Welcome to Salary Cap Hell.
The Raiders have their work cut out for them going into the twilight of Al Davis' reign over the team, being already at $116mil with an expected $123mil cap to fit under. And if history is any indication, under Davis' tenure, things are likely to get worse before they get better.
Front and center this offseason are two key free agents, CB Nmamdi Asomugha and P Shane Lechler, and with only one franchise tag to throw around, the Raiders will likely be saying goodbye to one of them.
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But even as the Raiders enter the Twilight zone, there are clues that they may be ready to precipitate the kind of change needed to rise from the rubble of 11 or more losses in 6 straight years. Rumors that underacheivers are about to hit the bricks is a welcome relief.
Unremarkable LT Kwame Harris may be on the outs, as well as underperforming defensive "stars" S Michael Huff and DT Terdell Sands. Perrennial disappointment, WR Ronald Curry will probably get his walking papers as well.
Unfortunately, the reality of salary cap hell is that it is never easy to get out of. Besides likely franchising Nmamdi (and waiting until the last minute--Feb. 19th--to do so) Oakland must find a way to resign the OTHER CB Chris Johnson. The Raiders also need to find a way to get center Jake Grove resigned, as well as return specialist Justin Miller.
Add in that the Raiders will need to sign yet another top dollar, high draft pick, which they absolutely CANNOT bust on and that they have critical needs at multiple areas, and the pressure may be at its highest since this downward spiral began.
Starting on Offensive line, Oakland needs to look at depth and talent at the tackle positions. Mario Henderson looks like he has some potential at LT, but RT Cornell Green was the source of much of the woe that befell the Raiders pass-protection in 2008.
Finishing next to last in league run defense means that upgrades along the defensive line are a must. At this point it doesn't really matter whether it is at the ends or in the middle. It just needs to be a quality starter, stout against the run, and if it isn't asking too much, someone who can step up and lead these guys a little.
Lastly, it wouldn't be remiss of Oakland to seriously target WR, because the unit got atrocious production despite having a QB who can air the ball out. Part of Salary Cap Hell is not finding yourself in a position to capitalize on what you have already bought, so protecting Jamarcus, and getting him some more weapons should be a primary target.
If tagged, Nmamdi will likely clock in around the $11-12million dollar range, a figure that the Raiders cannot currently absorb without serious tinkering. The likely aftermath of this will be slashes across the roster to free up much needed cap space, but with the greatest hits being "non-slashable" players. The Raiders will also need to resign G Cooper Carslisle, a decent stop gap on the oline, and key special teamer and LB depth Isaiah Ekejiuba.
All in all the Raiders have some tough sledding ahead of them, with an urgency to start putting pressure on the division leaders in the AFC West, as both the Broncos and Chiefs look poised to make key moves to get back into the competition. With disturbing rumors that Davis will be able to control the Raiders even from beyond the grave (and equally disturbing rumors that he already is), there doesn't seem to be much of a respite in the trials ahead of them. But another high pick in the draft carries the silver lining that the key to moving forward is within the Raider's grasp.
Mocking Dan's latest Mock Draft agrees, and he has the Raiders taking OT Andre Smith, with the hopes of giving Russell a chance to lead the team to victory. Hopefully it will be only the first of many weapons that the Raiders seek to acquire to help Russell out, because even if this team is destined to go down, they need to go down swinging.
|7. Oakland Raiders|
Andre Smith, OT, Alabama: Unless Oakland addresses the offensive line, quarterback JaMarcus Russell will continue to struggle in the NFL. This is the smart pick, so look for the Raiders to draft someone like Jeremy Maclin instead.