D'ADAMO: Pondering offseason moves

The Oakland Raiders spoke very adamantly about wanting to finish their season strong. Their 13-6 season-ending loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, on the surface, presented a setback. After all, the Raiders (5-11) had a chance to finished the second half 4-4, which would have been no small feat considering their 2-6 start. Regardless of Sunday's outcome, however, there figures to be changes for the second offseason in a row.

How much change is open for discussion? Would too much change set the franchise back even further? What the Raiders should do is not to be confused with what they will do.

As for the "should do" part – no sense speculating on the "will do" part. The Raiders personnel people need to go throughout the roster and ask, "can this individual be a significant contributor in, say, two years?"

The key is for Oakland to break down the roster and get rid of any high-salaried, old players who have a past brighter than the future. There's a lot to be said for experienced players but those on the downside of their careers are not what a rebuilding team needs. You see, for too long the Raiders have lived by the "we don't rebuild, we reload" theory. Well, that won't work in today's salary cap era.

The Raiders have always disdained the terms "rebuilding" but there's no shame in doing it when necessary. Oakland must make its ballclub younger, faster, and more cost effective. In one respect, the Raiders parting ways with future Hall-of-Fame wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown represented a "rebuilding" move. Then again, the Raiders roster has a handful of older, high-salaried players who did not produce.

Despite his bad performance in the season-finale, Kerry Collins looks like a good fit at quarterback but they could use a running back. No one on the roster in the position consistently did anything to distinguish themselves.

Realistically, phasing out quarterback Rich Gannon makes sense because his cap figure is probably too high and is a 39-year old quarterback coming off consecutive season-ending injuries.

The reality is that every old player that is not producing that Oakland keeps could stunt the growth of younger players who could be developed. Getting rid of Brown and Rice looked cold-hearted but the Raiders had other young players who proved ready. In a nutshell, here is Oakland's best course of action:

Keep adding youth

The anti-Raider people will always believe is that this team has enough age to qualify for social security. While the team has its share of age, they are actually more youthful than most people are inclined to think. They are certainly off to a good start in building the offensive line. Robert Gallery (tackle) and Jake Grove (guard) definitely look like keepers. There's nothing wrong with having veteran leaders to "show the way" but the Raiders need to keep adding youth.

The chances are pretty strong, however, that Gannon will not be back. While he was not at his 2002 NFL MVP form, he was better than his Kurt Warner-like meltdown form of 2003.

The fact that Oakland parted ways with Rice and Brown gave younger receivers like Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel their long-awaited chance and it gave Jerry Porter the chance to be the lead horse.

Finding the cornerstones

The purpose of this question is which younger players have enough potential to be significant contributors on a good team in a couple of years? Gallery and Grove definitely fit into this category. Porter, Curry, Gabriel, tight ends Teyo Johnson and Doug Jolley, defensive end Tyler Brayton, linebackers Napoleon Harris and along with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and safety Stuart Schweigert can also fit this description.

What about Woodson? And can Oakland afford him? The Raiders will have to pony up a lot coin to keep him but since they have so many other shortcomings, does it make sense to have one guy tie up a big chunk of the payroll? Woodson is seeking to be the highest paid cornerback in the NFL but many people believe, including yours truly, that Woodson's opinion of himself does not match his performance. What about cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who has expressed desire to be traded?

Then, there's Porter, who could void the last year of his contract to test the free agent waters. The Raiders should definitely make a strong effort to keep Porter, who has more upside than Woodson. But how much money should the Raiders commit to him? That should be a legit question because Porter's second-half rise in production coincided with Curry's season-ending Achilles tendon injury coupled with voicing his desire to market himself as a free agent. Porter deserves a raise but Oakland should not pay him like say, Minnesota would pay Randy Moss.

The Ted Washington/Warren Sapp experiment at defensive tackle was a huge bust. Neither player helped the defense improve as expected. Safety Ray Buchanan played well at times but did not play so well that he should feel safe. Schweigert and Asomugha are the only secondary players that appear safe as both seem ready to assume starting roles.

There are some other young players who have potential but it's too early to make a call on them. Buchanan might warrant another shot while defensive end Bobby Hamilton definitely should be resigned. Hamilton's production is not overwhelming but the 33-year old is a good leader and influence on the younger players. Linebacker Danny Clark was a tremendous free agent find but the Raiders clearly need help at linebacker.

At most other positions, the Raiders must try to improve themselves now mostly through the draft. Do not, however, go crazy with free agents past their prime (i.e. Sapp and Washington). It's best to rely on the draft and pick up a few useful free agents (i.e. Clark and Hamilton) along the way.

Make sound financial decisions

The value of each player and his contributions are very critical, especially in today's salary cap era. Clearly, a lower priced backup is more valuable than an overpaid start not performing.

As an example, look at running back J.R. Redmond, a valuable backup. Redmond is hardly Priest Holmes but he's a versatile backup who can play fullback or tailback. He's a good receiver and special teams performer. Plus, he's not likely to cost a lot of money to keep. Redmond is definitely a free agent Oakland should keep.

Linebacker Tim Johnson is another example. Johnson, who is also a free agent, is hardly Ray Lewis but plays mostly special teams and can be a capable fill-in on defense. He also won't cost much money to keep – all the more reason for Oakland to keep him.

Find a running back

The Raiders clearly need help at running back to compliment the passing attack. Wheatley has done a lot of good things since joining Oakland in 1999 but does not appear to be the runner that can be durable enough to carry the ball 15-20 times per game that Norv Turner's offense requires.

Amos Zereoue filled in for Wheatley when he was injured but is more of a change of pace running who is a good receiver. Zereoue is a free agent who also views himself as an every down back. That's all the more reason he might not return to Oakland. Big things were expected from Justin Fargas but he has done nothing to dispel the theory that he is too brittle to be an every down back.

It's easy to laud Crockett's 134-yard rushing effort, a fine one at that, against Jacksonville. Crockett has been perfect as a versatile performer who can play tailback as a short-yardage guru, fullback and special teams. He's also a positive influence in the locker-room.

Build up the lines, upgrade the defense

Offensively, the Raiders have two building blocks in Gallery and Grove. Defensively, the Raiders need some serious work. Many people blame defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. That theory is not without merit but even the best coaches need talent.

Potentially losing Woodson and Buchanon makes the secondary an urgent need but the pass rush was at times so woefully non-existent it might as well have resembled a 7-on-7 drill. The secondary certainly needs help but any defensive backfield needs help from the front seven.

Bottom line

The NFL is full of stories of team's having a one-year turnaround but realistically, the Raiders are two years away from being a serious player in the AFC playoff race. However, if the Raiders do not spend their money more wisely their fall only will be deeper, harder and longer.

They must rebuild the right way with young players and prudent spending in free agency. The Raiders and their fans must realize that what they are going through is not unusual. The Raiders can be a championship contender again provided they have a good master plan and mix in a little patience.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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