The Oakland Raiders have been in need of a revamped offensive line for years. Quarterback has been the position that most focus on due to its importance in the league, but part of the reason for the Raiders’ struggles at quarterback has been their struggles along the offensive line. Recently, a figure head of the need for upgrades at offensive line has been right tackle Khalif Barnes.
The penalty-prone bookend, who was often just a swinging door to the quarterback, has been the primary starter at right tackle since 2011. When he first joined the Raiders in 2009, he was seen as an upgrade to a struggling position. But after injury and performance issues, it was clear that he would be a minor upgrade at best. However, despite his struggles the Raiders failed to get anyone who has been able to replace him as a starter until now.
Many Raiders fans were upset by the move to re-sign Barnes this offseason. They did not understand why the team would re-sign a guy who clearly needed to be replaced. At the time, I said there was only one way it made sense and that was if Barnes was only being brought back for depth. He can play both tackle and guard on either side of the line. That kind of versatility and starting experience is hard to come by at backup. And as last season showed the Raiders, injuries can completely derail your year if you do not have capable replacements.
Now that free agency and the draft are over, it has become clear that Barnes will be the super sub Oakland needed last year. Menelik Watson is expected to step up and be the starter at right tackle this season. But even if he isn’t able to do so, the Raiders have a backup plan that does not involve Barnes. Should Watson continue to have injury issues or simply prove himself not worthy of starting, Austin Howard, who is projected to start at right guard, will move back to right tackle where he played with the New York Jets.
There is a slight chance that Barnes will win a starting job as a guard, especially if Howard winds up moving back to right tackle. But that wouldn’t be the end of the world. Even though he has limited experience at the position, he is projected to be much better at guard than he was a tackle, where he often struggled with the outside speed rush.
When Barnes came to the Raiders, it was on a one-year contract. Now entering his sixth year with the Raiders, Barnes is more valuable than ever. As a below average starter he was the bane of many fans’ existence. As a backup who’ll compete to start at guard, he represents valuable depth and a significant talent upgrade along the entire offensive line. Though it will be hard, Raiders fans need to learn to be appreciative of the guy they once nearly unanimously hated.