Gruden and McKenzie Free Agency 2018
This year’s free agency is going to be super interesting. Even more interesting than usual given it will give us our first public taste of the Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie dynamic.
Traditionally, McKenzie and the Raiders sit out the first wave of free agency. Unless, there is a guy RM really wants he usually waits for the big dollars to come out and he spends his money on second-tier players. There are some exceptions like Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson who the Raiders wasted no time persuing. However, it’s more likely that they look at second wave free agents like Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin.
Except, Jon Gruden is in the picture now. Gruden, traditionally loves his veterans. His schemes also demand new team needs. They’ll need a tradional fullback and blocking tight ends. As well as upgrades at the possession receiver and catching back positions. Oakland may prefer to address these needs in the draft.
However, both Gruden and McKenzie need to win now. Las Vegas relocation is creeping up and Oakland is desperate for a contender. McKenzie will need to prove his worth to Gruden too since this will be R.M.’s third regime.
The point is, free agency will be interesting to see the relationship of McKenzie and Gruden play out. How will their different strategies integrate? Will they attack tier one upgrades? Will they wait and add low-budget depth players. Is it a quality or quantity approach? Do they value the players already on their roster?
Justin “Jelly Roll” Ellis is a fan favorite of the Raiders largely due to his name as well as him being a part of the infamous 2014 Raiders draft class that is the foundation to this team. Ellis got a 3-year, $15 million contract ($6 million guaranteed) before he hit the open market.
At face value, this is Oakland re-signing a part of the No. 12 ranked run defense. This is rewarding home grown talent which is something the Raiders have done under McKenzie. It is even more important given Eddie Vanderdoes torn ACL and uncertain future.
However, Ellis finally played himself into shape in a contract year. He hasn’t progressed much as a pass rusher or run stopper over the past few years. Neither is he a great fit for the new regime.
Plus, it is expected that the $6 million in guarantees will be all upfront for Ellis. That means he’ll be making a salary close to what Bennie Logan and Dontari Poe signed last year. He neither has the name recognition or production to warrant that contract.
This is not an indictment on Ellis. He’s a solid player and good rotational defensive lineman. It is not his fault the Raiders offered him this contract.
Nonetheless, why wouldn’t McKenzie and the Raiders let the market tell them Ellis’ value? It’s unlikely he gets that deal anywhere else. Moreover, big-name tackles like Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Poe could’ve been signed with this similar number in mind. They would’ve been considerable upgrades too.
Overall, Ellis’ contract gives us precedent on what to expect for Denico Autry and T.J. Carrie. Both players were also key contributors for the Raiders over the past few seasons. Both will hit the open market and it will be interesting to see if Oakland will overpay them or let them leave. I’d argue that both those players deserve more than Ellis so it will be interesting to see if they get more or less in free agency.
Lastly, the Raiders have to ink Khalil Mack at some point. Mack wanted Ellis back but will Jelly’s money make it harder to cash out Mack? Either way, the Raiders got to lock Mack up before the Rams pay Aaron Donald. Donald is another DPOY from the 2014 class and he will set the market higher than Mack if he is signed first. Either player will use the other’s contracts as the baseline for the new extension. Thus, the Rams and Raiders are in a sort of arms race to re-sign their defensive franchise player before the other sets the market stupid high.