ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders cutting high-priced veteran cornerback David Amerson last week was more than a roster move by returning coach Jon Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie. It was a message.
“Baby Reggie” is the moniker Irvin gave himself as a recruiter, of sorts, of free agents for McKenzie. But with a big salary upcoming — Irvin is scheduled to make $8.25 million in 2018 and carry that same amount in cap money — and less-than-desired production through two seasons — quick, name three game-changing plays you recall Irvin making with Khalil Mack getting double- and triple-teamed; now imagine how anemic the Raiders’ pass rush would have been the past two years without Irvin and his 15 sacks — Irvin acknowledges he is a prime candidate to be a cap casualty.
And he’s not the only big-name, high-priced veteran under scrutiny in Oakland, not with running back Marshawn Lynch, receiver Michael Crabtree and cornerback Sean Smith, along with Irvin, all carrying no dead money should they be released.
In fact, by releasing the four Oakland would save more than $30 million against the cap, in addition to the $6 million the Raiders already saved in cutting Amerson.
Production, of course, counts for something, and Lynch came on strong and was the Raiders’ best offensive player down the stretch. Gruden himself said, “I don’t know,” when asked by the East Bay Times this week if he saw Lynch on his roster.
Lynch is due a base salary of $4 million in 2018 but carries a cap number of more than $5.95 million and is due a bonus of $1 million on March 8 if he is still on the roster.
“I bumped into him,” Gruden told the Times. “I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player, and I certainly have respect for him also.”
Crabtree, meanwhile, is due a base salary of $6.25 million and has a cap number of more than $7.68 million. Before Jack Del Rio was fired following the season finale at the Los Angeles Chargers, Crabtree seemed destined to be done in Oakland. He had become a forgotten man the past two weeks of the season, with a combined five targets.
“Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career,” Gruden told the Times. “There’s some people in place, but we’ve got a number of issues that are concerning right now and we’re focusing on them.”
Smith seems the most likely to face the chopping block, given he will make $8.25 million but carry a cap number of $8.5 million and has been anything but the shutdown cornerback the Raiders envisioned when they signed him in 2016.
Still, he came on strong late last season, too, with two interceptions.
The Raiders currently have more than $30.78 million in cap space, per ESPN Stats & Information, and obviously would find more by parting ways with the likes of Irvin, Lynch, Crabtree and Smith. But they also need talent.
They not only have to sign Mack to his contract extension, but also decide whether to exercise receiver Amari Cooper‘s fifth-year option. All while hitting the free-agent market, with or without the help of “Baby Reggie” on the recruiting trail.
“We looked at our salary-cap situation, obviously,” Gruden told the Times. “The last four or five days, we’ve really focused on some specific free agents that will be available when free agency begins. It’s been a grind.”