When the Oakland Raiders hired a new general manager, they did not provide him with the best of scenarios to start his new job. The Raiders were severely over the NFL salary cap, but desperately needed to upgrade after another 8-8 season. As a result, first year general manager, Reggie McKenzie was forced to purge the team of excessive contracts before he could begin upgrading. After the purge, the Raiders still found themselves with little cap room, and a number of positions that did not have a legitimate NFL caliber starter.
McKenzie started out to do what everyone had claimed he was great at doing, finding bargain deals that other teams had missed and could help the Raiders right away. At corner back, he signed Shawntae Spencer and Ronald Bartell, at outside linebacker, he signed Philip Weaver and added a new starting guard with Mike Brisiel and defensive end depth with Dave Tollefson.
Both Spencer and Bartell are older and have had injury issues in recent years. However, they are also both solid, experienced corners who can help the Raiders young corners develop and will make up a serviceable secondary. Philip Weaver is a young backer who has spent time as a starter with the Indianapolis Colts. He is undersized, but makes up for physical deficiencies with instincts and intelligent play. Finally, Brisiel and Tollefson are the prize catches of the Raiders 2012 free agent class.
Mike Brisiel is a very good guard, but whose value on the free agent market is limited due to being a one trick pony. Brisiel excels in the zone blocking scheme, but is not suited to play in a power blocking team. That is what made Brisiel perfect for the Raiders. He came at a reasonable price and due to the switch to a zone blocking scheme, represented a significant upgrade for the Raiders.
Dave Tollefson is coming off of his second Super Bowl victory and brings not only solid depth to the Raiders, but also that winning mentality. Tollefson is a pass rushing defensive end who was part of the New York Giants formidable defensive line rotation. The Raiders' defensive line is one of their strong suits, but as last year showed, injuries can easily turn a strength into a weakness. Plus, having another body with significant talent will increase the number of players in the defensive line rotation and help keep the starters fresh late in games.
The Raiders certainly did not make any major free agent splashes this season. In fact, they were the polar opposite of what the Philadelphia Eagles did last off season. Despite that fact, Reggie McKenzie found solid players, capable of starting, and who represent upgrades to the team.