The 2016 offseason may be the last time in a long time that we see the Oakland Raiders spend a lot of money to bring in multiple big name free agents. Now that there is a good roster with young building blocks, the Raiders can do what Reggie McKenzie learned in Green Bay, focus building through the draft with the occasional free agent addition.
Luckily for Oakland, the last big haul free agency under Reggie McKenzie turned out to be a pretty good one. Let’s grade out each signing:
Kelechi Osemele – A+
Hands down the best signing by the Raiders in 2016, Kelechi Osemele was an absolute beast in 2016. Some gave the Raiders a hard time for paying a guard the salary of a tackle, but those people didn’t understand the immense value that Osemele offers. Not only was he one of if not the best guard in the NFL, he helped set the tone for the Raiders in the run game while also giving them confidence in depth because of his ability to play multiple positions.
You also can’t underestimate how valuable he was in pass protection as the Raiders kept Derek Carr cleaner than any quarterback in the league. I’m a huge fan of building from the lines out and Osemele shows why. The Raiders offense was good in 2015 but after massively upgrading the line with Osemele, the offense was one of the best in the entire league in 2016.
Osemele might literally be the best free agent signing in almost two decades.
Bruce Irvin – A
In most other seasons, Bruce Irvin would probably be the top offseason signing. In his first season with the Silver and Black, Irvin had career highs in tackles, forced fumbles and stuffs and just fell short of matching his career high in sacks. Irvin finished with 57 tackles, 7 sacks, 6 forced fumbles and 5 stuffs. The Raiders may have been last in the league in sacks but it wasn’t because of Irvin.
His seven sacks was second most on the team and even though he didn’t always get the sack, he was constantly putting pressure and hits on opposing quarterbacks. His run defense was sketchy at times as he struggled to set the edge, but over all he was a big pick up for the Raiders.
Sean Smith – C-
Sean Smith was probably the worst signing of the free agent class. After a terrible start to the season, Smith improved but never lived up to his contract. I still contend that a major reason Smith played so poorly was that he was misused. You could argue that should be considered in the grade, but in my mind, it contributes to the bad grade.
The coaches and general manager need to work together when signing free agents and if as a group, they signed a guy who did not fit their scheme, it’s a bad move even if the player is talented.
While Reggie Nelson made the Pro Bowl, his season was really not all that impressive. Far too often, Nelson was caught playing too shallow and allowing plays to get behind him. Jack Del Rio talked about big plays being an issue and that falling on the shoulders of the secondary.
Well, as the free safety, Nelson is your last line of defense. It’s his job to make sure big plays don’t get behind him and yet that’s what happened frequently. His aggressiveness did nab him five interceptions, even if it also led to big plays for the other team.
This was also possibly another scenario of misusing a player a Nelson is just too old to play a single high safety, which is what Ken Norton Jr. did with him much of the year. Overall, he was decent but by no means a great signing. If not for the fact that he came cheap, the grade would be worse.
Brynden Trawick – A
Not only was Trawick an absolute stud on special teams, when he was asked to fill in at safety due to injuries, he answered the call much better than most expected. He was a major reason the Raiders were able to field one of the best special teams unit in the NFL.
Most saw him as an afterthought compared to some of the bigger names the Raiders signed, but his value cannot be underestimated. Role players and special teamers may not be sexy signings but they are incredibly important to building an all around great team.
Darren Bates – B+
Darren Bates didn’t exceed expectations the way Trawick did, but he was very good at what the Raiders brought him in to do. While he may not offer a ton as a backup linebacker, he does offer a lot as a special teamer. As noted above, that can’t be underestimated.
He was brought in to do a specific job and he did that job well. He didn’t go above and beyond what was expected but he was definitely worth the money spent and then some.