Four down territory: On the brink of Free Agency

This is a special lockout ending, free agency facing edition of four down territory. By this time next week, the NFL will be well into the throes of free agency. We have heard conflicting reports about whether free agency will begin on July 25 or July 28. But either way, the NFL and NFLPA* are agreeing to terms, and the business of football will be starting in the coming days. So let’s get to it.

1st Down – Reportedly the Raiders are considering releasing right guard Cooper Carlisle to save cap space. The move would save them $2.1 million this year. Is Carlisle worth keeping?

Dizzle’s Take: I do think he is worth keeping but I would not be surprised at this move. He is a holdover from the zone blocking scheme days. He is also getting up in years. He was one of the few Raider offensive linemen who were still under contract following last season. If they do release him, it means they will be hoping second year guard Bruce Campbell can step up and replace him or they are moving Samson Satele to right guard. They put an original second round tender on Satele after last season which shows they are interested in keeping him. Hue Jackson mentioned during a draft interview that Satele was valuable for his ability to play both center and guard so I have a sneaking suspicion he will be taking Carlisle’s place if Campbell is either not ready or plays at another position. I also would not eliminate the possibility that the Raiders could attempt to restructure Carlisle’s contract.

BA’s Take: To be honest, I’m not sure releasing Carlisle for such a low amount makes a lot of sense. The team is already losing Robert Gallery and perhaps Langston Walker if he decides to retire. If they add Carlisle to that list they are basically handing the offensive line over for growth and development this year which could turn out well or turn out costing them a few games. It’s risky, but it’s business, so if they truly believe they can replace their starting left and right guard this year, then I see them making this move without hesitation.

2nd Down – Jay Richardson was released last preseason mostly because of an injury. He started 22 games and accumulated 82 tackles, seven sacks, a safety, and a pass deflection in his three years with the Raiders. After a playoff run with the Seahawks last year, what are the odds that Jay Richardson plays for the Raiders in 2011?

BA’s Take: Richardson came into the 2010 camps with the intention of starting and for all intents and purposes, he very well could have if he had not been injured. Here’s a guy who was a third round draft choice and was developing nicely, I thought. I was a bit shocked to learn that he had been cut from the final roster to be honest, especially since he claimed he’d be ready for the season opener. But again, it is a business and if you have 53 other guys who are healthy, you have to make some tough choices. That said, if the Raiders find themselves in need of a defensive end, I don’t think they will hesitate to call Richardson.

Dizzle’s Take: That is an intriguing possibility. He would be a solid backup at the defensive end spot. The Raiders have two fantastic starters in Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston but they are in need of depth behind those two. I think Richardson returning to the Raiders is very much in the realm of possibility. There are certainly worse options out there and many more expensive options as well.

3rd Down – Nnamdi Asomugha could cost a team $19 million in 2011. Nobody is giving the Raiders even the slightest possibility of re-signing him and the Bucs and Texans appear to be the frontrunners in the sweepstakes.

Dizzle’s Take: I don’t see Nnamdi making $19 million next season. Not with the new lower salary cap. I expect he will be offered a contract that will have him making similar money to what he would have made last season had his contract not voided. It will most likely be a backloaded contract that has him making $16 million next season, $17 million in 2012 and $18 million in 2013. With performance incentives, of course. I am still not on board with the idea that he won’t be coming back to Oakland. I think the Raiders have just as much of a chance as any of the teams interested in him.

BA’s Take: I just can’t see the price tag for him getting that high – I honestly think it is exaggerated. On top of that, I don’t think that Asomugha is interested in the money factor as deeply as everyone would like to think he is. His number one goal is to play for a winner and neither of the above mentioned teams has proven to be that. The Texans are a consistent .500 team in spite of their explosive offense and you can never tell if the Bucs are coming or going. I think he’d take less money and stay in Oakland over both of those destinations now that the Raiders appear to be headed in the right direction.

4th Down – When this CBA is settled at the owners meeting Thursday, teams will have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to re-sign their players from last year. There are reports that the Raiders will be $12 million over the cap when this deal is finalized. Will we see players restructuring contracts to help get their teammates from last season back again in 2011?

BA’s Take: It’s not often you hear about this type of thing with professional athletes. Most of these guys want their money and they want it now. For example, the way Stanford Routt has been flapping his jaw this offseason, you’d think he was on the cusp of the Hall of Fame. But he’s only had the one good season, and many fans didn’t even want him back last preseason. I can’t see him taking a pay cut even if the whole world thinks his deal was too big. But I could see both Kamerion Wimbley and Richard Seymour taking one for the team. However, this should be more about Tommy Kelly, Darrius Heyward-Bey, maybe Darren McFadden taking pay cuts to fit their boys in and make up for some of those lackluster seasons. Keep in mind that it would be restructuring that could make up the difference in the future for them, not a release or an altogether new contract.

Dizzle’s Take: I have heard differing reports on where the Raiders stand as far as the cap. John Clayton has the figure at over $14 million over. Last calculations I did, they weren’t near that. But every season Clayton and others say the Raiders are in cap trouble and yet every year they manage to get under the cap while still signing free agents. Al Davis will sign whomever he wants to sign and worry about cutting and restructuring before the season deadline. This is what he does best. Several current Raiders under contract will be restructuring their deals. Also, the new deals will be arranged for a low cap hit this season and bonuses strung out through the life of the contract. There will also be players who are cut just prior to the deadline and re-signed afterward. In addition to that, there are some $7-$10 million in exemptions that will be announced once the CBA is ratified. Those exemptions are designed to not hogtie teams after an uncapped 2010 season. Everything is going to work out.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer