ALAMEDA (AP) — The Oakland Raiders opened free agency on Tuesday by agreeing to a five-year contract with offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and keeping oft-injured running back Darren McFadden on a $4 million, one-year deal.
But the day was just as notable for the players who left town. Left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston, considered building blocks in the rebuilding plan, signed as free agents with Arizona and Chicago, respectively.
Also, last year’s leading rusher Rashad Jennings said on Twitter that he was flying to New York and was looking forward to signing a deal with the Giants.
After two years of being hamstrung by bad contracts that left little salary cap room, general manager Reggie McKenzie was able to spend for the first time with about $60 million in cap room at the start of the league year.
But he chose not to use the franchise tag on either Veldheer or Houston and gave his biggest contract of his tenure to Saffold. ESPN reported that Saffold will get a $42.5 million contract with $21 million guaranteed in a sign that the Raiders valued the injury-prone Saffold over the home-grown Veldheer.
Veldheer, a third-round pick in 2010 out of Hillsdale College, had been one of the better acquisitions by late owner Al Davis in his later years running the team, starting 42 consecutive games at left tackle before tearing his triceps in training camp last summer. He missed 11 games last year and did not play up to the level he was at in 2012 after his return.
Saffold is a versatile blocker with experience playing both tackle spots and right guard in four seasons with St. Louis. But he has had problems with durability, missing 17 games with a variety of injuries.
The Raiders are also interested in Jets free agent tackle Austin Howard, who will meet with the Raiders, a person familiar with his plans told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team does not disclose free-agent visits.
McFadden had been considered one of the many first-round disappointments in Davis’ final draft. Picked fourth overall out of Arkansas in 2008, McFadden has missed 29 games in six seasons and never gone through a full season healthy.
McFadden had his biggest success in two years with Hue Jackson calling plays, averaging more than 5 yards per carry in 2010 and ‘11. But he has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry the past two seasons, second worst in the NFL in that span to the recently retired Rashard Mendenhall.
A move from a zone-blocking to a power scheme was supposed to spark McFadden last season but he rushed for just 379 yards and averaged 3.3 yards per carry in 10 games.
Jennings was considered a stronger possibility to come back after setting career highs with 733 yards rushing, 292 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
Houston, a second-round pick in 2010, had been Oakland’s most consistent defensive player the last few years but the Raiders chose not to pay him as an elite pass rusher because he had only 10 sacks the past two seasons.