Oakland Raiders: 5 Potential Cap Casualties in 2017

Aug 18, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Lee Smith warms up before game against the Green Bay Packers  at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Aldon Smith Oakland Raiders

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Although the Oakland Raiders’ salary cap situation isn’t a concern heading into 2017, they could decide to trim some of the fat from the roster.

The 2017 offseason has officially begun for the Oakland Raiders. That means plenty of speculation regarding what lies ahead in their immediate future. How will free agency play out, and what will they do during the 2017 NFL Draft?

Before we get there, though, I think it’s wise to take a look at a few guys currently on the roster. More specifically, I want to highlight a handful of players who could become cap casualties at some point this offseason.

We have to remember that the NFL is a business. These players are all getting paid big bucks to do a very specialized job, and often times there are a few who fail to earn their keep. It may sometimes be out of their control (i.e. they’re injured), but we can’t blame these teams for wanting to make the most of their millions of dollars.

That’s why, with free agency still a couple of months away, it seems logical to pinpoint a few guys who could be on the chopping block. That way we can watch how things develop in the coming months, keeping an eye on the possibilities as things progress.

So here they are–five Raiders who could potentially be cap casualties in 2017.

Taiwan Jones Oakland Raiders

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5. Taiwan Jones, RB

2016 Cap Hit: $1.15 million
Potential Savings: $1.15 million

While $1.15 million isn’t a huge sum in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the type of money you want to waste either. And if it’s going to Taiwan Jones, it’s pretty much a waste.With the emergence of DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, the Raiders now have their depth chart set at running back—assuming Latavius Murray re-signs. Having Jones on the roster would essentially be a moot point, unless you want him for his special teams skills.

Now I can’t completely discount his value on special teams. Not only is Jones a competent return man, but his speed also makes him an asset in kick coverage. He’s also got some versatility after the team tried him at cornerback in 2013. Still, with so many young defenders on this roster, there are plenty of players who can do the same thing for a fraction of the price.

It almost seems like the Raiders are keeping Jones around hoping something will finally click. I, however, am not convinced that’ll ever happen. Instead, Oakland should save their $1.15 million and spend it on a prospect with more upside and intrigue than the former fourth-round pick.

Again, it’s not a huge amount of cap space to save. I just think it could be better spent elsewhere than being used to keep a mid-round bust on the roster.

Lee Smith Oakland Raiders

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4. Lee Smith, TE

2016 Cap Hit: $3 million
Potential Savings: $3 million

I don’t foresee this happening, but the potential is there. Lee Smith is coming off a season in which he lost all but four games to a broken leg. Who knows where he’ll be in his recovery when OTAs and training camp roll around. What truly could make this a realistic option, though, is what the Raiders do during free agency and the draft.

Smith is a blocking tight end with limited pass-catching chops. Oakland obviously liked him for his abilities as a blocker, but could see him as expendable if another capable blocker emerges this offseason. Maybe an incoming free agent, draft pick, or Clive Walford finally getting his act together?

The Raiders also already have two solid tight ends in Walford and Mychal Rivera. The latter is a free agent this offseason, but could be wooed back to Oakland with a reasonable contract. I also believe there’s some significant upside in Ryan O’Malley, a 2016 undrafted free agent out of Penn.

If those aforementioned youngsters step up, the 29-year-old Smith could see his time with the team come to an abrupt end. Again, I don’t necessarily think it’ll happen, but it could be an option if the Raiders are looking to show the door to someone with a significant paycheck.

Aldon Smith Oakland Raiders

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3. Aldon Smith, OLB

2016 Cap Hit: $5.75 million
Potential Savings: $5.75 million

I thought it was a great move bringing Aldon Smith back into the mix in 2016. Teaming him with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin seemed like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, commissioner Roger Goodell had different plans. Smith spent the entire season out of the league on suspension. Even when his time came to apply for reinstatement, the NFL decided it wasn’t ready for him to return to the field. It was a disappointing development for the Raiders, but not all that surprising.

Now keep in mind, Smith’s contract (details via Spotrac.com) is structured in such a way that the Raiders don’t lose out too much if he remains suspended. The majority of his salary is broken out into roster and workout bonuses, which he obviously can’t earn if he’s suspended.

Depending on how things play out moving forward, the Raiders might simply choose to cut the cord. Based on his continued suspension, it appears he’s still got off-the-field issues to work out. If he doesn’t appear on the path towards reinstatement, Oakland may be better off cutting their losses.

Smith rejoining the Raiders would be a huge boost. Unfortunately, with all of the uncertainty heading into 2017, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen with the troubled linebacker. It’s not an ideal solution, but letting him go could end up being the team’s best option.

Austin Howard Oakland Raiders

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2. Austin Howard, OT

2016 Cap Hit: $6.4 million
Potential Savings: $5 million (post-June 1 cut)

Much like Lee, Austin Howard’s future could depend on how the offseason plays out for Oakland. The veteran right tackle has proven his worth, but has also been hobbled by injuries over the last year.

If the Raiders feel he can’t be depended on, they may opt to save some cap space and hand him his walking papers. It’s not like they don’t already have an outstanding offensive line that can handle the loss of one starter. It did it several times throughout the 2016 campaign, but can it do it again in 2017?

Howard’s backup, Menelik Watson, is a free agent this offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if they re-signed him, especially since he’s had an erratic career through four seasons and may not garner a ton of interest on the open market. Even if Watson returns, the Raiders will likely look towards the draft to find extra depth at offensive tackle.

If that’s the case, Oakland could eventually give Howard the ax. Especially since they’d save more money designating him as a post-June 1 cut, they could wait until they’ve found another capable starter before cutting him loose. Messing with the front five isn’t ideal, but this is still a business. If the Raiders feel they aren’t getting the dependable play they want for their $6.4 million, they could opt to send Howard packing and spend that money on a suitable replacement.

Dan Williams Oakland Raiders

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1. Dan Williams, DT

2016 Cap Hit: $4.5 million
Potential Savings: $4.5 million

With the way the Raiders’ defensive tackles played in 2016, something needs to change in 2017. Despite a plethora of talent at the position, Oakland routinely saw underwhelming, inconsistent play along the interior last season. Several players battled injuries, but just about every defensive tackle on the roster failed to impress.

However, I’m thinking the Raiders will find a way to correct that issue this offseason. Justin Ellis should be back to full health, and should get back to his dominant ways. Stacy McGee is a free agent, but should be re-signed and returned to his prominent role. I’d also guess the Raiders will look to add some talent down low early during the 2017 NFL Draft.

If that’s the case, someone’s going to be the odd man out. With other players like Denico Autry and Jihad Ward capable of contributing inside, the Raiders could look to sever ties with Dan Williams. The veteran easily makes the most among Oakland’s defensive tackles, and didn’t exactly earn his pay in 2016.

I’m not predicting this will happen, but it could be a possibility if the Raiders want to clear some cap space. Williams was a great free agency get in 2015, but may have already worn out his welcome in Oakland.

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