The Oakland Raiders struck early for their top target in free agency, agreeing in principle to a five-year deal with former Baltimore offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.
A person with knowledge of the deal confirmed that the two sides agreed to the deal on Tuesday, the day before free agents can officially sign contracts with new teams. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract can’t be signed until the start of the new league year. NFL Media first reported the contract and said it could be worth up to $60 million.
Osemele was considered one of the top offensive linemen on the market because of his strong play and versatility. He played both guard and tackle last season with the Ravens and could fill either role in Oakland. The Raiders are looking to upgrade at right guard from J’Marcus Webb, and left tackle Donald Penn is a free agent who might not return.
Osemele originally joined the Ravens in 2012 as a second-round pick out of Iowa State. He started all 16 games as a rookie, helping Baltimore win the Super Bowl. After being limited to seven games in 2013 by a back injury, Osemele started 28 games the past two seasons, playing left tackle in his final four contests in 2015.
According to Pro Football Focus, Osemele allowed only two sacks the past two seasons and was the fifth-best run-blocking guard in the league last year despite playing only 10 games at the position.
General manager Reggie McKenzie followed a familiar pattern in free agency as spending big on the lines has been his approach since joining the Raiders in 2012. The two biggest contracts he gave out the past two offseasons in free agency went to guard/tackle Austin Howard in 2014 and center Rodney Hudson last year.
Those two, along with 2014 third-round pick at left guard Gabe Jackson, will help form what Oakland believes will be a formidable line to protect third-year quarterback Derek Carr. The 61 sacks allowed by the Raiders the past two seasons rank sixth best in the league.
The Raiders are hoping Osemele will upgrade the run game, which ranked just 28th in 2015 with 91.1 yards rushing per game. Oakland also would like to get another running back in free agency to pair with Latavius Murray, who rushed for 1,066 yards last season. Oakland’s next most productive running back was fullback Jamize Olawale, who gained just 110 yards.
The other positions the Raiders are targeting in free agency are the secondary to find a replacement for retired safety Charles Woodson, and a starting cornerback to pair with David Amerson, plus a pass rusher and middle linebacker.
After winning just 11 games the first three years under McKenzie’s leadership, the Raiders went 7-9 last season under first-year coach Jack Del Rio and are hopeful of being a contender in the AFC West in 2016 because of a young core led by Carr, pass rusher Khalil Mack and receiver Amari Cooper.