NFL free agency officially started Wednesday at 1:00 p.m., with most of the moves being leaked over the last week. We didn’t hear much from the Oakland Raiders as they approached the new league year. They apparently preferred a measured approach.
They cut embattled cornerback Sean Smith and right tackle Marshall Newhouse to clear cap space as the NFL’s tampering period began on Monday.
And with about $25.6 million to play with, the Raiders joined the free agent party and made some noise Thursday.
First, I want to rewind to Jan. 6, when Jon Gruden officially became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Sure, we dissected his contract, incessantly debated whether the game has passed him by.
One of the more pressing questions was whether Gruden could co-exist with guys like Michael Crabtree and Marshawn Lynch.
Well, we won’t know because Crabtree was given his walking papers after Gruden and company decided to roll with recently released wide receiver Jordy Nelson, the former Green Bay Packer who was Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, instead of the former 49ers draft pick.
I like the move. Nelson came to terms on a two-year, $15 million deal with $13 million guaranteed for the soon-to-be 33-year-old wide receiver. With a young quarterback in Carr and receiver Amari Cooper, Nelson is a better fit than Crabtree with his quiet demeanor and he adds leadership to a locker room desperately seeking it.
I don’t want to knock Crabtree because he built a solid rapport with Carr, becoming his most trusted red-zone target. In 46 games with the Raiders, Crabtree caught 232 passes for 2,543 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Crabtree created many memorable moments in three seasons in Oakland after six up-and-down years in San Francisco. But like his tenure with the 49ers, his stint with the Raiders seemed to end on a sour note.
His final two games in 2017 left many within the organization groaning as he compiled only two catches for 17 yards. Meanwhile, rumors persisted that he refused to insert himself back into the Raiders’ Christmas Day loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nelson won’t play those games. He’ll take Cooper under his wing and help him polish his route running.
And if things go awry in the passing game, Nelson won’t walk off the field pouting like Crabtree proved prone to do. The Raiders didn’t need that, and it was smart to protect themselves from that being an issue.
You can point to Nelson’s disappointing 2017, when he struggled without Rodgers — who missed nine games — with only 53 catches for 482 yards, six touchdowns and a measly 9.1 yards per catch.
Part of that is due to Brett Hundley struggling at quarterback. But in 2016, he exploded after missing the 2015 season due to tearing an ACL in his right knee. The man who’s nicknamed “White Lightning” balled out, snagging 97 passes for 1,257 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns.
Will Nelson match those numbers from two seasons ago? Probably not, as he’ll play Robin to Cooper’s Batman. But Raider Nation will appreciate Nelson’s hard working, sure-handed approach.
Now the attention shifts to Lynch, as the Raiders have until March 18 to decide if they want to release him to create an additional $6 million in cap space.
The organization signed former Bucs running back Doug Martin — who once torched the Silver and Black for 251 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2012 — and combo back Keith Smith. Apparently, offensive line coach Tom Cable is advocating for Lynch to be back, but will he be able to mesh with Gruden’s fiery coaching?
Who knows. But it’d surprise me if the Raiders stood pat should they cut Lynch, because Martin has struggled the last two seasons.
One thing is for certain: You’re either going to adhere to Gruden’s way, or adios.
Unfortunately for Crabtree, the Raiders felt like his time in Oakland had come to an end.
Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from 12-3 on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner, and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.