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By John McMullen, NFL Editor - Archive - Email
Cap forcing Raiders to make shaky decisions
Reggie McKenzie The Raiders entered the 2014 league year with the most money to spend in free agency.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When saving for your future, it's a pretty good idea to understand one basic premise -- just because you have a few extra bucks in your pocket doesn't mean you have to spend it.

The NFL, however, operates by a different set of standards.

Almost everyone who follows the league understands the salary cap for the 2014 season went up significantly, from $123 million to $133 million. The key number for the players, however, is the salary cap floor.

The final eight years of the current CBA are broken into four-year periods (2013-16 and 2017-20) during which teams are required to spend up to 89 percent of the cap, with a guaranteed league-wide threshold of 95 percent, meaning if certain individual teams fail to hit that 95 percent mark and the league as a whole misses that mark, the owners must pay the difference to the players.

The Oakland Raiders entered the 2014 league year with the most money to spend in free agency, a war chest of well over $60 million at the start of the process. A quick trip to Texas Instruments will tell you that somehow general manger Reggie McKenzie has to spend over $50 million of his available allotment to be in compliance come September.

And that means Reggie Mac really didn't really have the option to survey the landscape, turn his nose up and save the cash for a rainy day. The league's rules mandate, if you have the money, you have to spend it, and that's akin to taking your entire paycheck to the supermarket when you're hungry.

"Football for Dummies" can tell you how to put together an NFL team. The thought process is that you build through the draft and supplement things in free agency. Then, when you're close -- sort of like the Denver Broncos right now -- it's carpe diem time -- seize the moment and go for it.

The Raiders are far from close yet they have spent significant dollars on five free agents north of 30 years old -- defensive linemen Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, offensive linemen Donald Penn and Kevin Boothe, and wide receiver James Jones. Meanwhile, a sixth free agent, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, will turn 30 next season.

The latest domino fell Friday when the Raiders traded a late-round selection in May's draft to Houston for quarterback Matt Schaub, who will turn 33 in June and carries a $14.5 million salary-cap figure and a $10 million base salary for 2014.

There are some positives to the deal. Oakland coach Dennis Allen is obviously not enamored with either of his younger options from a year ago (Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin) and even Schaub's harshest detractors have to admit he's a better alternative than either incumbent at least in the short- term.

Schaub actually has a pretty good resume in what is a quarterback-starved league. Remember, the Houston Texans were an expansion team which compiled a dismal 24-56 record in five seasons before Schaub arrived in a trade from the Atlanta Falcons before the 2007 season. The veteran finished his tenure in South Texas in the black with a 46-44 record as a starter, two Pro Bowl berths, four AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors and a pair of AFC South crowns.

While the wheels certainly came off a season ago when Schaub threw 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, including tossing a pick-six in a league- record four consecutive games, the Raiders are obviously banking on the fact that what looked like a sharp decline can be stopped or at least slowed for a few years.

The signing also means Oakland will have far more freedom with the No. 5 overall pick come May and will not have to develop tunnel vision on the top quarterbacks in the draft class, Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.

All that said, the Raiders' offseason hasn't exactly been text book when it comes to building for the future, so maybe there's a lesson to be learned here.

Having cap space may sound great in theory, but the very flexibility it's supposed to provide is neutralized by the fact you are obligated to spend the money whether you want to or not.

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