The Raiders are in a good position this offseason. They are not glaringly desperate in any one area. It means they won’t need to overpay for a free agent and they won’t need to reach for any draft choices. That is not to say that Al Davis won’t do either of those things anyway, but at least there is no necessity for it.
After seven grueling seasons came the first glimmer of hope last year. Finally the perpetual state of rebuilding became something to build upon. All the best teams in the NFL are great because each offseason, there is little sense of urgency. They are always either at the top of the mountain or a few tweaks away from it. They achieve success through sound choices, building depth behind the starters, and infusing a good mixture of veteran savvy with youthful athleticism.
With that in mind, here are the Raiders’ team needs:
1. Outside Linebacker
The only outside linebacker on this Raider team that you can really say held up his position this season was Kamerion Wimbley and he could be a free agent depending on the CBA. The Raiders traded for him last offseason and there is little doubt he will be coming back. But who else is there? There is no depth behind Wimbley on the strong side. On the weak side, Quentin Groves was the starter all of last season after he supplanted Trevor Scott. Groves was a liability in the run defense and, all save a couple good plays, was invisible most of the season. Scott was moved back to defensive end where he struggled before eventually heading to the disabled list midseason. Former starter Thomas Howard is also a free agent and is expected to move on. The uncertainty at the position combined with lack of depth make outside linebacker a high priority.
2. Wide Receiver
Al Davis seems as if he is happy with the group the Raiders are fielding currently. I really hope that isn’t entirely true, because outside of Louis Murphy and rookie Jacoby Ford, there is little else. Darrius Heyward-Bey lacks the fundamentals of a receiver, Chaz Schilens couldn’t stay healthy if he were bubble boy, and Jonnie Lee Higgins is… well, Jonnie Lee Higgins. He is also a free agent that probably won’t be re-signed. A veteran receiver is what this team needs. Chad Ochocinco is very interested in coming to the Raiders as he loves him some Hue Jackson. Plaxico Burress will be out on work release soon and should only lose half a step with his ankle bracelet. And if Chargers GM AJ Smith can get over himself, Vincent Jackson could become available for the right price.
Raider fans saw first hand early in the season the lack of depth at the center position. Former all-purpose guard/center Chris Morris was let go after never playing well enough at either position, and Tom Cable went with rookie left tackle Jared Veldheer at center in the first game. Samson Satele resumed his starting job in week two and played quite well this season. However, not only do the Raiders need an insurance plan for Satele and oft injured left guard Robert Gallery, but both Satele and Gallery are set to become free agents. If either or both leaves, the team will be even more desperate for a replacement. Much has been made of Penn State G/C Stefen Wisniewski in the draft — the nephew of former Raider All Pro left guard Steve Wisniewski. A lot of people, Al Davis included, would love to see a Wisniewski on the line for the Raiders once again. If Gallery does leave in free agency, Wisniewski can even have his uncle’s old number if he wants it.
4. Offensive Tackle
A lot of people think offensive tackle is even more of a top priority than I do. Mainly fans are shaking their torches and pitchforks at right tackle Langston Walker. But even if Walker loses his starting job, the Raiders have been grooming former starting left tackle “Super” Mario Henderson to replace him. Henderson was a standout right tackle at Florida State and the Raiders converted him to left tackle. They are of the mind that once he gets his footing back, he could be the Raiders’ next starting right tackle. He too is a free agent to be, so if another team sees his potential, he could get a sizable contract offer and leave. At which point the need for another offensive tackle could go up considerably. Jarod Gaither has been rumored for the past two seasons. He was out half of last season with a back injury. He is also rumored to have bemoaned the switch to right tackle. Both Hue Jackson and new offensive coordinator Al Saunders were with the Ravens while Gaither was there. If they don’t bring him in, then that is all the answer we need as to his character and/or talent.
It seems like the Raiders have a need at corner every single year. But last year, outside of the two starters Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt, there was not much to speak of on a positive note. Adding to the “glass half empty” outlook is the fact that Asomugha and Routt are both free agents. Former starter Chris Johnson is next in line but he seems to have regressed of late. After him there are two rookies who both looked pretty bad in their first season. The position is a real wildcard at this juncture. It could be a marginal need area and then again, it could be much more desperate. And with Al Davis’ penchant for drafting corners, we could very well see the Raiders draft one in the middle rounds.
Jason Campbell seems to have gained the respect and confidence of his new head coach and is the starter for the foreseeable future. Now it is time to groom a good backup. Bruce Gradkowski is solid whenever he enters a game but he gets hurt easily. If Campbell goes down with injury, the team can only expect to get a couple of games from Gradkowski before he is out with another injury. Gradkowski is also a free agent and may not be re-signed. And then what? Kyle Boller? Charlie Frye? JT O’Sullivan? Do any of those guys raise eyebrows? Boller played only a few snaps last season and looked atrocious. The Raiders need to invest in a young quarterback to see if they can groom a young stud who can either be the future starter, play well in relief, or make for some good trade bait down the road. It’s all about options here.
7. Tight End
Zach Miller is one of the best tight ends in the league. But what of two tight end sets? Is there a team in the league that would really bother to cover Brandon Myers? The Patriots proved last year that having two solid tight ends is a great thing. The Chargers have Antonio Gates but while he was out with his plantar fascia injury and turf toe, Randy McMichael was torching defenses. The Raiders need to draft a tight end to compete with Myers for the backup spot or pick up a solid veteran.