After a breakthrough season in which they finished with a 12-4 record and a 5th seed in the AFC, the Oakland Raiders were at a standstill. They were beaten soundly in the AFC Wild Card round by the Houston Texans, with a slew of departing free agents to address and a future move to Las Vegas hovering over the team.
Their response? Call in Beast Mode.
The move to lure Marshawn Lynch out of early retirement was shrewd, even by general manager Reggie McKenzie‘s standards. But it made total sense at the same time. Lynch grew up in Oakland and clearly wanted to be apart of what McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio had built over the past two years. Fan support was threatening to waver following the announced move to Las Vegas in 2020, so adding a hometown hero who also happened to be one of the NFL‘s best running backs during his prime was the perfect way to reassure the fandom that the Raiders were all in on a championship run for 2017 and beyond.
The rest of the free agency period for Oakland was fairly uneventful in terms of signings, with the biggest addition after Lynch being tight end Jared Cook, who followed up an okay regular season for the Green Bay Packers by having a monstrous postseason. The Raiders are hoping for Cook to up his consistency for this season.
Cordarrelle Patterson was also brought over from the Minnesota Vikings to compete with Seth Roberts at slot receiver, as well as take over as the main return specialist. While Patterson was a Pro Bowler last season for his work on special teams, his receiving prowess isn’t much better than Roberts, who struggled with drops in 2016 despite being ranked as one of Pro Football Focus‘ best blocking wideouts.
There was a bit of a shakeup along the offensive line as well. Austin Howard, last season’s starting right tackle, was cut just as training camp began, leaving newcomer Marshall Newhouse as the probable starter. Newhouse was largely known as a utility backup for both the Packers and New York Giants, and his PFF grade reflected that, but he was signed to just a two year, $3.5 million deal, so he’s not exactly breaking the bank.
Lastly, Jelani Jenkins was signed away from the Miami Dolphins to replace the departing Malcolm Smith at linebacker. While Smith was ranked as one of the worst starters at the position in 2016, Jenkins had him beat in that department, coming in dead last. However, it should be noted that he was dealing with a nagging knee injury all of last season and was a lot better in previous years, so there’s optimism that he can bounce back.
The players who said goodbye to Oakland won’t be easy to replace. Both Howard and Smith were counted on for veteran leadership on the team, as well as defensive tackle Dan Williams. Latavius Murray outplayed his ceiling as a late round draft pick and became the lead running back out of nowhere. Even Brynden Trawick will be missed on special teams. But the Raiders’ moves indicate that they’re confident in the ones who remain and optimistic about the ones who have stepped in to fill in the holes.