When it became official that Reggie McKenzie would eschew the option of utilizing a franchise or transition tag on either Jared Veldheer or Lamarr Houston, conjecture quickly ignited regarding the ramifications of his decision. As did the potential outcome of negotiations with both players. Oakland’s polarized fan base also became even further entrenched in their perspective on McKenzie’s skill as a decision maker. Those who remain unimpressed with McKenzie’s track record, believed this represented further evidence that he is incapable of effectively restoring the roster that he thoroughly eviscerated. And some prominent observers also expressed their surprise that Veldheer and Houston are edging closer to hitting the open market, despite the fact that McKenzie had access to nearly $66 million in cap space, and is managing a team that already contains widespread areas that are in need of a substantial upgrade. Conversely, those who remain steadfast in their conviction that McKenzie does indeed have a viable plan for constructing a formidable NFL roster, viewed the development as an act of good faith, toward executing long-term agreements with both performer.
Any success in retaining their services would temper the growing doubts about McKenzie, who successfully maneuvered Oakland into a favorable cap situation, but has struggled mightily to infuse his roster with proficient starters. Roster upgrades are desperately required on both sides of the ball, after McKenzie’s personnel decisions throughout two drafts and multiple forays into free agency have failed to yield impactful players. After two consecutive 4-12 seasons, Veldheer and Houston represent a foundation from which the Raiders can take the initial steps toward developing a respectable unit. Offensively, the team absolutely must address their precarious problem at QB. Rashad Jennings also must be re-signed in order to fortify the RB position. Despite the presence of several promising performers at WR and TE, the absence of a true game breaker to garner receptions still persists. Blend in the limitations that already exist along the offensive line, and it is clear how counterproductive it would be to also lose Veldheer as an anchor at left tackle.
Issues also abound defensively. Despite the fact that just one year ago, McKenzie added nine new starters to a unit that had ranked 18th in 2012 while allowing 354.5 YPG and 27.7 PPG. Unfortunately, the modest degree of talent that existed within the unit did not deliver any improvement – both genuinely and statistically. The Raiders actually descended to 22nd overall, surrendered even more yardage (363.7) and permitted even more points (28.3). They also ranked a lowly 31st with just nine INTs during the season, and finished 18th with 38 sacks. The 27-year old Houston contributed a team leading six to that sack total, which might not appear overly impressive at your initial glance. But considering the absence of playmakers surrounding him, his number becomes more noteworthy. If Houston is not signed before the deadline, he could be just one member within a collection of 2013 defensive starters who are current candidates for free agency. That list includes Houston’s linemates Pat Sims, Vance Walker and Jason Hunter, along with DBs Charles Woodson, Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins. Again, McKenzie would have the financial resources to fill any open slots. But enticing players with multiple options toward Oakland might not be a simple task.
McKenzie could achieve one significant step toward building a more competitive roster by signing Veldheer. And McKenzie's decision not to employ the franchise tag to the four-year veteran could be a sign that both sides are progressing toward a long-term deal. However, allowing him to test the market would present sizable risk. Other teams can enter negotiations with Veldheer beginning on March 8, and he would be an appealing option for a roster that is in need of a capable left tackle. Meanwhile, McKenzie’s ability and willingness to keep Houston are less certain. Re-signing the 27-year old defensive end is certainly advisable, since Oakland's defense already possesses numerous deficiencies. And adding yet another roster issue to be resolved would hardly be a desirable scenario. Yet that could easily transpire.
The belief from here is that both players should be re-signed, as opposed to creating two more cavernous openings that need to be filled. And there is a chance that the tandem will indeed be performing in silver and black when the season begins. However, the most likely scenario is that a long-term deal will be executed with Veldheer, while keeping Houston is at best a 50/50 proposition. Can they be replaced with proficient players at their positions? Possibly. Alternative options at LT and DE should be available after free agency commences. But it is dangerous to presume that enticing players that have multiple teams vying for their services will ultimately choose to sign with Oakland. In part because they will be affixing their future to a General Manager and Head Coach that could easily be gone when the 2014 regular season concludes.
Therefore, it is highly possible that McKenzie will be forced to overpay beyond his usual comfort level, in order for him to to attract any true difference makers. Which would then present the obvious question: why not keep Veldheer and Houston, then use the ample financial resources to upgrade at the voluminous number of spots that need attention? If McKenzie's decision not to tag either Veldheer or Houston eventually results in complete failure to secure them, then his third year as the architect of Oakland's roster will have begun in an ominous manner. Which would expand the fear that McKenzie's ill-fated personnel decisions during the previous two years of his tenure, were also an indicator that more frustrating miscalculations are yet to come while McKenzie is at the helm.