ALAMEDA — Despite the most salary cap room in the NFL, the Raiders declined to use the franchise tag Monday on either left tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston.
When the 1 p.m. deadline came and went, Veldheer and Houston were five days away from being able to negotiate with other teams for their services.
The Raiders have more than $66 million available under a cap projected at just over $133 million. A one-year tag on Veldheer would have cost the Raiders $11.6 million, while keeping Houston as a franchise player would have cost $13.1 million.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said following the season he would use the franchise tag if necessary but preferred to work out long-term deals with players the club wanted in its future.
Although the free agency period begins March 11, agents for players can begin soliciting offers from other teams on Saturday, potentially driving up the price. Players cannot sign during that three-day window, which was instituted by the NFL this season to try and limit tampering.
Veldheer missed the first 12 games of the 2013 season following surgery to repair a torn left triceps. He has stated on numerous occasions he wants to remain with the Raiders and be part of the building process.
Houston, considered a leader by example and a versatile lineman who can play inside and outside, said following the season he thought it might be time to move on but coach Dennis Allen and McKenzie have both said they would like to keep him on the roster.
Despite just six sacks last season, Houston's market value was enhanced when two coveted defensive ends — Greg Hardy of Carolina and Brian Orakpo of Washington — were given franchise tags by their teams.
Veldheer was a third-round draft pick out of Division II Hillsdale in 2010 and Houston arrived in the second-round out of Texas that same season.
Other Raiders who are free to negotiate with other teams Saturday if they have not been re-signed include running backs Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden, defensive tackle Vance Walker, safety Charles Woodson, cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter, wide receiver Jacoby Ford, defensive end Jason Hunter, safety Usama Young, cornerback Phillip Adams, tight end Jeron Mastrud, guard-center Andre Gurode, tackle Tony Pashos and defensive tackle Daniel Muir.