Their draft status and their contracts had bound Eric Barton and Rod Coleman together since they were drafted in 1999 as fifth-round afterthoughts.
When both Raider defenders, who rose through the ranks to become key starters on defense, chose free agency rather than remaining in Oakland, they remained linked.
When Barton, 26, and Coleman, 27, accepted lucrative deals with the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, on back-to-back days, it was a blow to the one area of the team that featured youth.
They represented the aggressive style of play Oakland is hoping to re-instill with the hiring of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Coleman led the team in sacks the last two years and Barton had nearly two dozen tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2002.
In the case of Barton, the starting weak-side linebacker, there is no replacement in sight. Only one of the three linebackers who opened the 2003 season as starters remains -- 2002 first round pick Napoleon Harris.
Earlier, starting strong-side linebacker Bill Romanowski was released after failing a team physical.
Inasmuch as the team plans to play more four-linebacker defense in 2004, the Raiders now find themselves vastly understaffed at the position.
Aside from Harris, the only linebackers remaining on their roster aside from Harris are Travian Smith and Tim Johnson. Smith started the season as a situational substitution on pass rushing downs but then became a starter when Romanowski was sidelined after Game 3. Smith started seven games but followed Romanowski onto the injured list when he suffered a season-ending torn knee ligament. At that point, the team brought back Johnson -- who had been released in preseason -- and he started four games at middle linebacker. Harris was shifted to the strong-side.
In recent years, Oakland has chosen to go into the season with a limited crew of linebackers -- usually five. But if they are to play more 3-4 defense it was clear they would be in the market for linebackers this off-season, either through the draft or free agency.
One possibility currently on the roster is Sam Williams, who missed nearly all his rookie season in 2003 with a knee injury. He was drafted as a defensive end, having bulked up from his college weight of 245 to 262, but there was speculation that Williams' inability to come back from knee surgery was partly due to the weight gain.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Even though running back Garner had come just a few yards shy of becoming the third NFL player ever to post a 1,000-1,000 season rushing and receiving in 2002, there were rumblings that the Raiders had a replacement in mind after he signed with Tampa Bay.
That would be Cincinnati's disgruntled Corey Dillon. Dillon, after rushing for an average of just over 1,250 yards a year between 1997 and 2002, is on the trading block.
If they can pull off a deal for the 29-year-old who succeeded Kaufman at the University of Washington -- and various reports say it is already in the works -- it could go a long ways to propping up Norv Turner's plans to resurrect a run-heavy offense.
--The Raiders may still be in the market for a tackle but they already passed on one and lost a chance at another this week.
San Diego free agent Damion McIntosh had failed a physical in Oakland then headed for Miami, where he signed with the Dolphins.
They also showed interest in Baltimore's Orlando Brown but when the Ravens re-signed him, another possibility was off the market.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Ron adds Pro Bowl caliber experience to our team. He is a big, physical and versatile player and we're excited to add him to our offensive line." -- Coach Norv Turner on Ron Stone.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: Wide receiver -- Even if oldsters Jerry Rice and Tim Brown will be back for another year, the Raiders need to restock at this position and with a promising crop of draft eligibles, this is the year to restock with a major star at the position; Guard -- Although the Raiders addressed part of the problem by giving free agent Brad Badger a new five-year deal and re-structuring Frank Middleton's contract downward, the team will still look to augment their offensive line. It could mean replacing LT Barry Sims with a free agent and moving Sims inside to battle Badger and Middleton for the starting LG spot.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: CB Charles Woodson (tendered at $6.801M).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (8): DE Lorenzo Bromell; S Anthony Dorsett; DT Sean Gilbert; QB Rob Johnson; QB Rick Mirer; TE O.J. Santiago; CB Terrance Shaw; DT Dana Stubblefield.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (1): Chad Slaughter.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (1): WR Ronald Curry.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OG Brad Badger; FB Chris Hetherington; QB Tee Martin; OG Frank Middleton; S Keyon Nash; WR Alvis Whitted.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Ike Charlton; LB Danny Clark; LB Dwayne Rudd; OG Ron Stone; DT Ted Washington.
PLAYERS LOST: DE Trace Armstrong; LB Eric Barton; DT Roderick Coleman; RB Charlie Garner; LB Eric Johnson; OT Lincoln Kennedy; OG Frank Middleton; LB Bill Romanowski; OG Matt Stinchcomb.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
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