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Offseason Forecast: Oakland Raiders

With the offseason officially under way, Around The League will examine what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the Oakland Raiders.

What's Changing?

After two years of salary-cap hell, general manager Reggie McKenzie is projected to have close to $64 million in cap space -- more than any team in the NFL. It's a good thing, too, because McKenzie's roster is littered with holes. The most valuable players on offense (Jared Veldheer) and defense (Lamarr Houston) -- as well as the roster's best talent (Darren McFadden) -- are due to hit free agency. In a make-or-break season for McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen, the 2014 Raiders will bear little resemblance to the 4-12 squad that closed out the 2013 season.

»*LT Jared Veldheer:* Although Veldheer has expressed a desire to return, he's also been frustrated by the organization's lack of urgency in contract talks. If he hits the open market, the 26-year-old will vie with Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe as the premier tackles available.

»*DE Lamarr Houston:* At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Houston carries extra value as a scheme versatile defensive lineman capable of playing in any coordinator's system. He was Oakland's lone consistent impact player on defense last season, stuffing the run and acting as a disruptive force in the passing game. Still just 26 years old, Houston is one of ATL's top-10 free agents.

» RBs Darren McFadden / Rashad Jennings: McFadden's latest injury-plagued season was one too many. By the end of the season, McKenzie acknowledged that McFadden will be allowed to test the market while the team hopes to re-sign Jennings. Much like Reggie Bush early in the 2013 season, McFadden has bounce-back potential if he ends up in a friendly scheme. As a brittle back averaging 3.3 yards per carry over the past two years, McFadden shouldn't expect teams to beat down his door.

What they need

It would be easier to list what they don't need. The Raiders decided by late in the season that neither Terrelle Pryor nor Matt McGloin is the future at quarterback. The offensive line has only one decent starter under contract in center Stefen Wisniewski. There's a vacancy at running back. The other side of the ball was patched over with a series of misfits signed in the late wave of free agency last offseason. This roster needs help at every level of the defense, starting with warm bodies and graduating to impact players.

On the way out?

»*G Mike Brisiel:* The 30-year-old has solidified the right guard spot since signing with Oakland in 2012, but he's not a $4 million player. The Raiders' newfound cap largesse might save his job.

»*S Tyvon Branch:* After restructuring his four-year, $26.6 million contract last March, Branch carries the Raiders highest cap number at just over $7 million. Although he's the best mixture of talent and age of all players under contract, the 27 year old played just two games last season due to a fractured fibula. He's probably safe despite his $1 million roster bonus.

Offseason crystal ball

Gregg Rosenthal predicts the Raiderswill use the franchise or transition tag on Veldheer, which would seem to increase Houston's odds of going to the highest bidder in free agency. Since McKenzie has the deepest pockets this year, he can probably match any offer.

Even if a veteran quarterback such as Josh Freeman is reunited with offensive coordinator Greg Olson, the position will likely be addressed early in the draft. Jennings is a good bet to be re-signed on a reasonable contract. The rest of McKenzie's checkbook can be devoted to finding a impact playmaker or two on defense and solidifying the offensive line. Even with a shopping spree, this roster is another season or two away from competing with the class of the AFC West.

On the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys debate Joe Philbin's future in Miami before playing another round of "Win Wess' Toaster."

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