At this point nothing should surprise Raider Nation. We’ve come to expect the unexpected over the years. Those silver and black surprises come in every form possible. This week it was the out-of—nowhere release of Stanford Routt. What comes next is unknown.
What we do know is that Reggie McKenzie has a tough dilemma on his hands in trying to retain the services of both Michael Bush and Tyvon Branch. Of course Al Davis was in a similar spot a few years ago with Nnamdi Asomugha and Shane Lechler set to hit the open market. In that instance Davis offered record deals to both players taking any drama out of the free agency speculation.
Given McKenzie’s desire to cut the “out of whack” contracts from the East Bay it is an almost certainty he won’t break the bank to keep both. In fact, nothing explicitly says he will retain either.
Bush’s value is closely tied to the health of Darren McFadden. As we all know McFadden staying healthy is like Andy Dick staying sober. At this point that’s not likely. While Bush will have plenty of suitors on the open market he’s not looking at a lot of open jobs for starting running backs. Of course most every team runs with a tandem of backs these days.
Bush had the best season of his career but tired down the stretch. For the most part the Raiders went almost exclusively with Bush once McFadden was lost for the year. His workload was a major factor in declining production during the playoff push.
Still, Bush holds value as one of the best insurance policies in the game. Despite the potential of Taiwan Jones there is no substitute for a proven commodity.
When it comes to commodities, Tyvon Branch was the best defender in silver and black this past season. Sure, Richard Seymour got the Pro Bowl nod but that has more to do with his legacy. Branch was unquestionably the most consistent defender for the Raiders. I fully realize that’s not saying much for a unit that pretty much cost the team any chance of winning the AFC West but Branch’s value is real.
Some have speculated that Branch will receive the franchise tag. That might not be far fetched as there is no doubt he’d be among the most sought after defenders on the open market.
Despite playing cornerback in college, Branch has emerged as one of the more reliable strong safties in the game. His tackling, determination and physical style of play have gained notoriety around the league. While Branch isn’t great in coverage his talents are improving and you never see him quit on a play.
Branch might have been a part of a terrible defensive unit but you’d have to imagine Dennis Allen sees Tyvon as a part of the solution and not the problem.
This is a real dilemma for McKenzie. Keeping both men will come at a cost. One thing McKenzie has made clear is that he’s not interested in keeping the scholarship program alive in the East Bay. That was an Al Davis approach that has run its course.
Of the many decisions Davis made last off-season one was not to offer Bush a new contract. Once the league ruled that Bush wasn’t eligible for unrestricted free agency, Davis simply placed the highest tender possible on Bush assuring no team would come calling for potential trades. Perhaps Davis was banking on McFadden staying healthy or he simply saw an opportunity to save money. Whatever the case Bush is set to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent this time around.
As for Branch, what hurts his case is playing for an underachieving unit. The Oakland defense did little to help the team this past season. Not putting all the blame on them but it goes without saying that some collapses in key moments doomed all playoff hopes.
If McKenzie is truly set on this course of revamping the entire team then you could see both men being allowed to walk. However the Raiders can’t keep losing talent. Plenty of personnel mistakes have been made in the past. Letting both Branch and Bush walk would be two more bad moves you can toss into that pile.