First things First
We all mock free agency. Normal people feel like it is millionaires complaining about 10 or 12 million to play a game. The truth is, the NFL is a business and these are guys jobs, livelihoods, and families impacted by this once in a while decision. If regular people could be courted every few years by their companies competition, than they would take every advantage of it. It should be no suprise then that professional athletes look forward to the oppurtunity once their rookie contract expires. This is money that is suppossed to last them their entire lives, so if one employer undervalues you then you have a right to get compensated better else where. Therefore, we can not blame players for wanting to test free agency. In the NFL rookie contracts are large, but the second contract is what seperates the ballers from the busts and keeps players wealthy. The Raiders have two of their own coming off the books, and before they do anything else they have to show them it is plenty green on this side of the fence.
The salary cap shackles are finally coming off of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders will have over 50 million in dead money coming off the books for the 2014 year. The Raiders will have a full stock of draft picks and salary cap space for General Manager Reggie Mckenzie to address various roster concerns.
Raiders GMReggie Mckenzie has preached building through the draft since he came into the position, two seasons ago. If Mckenzie wants to stick to that philosphy he has to start by giving Jared Valdheer and Lemarr Houston long term contracts.
Valdheer became a starter at Left Tackle his rookie season, and has been one of the Raiders most consistent players. Despite a torn tri-cept injury this season, Valdheer battled back and played well towards the ends of the season. On Defense, Houston has become rewknown around the league as a high motor defender capable of rushing the passer and stuffing the run. Houston is coming off his best statistical season and played most of the Raiders defensive snaps. Both players have become leaders of their respective units, and have been the few bright spots on an overmatched team. Each of these guys have played out their rookie deals and have earned an oppurtunity to test free agency. Houston said he is unsure if he will be back, because Dennis Allen may want someone else for their scheme, however, he and Valdheer have both expressed a desire to comeback if they are wanted (That is the politically correct statement we are used)
McKenzie can not afford to have either of these guys walk. Besides being underated at their positions, both of these players are young and approaching their prime. Mckenzie has already let many of the previous regime’s draft picks walk, so Mckenzie needs to salvage the few draft picks that have panned out, from the previous regime. This team already has needs on both sides of the field, and can not afford to add left tackle and defensive end to that list. The league has become a passing league, so defensive end and left tackle are two critical positions on the field. Precisely why either of these guys will leave if the Raiders do not make a great offer.
Mckenzie has preached continuity, and he needs to reiterate that by resigning two of his best players on the whole roster. The two players have battled through the organizations struggles on and off the field, but have emerged as constant workers and leaders of this football team. If the Raiders can not sign their own big name players, then how can they attract marquee free agents? I do not expect either Valdheer or Houston to come at a discounted rate. The two players have enough potential upside and game tape to earn themselves a big contract somewhere else if the Raiders low ball them. The closer free agency approaches, the closer these two are from commanding money big elsewhere.
However, I don’t expect Mckenzie to break bank for either of these guys. Once upon a time, Al Davis gave his guys lucrative contracts even if their play didn’t match it. Davis is gone and I don’t expect Mckenzie to overpay for either of these guys. He came from an organization in Green Bay that does not overpay its players.I understand neither of these guys were drafted by McKenzie, and McKenzie may not feel obligated to get these guys a deal. Last off-season, McKenzie let Desmond Bryant and Brandon Myers after they were essential contributers on the Raiders. Last offseason the Raiders had zero cap space, but this season they have tons of cap flexibility and can not afford to lose two of their own, again.
Frankly, the Raiders need these two guys. The Raiders Roster lacks talent throughout, and McKenzie can not expect to replace everybody. That may give the players the leverage that they need to command a big deal or walk. Either way, The money is there for the Raiders. I know McKenzie will not spend all of the money in one place, as he wants to preserve cap flexibility. Neither should he undervalue two professional players who have give their all to an organization even in its ‘lost’ season(s). Hence the Raiders need to do whatever it takes to keep these guys. Even if Mckenie doesn’t believe these are the guys to build his franchise around, he has to start somewhere. These guys have played their way, haven’t complained, and deserve the big pay day. If the Raiders can not come to terms on a deal with either of these guys then there going to have a lot more to reconstruct. I would hate to see another franchise benefit from their play after the Raiders spent so much time developing these two players. A lot will unfold from here to free agency, but the longer McKenzie waits to give them an extension, the more likely they will bolt to another franchise. Time is ticking and the Raiders do not need either of these guys to test the market.
I would hope Houston and Valdheer have bought into what the Raiders are selling enough to not jump ship. I would hope they want to finish the rebuild they started, and give wins back to a fanbase that constantly gives to them. However, the NFL is a business, and I am not in the lockerroom or coaches meetings to really understand the two players dynamic on and off the field. I do know that seeing these guys in something other than silver and black will be crushing. Ask Nnadami or Charles Woodson, no fans will love you as much as Raiders fans do when your a Raider.