At a Glance: Raiders Free-Agency

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With the whole Brett Favre thing going on yesterday the free-agent market took sort of a day of rest, but the Raiders are on the west coast, and as midnight on the east coast neared, the Raiders announced the signings of Javon Walker and Kwame Harris.

In my post last night I wrote that I had a few questions before passing any final judgment on the Walker signing, and like always, it took me only a couple of hours before I found the answers. 

I wrote that I was worried about the amount of guaranteed money in the first couple years of the contracts signed recently (Tommy Kelly, Gibril Wilson, Walker), but as usual Jerry McDonald over at Inside Bay Area posted all the answers I was looking for.

A precursor to their free agent actions came when the Raiders placed defensive tackle Warren Sapp on the reserve/retired list, saving approximately $4 million against the $116 million salary cap.  Word is they also reworked the deal of left guard Robert Gallery for additional savings of nearly $4 million.

Anyone concerned for the Raiders financial state needn’t be. 

I dug a little further and found that the Raiders freed-up plenty of money to handle the demands of these contracts.  The Raiders went into free-agency $30 million under the salary cap, and that’s not including the retirement of Warren Sapp.  This might be a surprise to some, and at first it was something I forgot about, but the Raiders won multiple awards from the NFL for the front office they had during the late 90’s and early on in this decade. 

The current administration in Oakland has failed to get the Raiders back to the status they once had, but maybe the basic outline that former Raider and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Bruce Allen found success with is still floating around the Raiders front office; and they’ve finally reverted back to it.

When it comes to Walker’s health there are two things to consider. First is the examination of his injuries; and after review, I found reason for concern, but then reason to have faith.

He has had three operations on his right knee, on which coach Mike Shanahan said might need microfracture surgery within the next few years.

It was a pretty slimy move on Shanahan’s part, divulging information about a player’s health that could affect his earning potential in the future. If Shanahan was attempting to scare off potential suitors, it failed, because the Raiders were desperate for a wide receiver and willing to roll the dice on Walker’s ability.

So that’s why I say, F**K Mike Shanahan!  A comment like that just tells me that he has no class.  Every fan, player, and coach knows how fate works in this league; you know Walker is going to make a point to prove Shanahan wrong.  Walker played very well for a team that was trying to establish a rookie quarterback two years ago (Jay Cutler), but watched teammate Darrent Williams die in his arms the night following that seasons’ finale.  There is no way to judge how Walker experienced the next couple months, or when the time came, to have expected him to be in the shape needed for training camp.  I believe Walker’s season would have fallen apart whether he was injured or not. 

I’ve got a feeling Raider fans are going to see a lot of production from Walker this year, after that…well, we won’t get into the reasons why he wore out his welcome in the past, but let’s just say his status might be season to season.

I mentioned that I was in favor of the Harris rumor that broke last Friday, and after seeing the contract numbers (3-years, between $14 million and $16 million), I’m actually excited.  Harris was getting interest all over the league so I thought the Raiders were going to over pay, but I think the Stanford product and former San Francisco 49er wanted to stay in the Bay, and knew that his skills were best fit for the scheme he’s never worked in; zone-blocking.  Here’s what I wrote on Friday, followed by McDonalds view.

It gives Harris a chance to play in a system that relies on intelligent teamwork, and if anyone needs help on every play it’s Harris. He’s also been known for his athleticism and not his strength, so in the long run, like the Tommy Kelly signing, it could become a great move.

McDonald-

His play as a right tackle in San Francisco was generally regarded by 49ers fans about the same way Gallery was regarded by Raiders fans.

However, Harris is smart and can move, attributes which could pay off in Oakland’s zone blocking scheme as taught by line coach Tom Cable.

While this move will probably be criticized heavily, I saw enough from Cable last season to trust it may work out.

I think we’re in agreeance.  It makes sense to me for Harris’ 1st round talent to find a place somewhere, and if Cable thinks he can fit, then I have no doubts that he’ll be starting at one of the bookends Week 1.

I came to except all the moves the Raiders have made only after comparing them to teams like the Bengals of the late 90′s, and the New England Patriots of…any time before 2001.  I think a lot of Raider fans need to realize where their team actually stands.  Right now it’s hard for any opposing fan, front office personnel, agent, or player to respect the Raiders organization; and with good reason.  There’s uncertainty with the coaching staff, a tyrant in the front office, a rundown stadium, and a recent tradition of losing.

Donte Stallworth grew up in Sacramento, and Bernard Berrian went to Fresno State, so I understand why fans are upset that they signed elsewhere, but I also understand that the Raiders are an organization that needs to gain back the respect of league.  Walker is a player in need of respect.  He has all the talent in the world, but has failed to stay healthy. 

After a few days of looking at where the talent has gone since the break of free-agency, I started to accept the Raiders early moves.  Tommy Kelly (27) was a risk, but a risk the Raiders needed to take.  Fans want to think that if we have $50.5 million to spend on Kelly then why not save that money for a guy like Marcus Stroud (29) or Shaun Rogers (28).  But what fans need to realize is that a proven guy like Rogers (just signed a 6-year $42 million, 20 mill guaranteed), or Stroud have no reason to take a chance on a team with such a stigma.  Furthermore, Stroud and Rogers were only available via trade, and I don’t think $7 million a year and a couple of draft picks are worth the question marks they have.  I’m also not a fan of trades in the NFL when players demand it, because the player doesn’t always choose the team, and can sometimes end up in the wrong place (i.e. Walker to Denver from Green Bay, Randy Moss to Oakland from Minnesota). 

Gibril Wilson signing (Photo Credit: raiders.com)Gibril Wilson was not going to get the money the Raiders gave him from any other team, and although it does make Wilson the 3rd highest paid safety (behind Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu), there’s reason to believe he can perform at that level.  There are risks in every free-agent acquisition, but Raiders need to improve no matter the level of risk.  Every time the Raiders upped their offer during contract negotiations with Wilson, he became more of a risk; but at the same time, to Wilson, every time the Raiders raised their offer they became less of a risk.  Proven free-agents (like when John Lynch chose Denver over Oakland) aren’t going to take a chance on the Raiders; at least not now.   

That’s why guys like Walker and Harris fit so perfectly.  Whether it’s the injury concerns that come with Walker, or the inconsistencies that come with Harris, the Raiders need to take chances this off-season.  Walker and Harris had to take a chance on a team that’s struggled lately in order to get the playing time and money they were looking for.  So it’s a perfect fit.  Ok not perfect, but as long as the talent level is high, I have no problem with any acquisition the Raiders make; the more competition the better.

There are many prospects that I think the Raiders should be looking at, and I’d like to go into more detail, but some unexpected priorities have come up, and will consume at least another day of my life.  Here are some more of McDonalds’ notes on the Raiders free-agency.

The Raiders are continuing discussions with Cornell Green, a free agent who started games last season. Paul McQuistan replaced Green last season and could compete on the right side.

The Raiders continue talks with free agent center Jeremy Newberry, who started 14 games last season. A potential sticking point _ Newberry had a $1 million salary last season but made more than $3 million when incentives were reached. It isn’t difficult to imagine Newberry considering the $3 million as a starting point, with the Raiders wanting an incentive package.ESPN.com

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