Inside Slant

How bad were the Oakland Raiders at running the ball in 2004? So bad that their leading rusher, Amos Zereoue, gained 54 fewer yards than the backup running back for the New York Jets ... whose starter led the league in yards gained.

That is why the Raiders acted without delay once the free agent supermarket opened on March 2 and plucked that New York backup off the shelf and paid him $27.5 million to come do something about it.

"They called at 12:01 (EST)," Jordan's agent, Alvin Keels said. "They were very aggressive and I like that."

LaMont Jordan may not be a household name but to Oakland he represents light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

The Raiders were dead last in the NFL in rushing last year and Zereoue's 425 yards were the lowest total the top Raider rusher has ever had over the 45 year life of the franchise.

Tyrone Wheatley was supposed to have been the team's go-to back but his body didn't hold up and he finished with 327 yards and missed eight games.

Wednesday, as the Raiders were getting Jordan's name on the dotted line, Wheatley was waived. Zereoue is a free agent and doesn't figure to be back even if he doesn't find a deal elsewhere.

Jordan averaged 5.2 yards a carry for a Jets team that was third in the league in rushing.

"He brings us three things we are looking for," Turner said. "He's a power back, a guy who can be durable and handle the amount of carries we want to give him, he is explosive and can make the big runs, and the added bonus -- one you don't always get -- he is an outstanding receiver."

Jordan was considered one of the top two available free agent running backs in free agency in what was considered a slightly below average crop. However, detractors point out that he has never had so much as 100 carries in his four years in the NFL.

In other words, his durability has yet to be tested. However, at the University of Maryland, he carried 807 times in four years, gaining 4,147 yards.

"I've always been told I had the talent but didn't have everything I needed to carry a load," Jordan said. "I am very confident. I did it in high school and in college. I know a lot of people will say he's never carried the load and there will be questions whether I can handle being the starting running back. I accept this challenge because I know I am going to succeed."

Furthermore, coming to a team that ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing may not be as bad as it looks at first glance.

NOTES, QUOTES

--In addition to cutting defensive tackle John Parrella, running back Tyrone Wheatley, guard Ron Stone, safety Ray Buchanan, guard Frank Middleton, tight end Roland Williams and linebacker DeLawrence Grant, the Raiders restructured the contracts of seven players. They are quarterback Rich Gannon, tackle Barry Sims, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive tackle Ted Washington, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, punter Shane Lechler and cornerback Denard Walker. Total savings from the restructuring amounted to $14.78 million.

Gannon's deal was the most significant since he was reduced to the veteran minimum for cap purposes -- a savings of $7.235 million in anticipation of his retirement or release after June 1.

Gannon, however, said he was not yet ready to concede retirement after that serious neck injury ended in 2004 season in Week 3. In all likelihood, if he does not retire, the Raiders will now release him in June based on a failed physical and take the remaining cap hit on the 2006 ledger.

Five of the seven players cut were starters at the beginning of the 2004 season. The other two, Parrella and Williams, were starters prior to that. All but Grant were over 30.

Turner said there was a chance some of those cut could be re-signed later.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Driving into work that day (the Moss trade story hit), I thought I was going through a real bad incidence of road rage. A guy was honking at me -- I thought maybe I had cut him off. He was hitting on his window. I rolled my window down and said `What's going on?'

He's yelling `Randy! Randy!'" -- Raiders coach Norv Turner on fans excitement over landing Moss.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES:

1. Defensive end. In 15 of their games, the Raiders had just 18 sacks, which made it easy to forget that in the 16th game they had seven (against Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe). Since the team ranked 30th in pass defense with a flock of former first round picks playing DB, the need for pressure up front is paramount. With the top free agent pass rushers disappearing off the landscape in early moves, the draft will have to provide this need.

2. Linebacker. They could rely on that pass rush push from a gifted outside linebacker provided they stay with the 3-4 that didn't materialize as was expected in '04.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: CB Charles Woodson.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Jarrod Cooper; RB Chris Downs (not tendered as ERFA); DE Bobby Hamilton; FB Chris Hetherington; RB J.R. Redmond; OT Chad Slaughter; SS David Terrell; RB Amos Zereoue.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: SS Marques Anderson; LB Tim Johnson.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: WR Ronald Curry; S Keyon Nash; QB David Rivers; WR John Stone.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Jerry Porter.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: RB LaMont Jordan; WR Randy Moss.

PLAYERS LOST: CB Ray Buchanan; LB DeLawrence Grant; LB Napoleon Harris; OG Frank Middleton; DT John Parrella; OG Ron Stone; RB Tyrone Wheatley; TE Roland Williams.


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