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Raiders face difficult salary cap questions

Updated January 7, 2021 - 8:02 pm

With 21 unrestricted free agents and a leaguewide salary cap that is shrinking, the Raiders face a challenging offseason in the front office.

A key will be deciding how much money to spend on re-signing their free agents while also creating enough salary-cap space to be active participants in the free-agent market.

Because of COVID-19 and its financial impact, the cap number for 2021, which has yet to be finalized, will decrease. The most recent projection pegs the ceiling at $176 million, which represents a $22 million drop from 2020.

To put that in perspective, aside from the decrease in the salary cap from 2010 to 2011 because of a league lockout, the cap has increased every single year over the past 10 years. That includes the rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to $198.2 million in 2020.

Based on the Raiders’ current obligations for 2021, they are projected to be $7.2 million over the presumed $176 million threshold. However, there are multiple ways the Raiders can create significant cap relief. But it will require parting ways with or renegotiating the contracts of some key players.

Also keep in mind that new deals for quarterback Derek Carr and left tackle Kolton Miller need to be addressed soon. Carr, who already has received his guaranteed money, has deals done through 2022 at $22 million and $19 million, far less than going rate of $30 million for a quality quarterback. Miller is going into the last year of his rookie deal.

Here is who the Raiders might look to release to create room under the cup, plus what they may do with their pending free agents.

Renegotiate or cut loose

RT Trent Brown

QB Marcus Mariota

WR Tyrell Williams

CB Lamarcus Joyner

RT Gabe Jackson

LG Richie Incognito

WHAT’S NEXT? The Raiders have structured some key contracts in a way that allows them wiggle room to easily walk away to create workable cap space without suffering any cap penalties.

Among them are the deals they signed with right tackle Trent Brown, wide receiver Tyrell Williams, backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, left guard Richie Incognito and right guard Gabe Jackson. Combined, the five players are under contract next year for just over $49 million.

But since the Raiders have already paid out the guaranteed portion of each deal, they can walk away from all five contracts without facing any salary cap penalties, freeing up that money to be used on the free-agent market and to pay their unrestricted free agents.

In addition, cornerback Lamarcus Joyner is under contract next year for $9.6 million and in 2022 for $9.7 million. However, he represents just $2.5 million in cap space next year and $1.5 million in 2022 if he’s cut. That means the Raiders can create approximately $7 million more in cap space in 2021 by cutting him.

Short of outright cutting all six, the Raiders could also approach one or all with renegotiation proposals in which the Raiders add guaranteed money to any new deals while significantly reducing the yearly salary obligation. In this scenario, they can keep players they deem essential but at a much more cap-friendly salary.

Jackson is a prime candidate for a renegotiated deal as he continues to play at a high level. Brown is one of the best right tackles in the game when he is healthy, but he represents so much uncertainty — 16 missed games the past two years — that the Raiders would be wise to cut him if he rejects the notion of a renegotiated deal.

Williams missed all of last year with a pectoral injury and has been an injury liability in both of his seasons with the Raiders.

Sticking around

WR Nelson Agholor

G Denzelle Good

LB Nicholas Morrow

DT Johnathan Hankins

WHAT’S NEXT? Only a select few of the Raiders’ unrestricted free agents fall under the “must-have back” category. Of those, no one is in line for a deal that significantly pinches the salary cap.

Among the UFA’s the Raiders will take a hard look at bringing back are wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who developed into a trusted target of Derek Carr, left guard Denzelle Good, who emerged as a main cog along the offensive line, emerging linebacker Nicholas Morrow and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

Of those, Agholor and Good should be the highest priority.

On the bubble

S Erik Harris

CB Nevin Lawson

TE Derek Carrier

LB Raekwon McMillan

RB Devontae Booker

DE Takk McKinley

DE Vic Beasley

WHAT’S NEXT? Safety Erik Harris is a respected veteran and a noted leader, but his starting job was more a reflection on the Raiders’ dearth of starting options opposite Johnathan Abram. He should be paid no more than the going rate for a quality backup, as the Raiders are expected to make a big run at a veteran free safety in free agency.

Lawson, Carrier, McMillan and Booker are decent role players. None will break the bank on new deals and the market for each outside of Las Vegas will not be robust.

Beasley and McKinley were late-season additions who would be wise to accept one-year prove-it deals in Las Vegas. Both could turn out to be pass-rush rotational players and create bigger markets for themselves in 2022.

See you later

DT Maliek Collins

WR Zay Jones

QB Nathan Peterman

LB Kyle Wilbur

TE Jason Witten

OT Sam Young

TE Nick O’Leary

RB Theo Riddick

DT Chris Smith

CB/S Daryl Worley

WHAT’S NEXT? Collins could be more of an on-the-bubble candidate, but he fell so far short of expectations the Raiders might just look to go in a different direction.

Depending on what happens with Agholor and Williams, it makes sense for Jones to seek a better opportunity for playing time on another team. He is good enough to be in a wide receiver rotation, but that chance might not come in Las Vegas.

Peterman has not distinguished himself in two seasons with the Raiders. By the end of this season, he was no longer suiting up on the game-day roster. The departure of Witten, who is expected to retire, will open the door for more playing time for promising young tight end Foster Moreau.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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