The Oakland Raiders are one of the best known franchises in the NFL. They began life in the AFL in 1960 and soon found themselves at the bottom of the league, but by the late 60’s they found their way to the Super Bowl. They lost that 1967 Super Bowl, and by 1969 head coach John Rauch was replaced by the remarkable John Madden.
When the AFL & NFL merged in 1970, the Raiders were one of the best teams around, and after three straight losses in the AFC championship game they finally made, and won, the Super Bowl in 1976. Madden would leave the team after the 1978 season but the Raiders would claim a second Super Bowl triumph in 1980 before moving to Los Angeles and winning a third Super Bowl in 1983. That stands as their last ultimate triumph, but the Raiders have come close since. They moved back to Oakland in 1995 and after hiring John Gruden in 1998 returned to the playoffs. They were beaten in the AFC championship game in 2000, and then fell to the “Tuck Rule” in 2001 before making it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2002 only to meet Gruden and his new team Tampa Bay and lose.
Since that 2002 loss the Raiders have become one of the worst teams in the NFL. Only one coach, Jack Del Rio, stayed in place for a full three years. They recently tempted Gruden back into coaching to be their 8th head coach since Bill Callahan left the team in 2004. Since that Super Bowl appearance in 2002 the Raiders have had just one winning season, in 2016, and have become a laughing stock to fans everywhere. In 2020 the team will once again leave Oakland, this time for Las Vegas, and leave fans with little to show for it.
In Madden 19 though, you get the chance to bring some glory back to Raiders fans before they leave. In Franchise Mode you get to take control of Gruden’s first season back in the black & silver and build the team back up to the Super Bowl contender they used to be. It will be a long, tough, road though. The team has just a 76 overall rating at the start of Franchise Mode, one of the worst on the game. This is made up of an 83 rated offense and a 73 rated defense. That shows you where you need to focus your attention early on. So how should you go about rebuilding the roster? Let’s start by looking at the teams salary cap situation.
Oakland Raiders Salary Cap
The Raiders start Franchise Mode with 70 players on the roster and $58 million in cap space. This is a pretty strong foundation for a rebuilding project. You’ll need to cut 17 players to get down to the regular season roster limit of 53 players, but doing so should be easy. There are 33 players that can be cut without incurring any cap penalty and most of them are at the bottom of the depth chart for their positions.
There are some you can cut to make substantial savings on the cap, but you don’t need to start making moves like that for financial reasons yet so there is no point in releasing players like AJ McCarron or Ahtyba Rubin.
Oakland Raiders Impending Free Agents
The Raiders have 40 players entering the final year of their contract when you start franchise mode. A good number of those will be part of your roster cuts and more can be allowed to walk in free agency with little worry. However, there are several players about to hit free agency that will need re-signing or else will leave a big hole in your roster that you will have to fill.
Tight end Jared Cook is the first player you need to consider. At 31 he is no spring chicken, but his 88 OVR and good athleticism for the position makes him a key cog in the Raiders offense. Signing a tight end in their 30s to a long-term extension is rarely wise, but if you can get Cook back for 2 years then you should do it, this team lacks talent so letting their best receiver walk away is far from smart.
Along with Cook, veteran running back Marshawn Lynch is also an impending free agent. He’s another 30+ player with an 88 OVR, but this time you shouldn’t pursue a new deal. Older running backs decline quickly, and the Raiders have solid backups like Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington that can carry some of the load. Running backs are always plentiful in the draft too, so finding a long-term replacement should be pretty easy.
After those two aging offensive players is 26-year-old defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. Hankins joined the Raiders last season on a one-year deal but he is a solid run-stopping defensive tackle with plenty of years ahead of him. He’s not the ideal starter but he is the kind of player every team needs, so offering him an extension and retaining his services would be wise.
This goes for a lot of players on the Raiders roster. You aren’t going to find multiple 90+ OVR starters to immediately bring the team up to scratch. You will have to retain some of the more average players in order to make sure you have a rotation to keep legs fresh and the depth to cope with injuries.
Other key impending free agents: Rashaan Melvin (CB), Marcus Gilchrist (FS), Doug Martin (HB), Leon Hall (CB)
Oakland Raiders Roster Needs
Let’s start at quarterback. Derek Carr is just 27 and has an 80 OVR. That’s not amazing, but he also has 5 years left of a very expensive contract. Moving on from him any time soon will leave a big cap penalty and also require a huge investment of draft resources to find that new player. Carr has the star development trait, which means if you make him a focus player in training and complete a passing training course every week he can very quickly improve to the point where you don’t need to think about getting out from under his contract.
Madden 19 has really hurt the Raiders in Franchise Mode by not moving the Chicago and Dallas first round picks into their possession. These were earned in trades for star players, and without them rebuilding this roster is much harder than it should be.
Since we aren’t armed with those picks we have to be especially precise with scouting and selecting in the season 1 draft so we get the stud player we need. Oakland’s biggest needs are on defense, especially at defensive end and linebacker. They are completely devoid of talented pass rushers and lack athleticism across all linebacker spots. It is harder to find a good pass rusher, so this is where you should concentrate your efforts. There are several established players like Jadeveon Clowney and DeMarcus Lawrence that could hit free agency after season 1. If one of them does reach the open market, then you should make every effort to sign them, but even if you do get one that doesn’t mean you should ignore the position come draft day. Linebackers are usually plentiful on draft day but the elite athletes are hard to find at the position, so if you're scouting uncovers one then you should take him at all costs.
The rest of Oakland’s needs, like wide receivers and some more depth in the secondary, can be addressed with mid-tier players in free agency and late draft picks. Speed is all important at these positions so remember to look at the Combine numbers when you put together your draft board.
The Raiders are pretty far away from competing for a Super Bowl, but it isn’t hopeless. If you can develop Carr’s skills and replace the playmakers around him then the offense will be good. Oakland have a strong offensive line making life a bit easier when it comes to launching an offensive attack. Defensively the Raiders are very poor, but just a handful of additions can help turn the tide. Getting them up to just an average unit will be a huge step forward and allow Oakland to compete more regularly. By season 3 this team can be in the playoff hunt, though that will be too late for the fans in Oakland. Still, bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Las Vegas will be pretty cool.