Looking back: Those who believe the Oakland Raiders need to rebuild got their wish at this position. The Raiders parted ways with future Hall-of-Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Oakland released Brown in training camp and traded Rice after Game 6. The premise behind those moves was that Brown and Rice's skills were sharply declining and that the team had young receivers that were ready to become viable contributors.
Early in the season, however, the man taking the role of being the go-to guy was not the player most figured. Jerry Porter spent his first four seasons as the understudy to Brown and Rice but Ronald Curry became more of the featured receiver. Curry caught 50 passes for 679 yards and six touchdowns before sustaining a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in Game 12.
Porter caught 64 balls for 998 yards, both career-highs, and nine touchdowns, which tied his career-high. Porter came on particularly strong late in the season, catching 26 passes for 466 yards and six touchdowns over the last seven games.
Doug Gabriel had a decent year as the No. 3 man while Alvis Whitted made a few big plays. The Raiders did not get much of a look at rookies Carlos Francis and Johnnie Morant. Francis sustained a season-ending knee injury.
Looking ahead: Porter has voiced his desire to void the final year of his contract but his statements of returning to Oakland seem to be mixed. He has both expressed desire to leave and come back. If the decision were up to quarterback Kerry Collins, Porter would return. Collins openly stated that resigning Porter should be the top offseason priority and the Raiders appear to be moving in that direction. Porter has said that he wants to return but if the team does not bring him back he is fully prepared to move in another direction. The Raiders and Porter are in preliminary talks right now.
Resigning Porter is clearly the top offseason priority for Oakland. Porter, who by his estimation was the fifth-lowest paid starting receiver, certainly deserves a raise but the Raiders also must use a little caution in how much to give him. Porter has a world of talent but has been too inconsistent to be an elite receiver. Porter's second-half rise in production coincided after Curry's season-ending injury and voicing how he is auditioning for the free agent market.
If Porter leaves, there's a big void at receiver. Even if Porter returns, while the Raiders have far more pressing needs, wide receiver has to be some kind of concern if for no other reason than to be prepared in case Curry is less-than-full-strength. Gabriel has good potential and value as a kick returner but needs more polish.
Whitted has the speed to get and is also a decent special teams performer. Francis also has tremendous speed to be a good fit for the offense but at 5-9 does not have the protypical size. Morant has some ability but no one has seen enough to draw any conclusions. John Stone also got a chance to contribute because of the injuries to the receivers but is a longshot to be any significant part of the team.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com