The Oakland Raiders will once again be among the top teams in the league in cap space this upcoming offseason. However, unlike in recent years, the Raiders have some quality players they would be wise to drop some cash to keep around. Specifically, here are three players that the Raiders really need to hang on to and who can help them reach the salary cap floor that they are still a ways away from.
1. Michael Crabtree
When the Raiders signed Michael Crabtree, it was with the hope that he would be able to at least produce a little bit and help bolster one of the league’s worst receiving corps. The Raiders got one of Crabtree’s best years as a professional and one of the best No. 2 receivers in the league this season. He’s played much better than expected and he’s done enough — 715 yards to go along with a team-high six touchdown receptions — to give confidence that this is not just a fluke — Crabtree is still an NFL receiver and a pretty good one at that.
Crabtree has been a safety blanket for second-year quarterback Derek Carr and the Raiders should make sure the two remain together for Carr’s development. The two had early chemistry, as Crabtree was friends with Derek’s brother, David, from when they were both with the San Francisco 49ers. Amari Cooper is a great young talent who will be with the Raiders for years to come, but Crabtree is the perfect compliment. He’s the possession receiver who Carr can lean on every week while Cooper handles duties as the big-play threat.
2. Donald Penn
Donald Penn was supposed to be all but washed up and ready to retire when the Raiders signed him before the 2014 season. Instead, he has reemerged as one of the better pass blocking left tackles in the league and is a leader on a Raiders offensive line that is tied for the fewest sacks allowed this season. At 32, Penn may be rather old in NFL terms. But much like Charles Woodson, he refuses to acknowledge it. Penn does not appear to be slowing down at all (Pro Football Focus has him as the 12th-best tackle in the league and the fifth-best pass blocker), and his continued strong play is a big reason for the positives we’ve seen on offense this season.
The Raiders will need to replace him fairly soon, but they should keep him around for another year or two as a bridge until the team finds his replacement. Re-signing Penn would allow the Raiders to focus their attention on defense in the first couple of rounds of the 2016 draft, allowing them to take a project tackle in the middle rounds to play and learn behind Penn.
3. David Amerson
For whatever reason, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio had confidence in the cornerback group of T.J. Carrie, D.J. Hayden, Neiko Thorpe and Keith McGill coming into the season and did not bring in any additional corners during the offseason. As it turns out, that was a terrible idea. Aside from Carrie, the young group of corners has looked borderline awful this season.
Luckily for the Raiders, Washington dropped former second round pick David Amerson and McKenzie pounced. Known for getting burned a little too often in D.C., Amerson has found a home in Oakland. He’s played well ever since joining the Raiders — which makes him unique at his position.
PFF Scores (out of 113 qualified cornerbacks)
24. Amerson: +5.7 (66.3 QB rating against, three penalties)
80. Carrie: -3.3 (77.0 QB rating against, five penalties)
96. Thorpe: -5.8 (80.9 QB rating against, six penalties)
109. Hayden: -13.8 (111.4 QB rating against, seven penalties)
Amerson broke out when they gave him the opportunity to start over Hayden against the Titans. In that game, he had six passes defended and one interception while allowing only one catch.
Amerson, 23, is also the third-youngest player on the team. At this point, re-signing him would not cost the Raiders a whole lot and this is a team that needs as many corners as it can get. Even if it turns out Amerson is nothing more than very good depth, that’s something the Raiders don’t have now and haven’t had in a long time. We don’t know how good he can be, but we know he’s a solid NFL player who is a scheme fit for what Ken Norton Jr. wants to do.