The Oakland Raiders surprised many by re-signing running back Darren McFadden to an incentive-laden one-year contract and disappointed most by failing to bring back their two best players. Left tackle Jared Veldheer signed with the Arizona Cardinals while defensive end Lamarr Houston left Oakland for the Chicago Bears.
Even though Veldheer missed most of the season last year, he was without a doubt the best player on the entire team before he got hurt. Next best player on the team? Houston took that spot without anyone else being very close. But being the best two players on one of the worst rosters in the NFL can be deceiving. Many fans reacted to their departure as though the Raiders were losing elite, game-changing talent.
The Raiders also lost a big-time contributor from 2013 in running back Rashad Jennings, who signed with the New York Giants. When starter Darren McFadden went down with his annual injury, Jennings filled in and actually improved the run game. Seeing him walk and the Raiders retain McFadden was very surprising to many.
While all three players were very good and would have made nice building blocks, they were far from elite. In fact, even with Veldheer gone you could easily argue that with the signings of Rodger Saffold and Austin Howard, the Raiders already have a better offensive line with more talent than they did last season. The drop-off from Veldheer to these guys is not that big, but the upgrade to the line in general is pretty large.
So while it is never exciting to lose your two best players as well as a major contributor, Raiders fans need to remain aware of the fact that everything is relative. Those guys were the best on the Raiders, but replacing their production is not something that will be overly difficult for general manager Reggie McKenzie.