What are the Oakland Raiders biggest needs entering the bye?

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Right Tackle

September 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Austin Howard (77) blocks Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (58) during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Ravens 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the season, there has been enough play to determine where the biggest needs are. In my opinion, there are two different positions that are in dire need of improvement, and a few others that could certainly use an upgrade.

Right tackle is one of those positions that’s in dire need of help, and because protecting the quarterback is one of the most important things in football, this gets the nod as the team’s biggest need.

Austin Howard signed as a free agent in March of 2014, on a 5-year, $30M deal, with $15M guaranteed. Howard was considered to be overpaid even at the time of the signing, and has been nothing short of disaster in his time with the Raiders.

Howard is able to fill in at both right tackle and right guard, so that versatility was looked at as a plus when he signed. But being able to play the positions, and then playing them well, are two very different things.

In 2014, Howard played primarily at right guard. Only six guards in the NFL who had as many snaps as Howard graded worse than he did, per Pro Football Focus.

He moved back to right tackle this season and the hope was that he could at least be serviceable. And while he has played better than last season, he’s the clear weak link on the offensive line. With right tackle being such a critical position, there is no way the team can go another season (or longer) with him starting.

Releasing Howard at the end of the season would result in $4.2M of dead money. Cutting players that result in dead money is a big reason why the Raiders were in such a mess when McKenzie took over, but Reggie has done very well in this area, signing the majority of free agents to team-friendly deals. So releasing Howard and moving on might be the way to go here.

There aren’t that many notable RT free agents coming up this offseason, but a few names include Andre Smith, Joe Barksdale, Mitchell Schwartz, Bobby Massie and Eric Winston.

One intriguing option could be to draft a LT in the first round, have him play on the right side for a year since Penn is still playing at a high level, and then move him back to the left side if Penn leaves or starts to decline. This draft class has some stud left tackles such as Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley who could end up being franchise left tackles.

Penn could then switch to the right side in his twilight years, or the team could add another player via the draft of free agency. Or of course they could just add a right tackle and let Penn finish out on the left side for as long as he is capable. So there are several different options to help improve this spot.

Next: Roster Need #2: Cornerback