Raiders add players but no head coach yet

Who needs a head coach? Apparently not the Raiders, who continue to operate without one yet have been one of the NFL's most active players in free agency. Less than a week after signing linebacker Bill Romanowski, Oakland added defensive tackle John Perella to the fold.

Perella, a standout run defender over the last eight seasons with the San Diego Chargers, signed a reported four-year, $24 million deal with the Raiders, filling a critical hole on Oakland's roster. With Darrell Russell suspended for a year and facing a wide variety of legal problems off the field and with Grady Jackson testing the free agent waters, the Raiders are faced with the distinct possibility of losing both of their starting defensive tackles.

Roderick Coleman, who started half of the 2001 season and is the only other defensive tackle on Oakland's roster with any NFL experience, is under contract with the team but is still considered too undersized to handle a full-time starting role. By adding Perella, 32, the Raiders have at least partially plugged the gap in the middle of their defensive line.

''It's a dream come true to go to a team that's loaded with talent,'' said Perella, who had a career-high 67 tackles and two sacks for the Chargers during the 2001 regular season. ''It's unfortunate that we couldn't get (a new deal) done in San Diego but this is the greatest decision that I've made. You want to be wanted but you also want to win and be a part of something where they're going to lay it on the line. To me, it's such the right decision that it won't be awkward.''

The free agency season has been open just seven days yet the Raiders have made dramatic changes to their defense. Perella and Romanowski will be a part of a unit that could have as many as five new starters in 2002, when Oakland will try to gear up for what likely will be the team's last best shot at an NFL title in the near future. Just who will be leading that team is anyone's guess.

Three weeks after Jon Gruden packed his bags and left town headed for Tampa Bay, the Raiders are continuing their search for a new head coach. Plenty of names have been rumored, most prominently offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and former Raiders head coach Art Shell. Yet with the draft fast approaching and with free agency in full swing, Gruden's former office remains vacant.

''We've made significant progress and I think the process is moving forward,'' said Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen. ''I have nothing to announce at this time. We're going to do a few more things this weekend. With the timing of free agency and the (NFL) combine, we want to make sure the team is running at full speed and our (assistant) coaches are working at full speed. I would imagine (the search) would run into next week.''

Allen said the signing of Perella would not hinder the team in its pursuit to retain Jackson, who emerged last year as Oakland's best defensive lineman. Jackson has said in the past that he prefers to stay with the Raiders but intends to see what type of interest he can attract on the free agent market. ''Right now Grady is still a free agent,'' Allen said. ''(Perella) is an addition to our club and really does not preclude Grady returning to the Raiders.

His agent has had some conversations with some other clubs.'' Allen added that cornerback Eric Allen has still not reached a decision whether to retire or not and doesn't expect one for at least another month the veteran defensive back mulls his future. Allen said the Raiders have also kept the door open for the possible return of linebacker William Thomas, who announced his retirement following Oakland's playoff loss to New England in January. Allen also said he ran into Gruden at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last weekend and spoke briefly with the Raiders' ex-coach.

''He's not as handsome in orange as he was in black,'' Allen said. ''He's not going to be in the (People magazine) Top 50 (list), I can tell you that. He was upset that we got Romanowski and he didn't.''

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