Terrible offensive line play seems to be the norm — not the exception — around the NFL these days. The state of offensive line play league-wide is so poor that it’s being called an epidemic.
The Raiders are not part of the growing list of teams with poor pass protection and scarcely created running lanes — in fact, the Raiders might have the best offensive line in the AFC.
And they plan on keeping it that way.
Friday, the Raiders and Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn announced the parties agreed to a two-year contract extension worth a reported $21 million.
It’s not a small chunk of change, but it was a necessary deal for the Raiders to make.
The Raiders’ front office figured out well before the rest of the league that good offensive line play is a cheat code. It makes your quarterback significantly better, your running backs significantly better — it makes your offense, as a whole, significantly better.
It also costs money. Paying big bucks for big-time players is an excellent vaccine for the epidemic sweeping the league.
The Raiders spend more on offensive linemen than any other team in football. The middle of that offensive line — left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson, and right guard Gabe Jackson — take up nearly 20 percent of the salary cap.
But it’s undoubtedly worth it.
And Penn, as quarterback Derek Carr’s blindside protector, is just as important (if not more so) than that superb interior trio.
Forget what Marshall Newhouse did at left tackle in the preseason — Penn deserved a new deal.
Have you seen Carr play with poor protection? He doesn’t look anything like a quarterback worth $25 million per season. He’s a jittery dink-and-dunker who isn’t all that accurate.
But behind Penn and the Raiders’ great interior offensive line, Carr looks like an MVP candidate.
Quarterbacks make the big bucks for a reason. Even with new mega-deals coming into play, the best of the best at the position might still be underpaid. Carr’s deal is on the books — it can’t be re-negotiated — but if you’re going to take out a $125 million bet, you should probably take out a large insurance policy, too.
Penn’s extension is part of that insurance policy.
That’s what makes the two-year extension is a great bit of business for both sides. It’s a rarity in the NFL today: a win-win.
The Raiders signed one of the best left tackles in football for well below market rate. (Could you imagine what Penn, even at age 34, would have landed on the open market next spring? With so many teams needing good offensive linemen, it’s hard to argue he didn’t leave money on the table re-signing with Oakland.)
But Penn didn’t want to go anywhere, though, and he played the game like the savvy, been-around-the-block-a-few-times veteran that he is. It could have been a testy situation, instead, Penn was rewarded for ending his month-long holdout (which saw him miss all of training camp) with the guaranteed money (aka security) he wanted.
Penn and the Raiders met halfway. What a novel concept.
We’ll see how this new deal affects possible contract extensions with Amari Cooper, Jackson and Khalil Mack, and the tenure of Sebastian Janikowski in Oakland, but for the time being, there’s no clear downside to the new accord.
And there was a bonus (besides the money) for Penn: He didn’t have to spend a single night at the Napa Residence Inn.