The battle between Oakland Raiders’ General Manager Reggie McKenzie and former Raiders offensive lineman Jared Veldheer went public recently as the two traded jabs, arguing why one of the Raiders best players and the team with the most money to spend in free agency couldn’t come to an agreement. McKenzie said Veldheer didn’t want to play for the Raiders while Veldheer refuted that, saying that wasn’t the case, citing the numerous times he publicly said that he wanted to spend his entire career in silver and black. When asked about McKenzie’s comments directly, Veldheer said that they simply couldn’t get a contract done.
Sounds like one of them are lying, but there may be a bit more to this than a “he said, he said” situation. Recent developments with Chicago Bears’ newly signed defensive end Jared Allen may shed some light on a dilemma the Raiders are facing and may help explain why McKenzie seems to be making odd signings and shelling out, what many say, is too much money for players that are just “solid” or past their prime, while at the same time losing their better players, like Veldheer.
Allen, who publicly said for weeks that he would rather retire than make less than what he believes he is worth, finally signed with the Bears. However, the man who seemed to be all about the money didn’t sign with the team that offered him the most cash. If he had, he’d be a Raider.
The Raiders are in the midst of a massive rebuild, having the worst record of any other team over the past decade, a relatively new and unproven owner in Mark Davis and are surrounded by uncertainties with their stadium situation in Oakland. They look more like an expansion team rather than the great Oakland Raiders of prior decades. The news that Allen took less money to be with the Bears highlights a quandary that many have not addressed about the Raiders rebuilding process.
Does it cost more to play for the Raiders?
When McKenzie took over, he made it clear that he was going to clean house of the bloated contracts and overpaid players, changing the past practices of late-owner Al Davis, who was notorious for his huge guaranteed contracts for often marginal players or aging stars. McKenzie established that he wouldn’t pay superstar salaries for players that weren’t superstars. However, McKenzie is caught between two opposing forces that may have led him to offer more money than expected for certain players. It’s clear he wants to pay what he believes is fair market value for a player, but the situation in Oakland is dire enough that players may want to see more money to suit up in silver and black.
This may help explain Veldheer and the failed signing of Rodger Saffold from the St. Louis Rams, which in the eyes of most, made zero sense, when comparing contracts. What we do know is that the Raiders offered, what McKenzie believed, was fair market value for Veldheer. No one knows for sure what that offer was, but one rumor had the Raiders offering 5 years, $30 million, with $10 million guaranteed. This is lower than the $35 million, $10.5 million guaranteed, that Veldheer ultimately accepted from the Arizona Cardinals. If these numbers are accurate, what the Raiders offered was lower, but not by much. It also was reported that this was just the first offer and before the Raiders could make a second offer, Veldheer came back with his demands, which apparently were so high that the Raiders didn’t bother to make that second offer.
The questions are this: How high were those demands, since he took $35 million from Arizona? Would a team that has $66 million in salary cap space think that an extra $5 million for Veldheer is “too high,” considering they offered Saffold $7 million above what Veldheer got from Arizona? Would Veldheer have stayed on a struggling Raiders team for $35 million or did he demand much more than this?
The Saffold offer also was universally criticized as well (5-years, $42 million with $20 million in guaranteed money). When he failed the Raiders physical (the only team to fail him), he ended up signing a 5-year deal with the Rams for $31 million with $15 million guaranteed. What was Saffold’s minimum price to play for the Raiders? It would be naïve to think the first offer from Oakland was $42 million, so where was their starting point in comparison to the $31 million he ultimately accepted from the Rams?
McKenzie also was criticized for the signing of Austin Howard, which happened within 24-hours of the attempted signing of Saffold. Analysts almost universally said it was too much money for a player that was seen as “solid,” not worth the 5-year, $30 million contract the Raiders gave him. However, we run into the same questions as with Veldheer and Saffold. How much would other teams have to pay Howard compared to what the Raiders paid?
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen did say the team was trying to bring in veterans that offer experience from being on championship teams, come with strong leadership skills and with the ability to help teach younger players… but he also said he wanted guys that had the ability to help court other players to Oakland, suggesting that part of the strategy in signing players like Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, LaMarr Woodley, Tarell Brown and Charles Woodson was a way to get others to come to Oakland without having to shell out extra millions.
For Jared Allen, those extra millions clearly weren’t enough. Maybe with the signing of Maurice Jones-Drew, the Raiders will continue to better position themselves heading toward the finishing stretch of free agency, where players no longer see a special “Raiders price” versus other NFL teams. Hopefully the Raiders can change the mind-set of players and soon return to being known as the team with “The Black Hole,” rather than being known as the team that IS the black hole.