Jared Veldheer is set to hit the market at the start of the 2014 free agency period in March, but if he has his way he will be staying with the Oakland Raiders long-term. According to Alex Marvez at Fox Sports 1, Veldheer said that he "really wants to stay in Oakland," and that negotiations are ongoing though they've been quiet lately.
Veldheer sat out the Raiders' first 11 games of the season after suffering a torn tricep just before the season opener. The loss was a hefty blow to a Raiders offense that averaged just 20 points per game in 2013. The Raiders gave up just six sacks over the final five games of the season, after giving up 39 in their first 11 games. It may be no a coincidence that Oakland was much better at protecting the quarterback upon Veldheer's return.
Veldheer graded poorly in run and pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus, which suggests that the Raiders' marked improvement up front may have had more to do with Veldheer being a significant upgrade over replacement left tackle Khalif Barnes. Depending on how much faith you put in a metric that attempts to evaluate offensive lineman on an individual level -- a decidedly difficult task -- Veldheer may have a difficult time earning the rich long-term extension he is likely hoping for.
The Raiders will certainly do their due diligence. If they decide to move on without Veldheer, they will have several strong options in free agency and in the NFL Draft to choose from.
Free agent left tackles
The Chiefs may not be willing to shell out for both Albert and a second-year Eric Fisher, which would make Albert the odd man out. That's good news for one lucky team willing the pay for him. Albert graded out as the 11th best pass-blocking offensive tackle in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
Gross graded out as third best overall offensive tackle, period, behind Trent Williams and Joe Thomas. It's unclear whether he would actually leave the Panthers, however, or if Carolina could even bear to let him go. The fact that he took a pay cut to help the Panthers negotiate the salary cap last offseason suggests that Gross may be committed to the franchise.
Monroes was Pro Football Focus' 10th-best left tackle this season, and at just 26 years old he has much less wear on his body than Albert or Gross. The Ravens have several players hitting the market this season who could command big contracts, which could mean that Monroe will be available for the Raiders.
Top left tackle prospects
Jake Matthews -- Texas A&M
Matthews appears to be the consensus best offensive tackle prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft, and may not fall far enough on the board to reach the Raiders at No. 5 overall. He is currently projected to go No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams in Dan Kadar's latest mock draft.
Cyrus Kouandjio -- Alabama
Taylor Lewan -- Michigan
Kouandjio and Lewan are arguably the two next-best left tackle prospects after Matthews. Both players have flaws in their game that keep them from being consensus top 10 picks, however. If either or both test well this offseason, they could quickly rise up in mock drafts. At least one should be available at No. 5 for Oakland, though the temptation to select a quarterback will be strong.