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The Raiders Are Getting Older, but Are They Getting Better?

Releasing Michael Crabtree to sign Jordy Nelson is a perplexing move that doesn’t immediately improve Oakland’s offense

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Deal(s)

Two days after the Packers released Jordy Nelson, he’s agreed to a deal with the Raiders, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The two-year deal is guaranteed for $13 million and could be worth up to $15 million, according to former Packers receiver James Jones. (Everyone is a reporter these days.) Oakland also signed former Bucs running back Doug Martin to a one-year deal and released receiver Michael Crabtree, saving $7.7 million in cap space.

Bold Strategy, Gruden

Crabtree and Nelson both had down years in 2017. Crabtree had just 58 receptions on 101 targets for 618 yards (10.7 yards per reception) and eight touchdowns. His 44.1 receiving yards per game was the second-lowest mark of his career, and while he scored six touchdowns in his first six games, he had just two in his next eight, both of which came in a loss against Dallas. He turns 31 in September, and on the surface it’s never a bad idea to move on from an aging, declining receiver.

The confusing part is that Nelson’s 2017 was worse, and he’s two years older. Nelson had 53 receptions on 88 targets for 482 yards and six touchdowns last year in his worst statistical season since 2009. Without Aaron Rodgers’s laserlike passes and ability to throw him open, Nelson often looked like a shell of his former self. The Packers opted to release him, rather than receiver Randall Cobb, after satisfying the football gods and pairing Rodgers with Jimmy Graham. It’s possible that Nelson has more left in the tank than Crabtree, but there isn’t much evidence statistically or on tape to support that belief.

The financials make even less sense. Crabtree was under contract for $7 million in 2018 and $7.5 million in 2019, with no remaining money guaranteed. Considering Washington just signed Paul Richardson, the no. 3 option in Seattle last year, for $8 million annually for five years, and the Dolphins just signed Albert Wilson, the no. 4 option in Kansas City, for $8 million annually for three years, Crabtree’s deal seems like a bargain. Now, Nelson will receive a slightly lower salary but with $13 million guaranteed.

Adding to the confusion is that the Raiders had roughly $22 million in cap space before the deal, a middle-of-the-road figure. The team could save $3.3 million by releasing Cordarrelle Patterson, whose best NFL season barely scratches Crabtree’s worst. The team also could save $5.7 million of cap room by releasing tight end Jared Cook, or make the unpopular move of cutting Marshawn Lynch and save $6 million in cap space. Of those players, Crabtree is the only one likely to get a raise on the open market.

The Raiders have been rumored to be looking to move on from Crabtree since at least December, when Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Crabtree’s production “is not considered worth the baggage.” Locker-room issues may explain the Raiders’ desire to move on from Crabtree, but it’s still a mystery why the team couldn’t trade him. A wide receiver on a team-friendly deal with no guaranteed money should have trade value. Considering all of the players with similar or bigger cap hits who have been traded in the past week (linebacker Alec Ogletree at $10 million, receiver Torrey Smith at $5 million, defensive end Michael Bennett at $6.7 million, and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn at $11.3 million), it’s curious that the Raiders couldn’t have mustered even a late-round draft pick for Crabtree, who has 25 receiving touchdowns in the past three seasons.

The Raiders also added former Bucs running back Doug Martin on Thursday, who ran for 1,402 yards in 2015 but combined for 827 yards on 2.9 yards per attempt in the past two seasons after missing time with injuries and a PED-related suspension. The compensation in Martin’s one-year deal isn’t known yet, but running backs have cashed in this offseason with Jerick McKinnon and Dion Lewis combining for more than $27 million guaranteed. A big deal for Martin could increase the likelihood of the team parting with Lynch, but replacing an aging Beast Mode with an aging Martin would be another head-scratching veteran signing for a team that could likely find a younger player to contribute similar (or better) production for a fraction of the cost.

Perhaps Jordy is better than Crabtree, or Crabtree caused more drama behind the scenes than we know, or Nelson embodies coach Jon Gruden’s ideal #GrudenGrinder. But the only guarantee here is that the Raiders turned a solid no. 2 option into someone two years older, possibly much worse, and significantly more expensive in terms of guaranteed money. [Jon Gruden voice] “I don’t know what to tell ya, man.”