Veldheer aggressively and might consider the franchise tag.
Houston seems to believe the Raiders want to move on from him, which would be a mistake. He turned in 6.0 sacks last season as the team’s most dangerous rusher off the edge.
Porter is still just 27 (feels like he’s been around longer than that) and stood out in a crummy Oakland secondary. The cost to retain him will be substantially higher than to keep Woodson in the fold. And the Raiders want to pull the trigger on the latter, because the veteran Woodson provided some guidance last season. He’s no longer the Heisman Trophy-winning version of himself, but he brings enough to the table to warrant an offer.
The 330-pound Sims can plug up the middle, which is a valuable trait even if that’s all he really contributes. If the Raiders transition to more 3-4 looks, they’ll need him.
• Players Oakland should let walk: Ford, Jenkins, Jennings, McFadden.
I’d suggest talking to Jennings over McFadden at this point, even though McFadden is the more talented player. He simply has not been able to stay healthy, so continuing to build the run game around him is a fool’s errand. Jennings has not fared much better in terms of staying 100 percent, but the Raiders did get decent mileage out of him last year, so it would not be a surprise if they want him to return.
Jenkins’ situation is somewhat similar to that of Barnes and Pashos. The veteran corner started for much of 2013, yet the Raiders would prefer their youth step up. In this case, it’s D.J. Hayden.
Ford’s long gone.
• Outlook: Oakland is projected to have $60 million in cap space — an almost unfathomable number. They’re not required to spend it all, obviously, but it gives them far more leeway on all their decisions right now. If the opportunity comes up to overpay for a top-notch free agent, the Raiders are in position to do so.
That laundry list of pending free agents will keep GM Reggie McKenzie busy in the meantime. McKenzie was savvy in beginning to rebuild Oakland’s roster last offseason. Would losing a huge chunk of players undo some of the progress?
San Diego Chargers
• Key free agents: RB Ronnie Brown, LB Donald Butler, CB Richard Marshall, OL Rich Ohrnberger, G Chad Rinehart, DT Cam Thomas, LB Reggie Walker
• Players San Diego needs back: Butler.
Is that it? Arguments probably could be made for Ohrnberger, Marshall, Walker or even Brown, but there’s hardly a must-have in there. Butler qualifies as one because of how effective he was in 12 starts (plus two playoff games) for the Chargers. He’s also only 25, so he and Manti T’eo could form a quality LB pairing for awhile.
Three receivers — Seyi Ajirotutu, Danario Alexander and Lavelle Hawkins — also are set to hit the market. The Chargers may as well look elsewhere. The best non-Butler case might be in favor of special-teams ace Darrell Stuckey.
• Players San Diego should let walk: Brown, Marshall, Rinehart, Thomas.
They all contributed at various points in 2013: Marshall started six games and played all 16; Brown had 157 yards rushing; Rinehart served on the O-line’s first team for more than half the season; and Thomas was a starter heading into the year before coughing up his spot late.
The Chargers would not be significantly worse in any area by letting this quartet and the aforementioned receivers depart.
• Outlook: There’s very little saved up here — San Diego’s actually projected to be a few thousand over the cap, as of now. Whatever it can come up with, it figures to use on Butler, draft picks and then a cost-effective signing or two. Will that be enough to get this team back into the playoffs?