Gannon absence has Raiders worried

Publicly the Raiders spent Saturday addressing their future with four picks in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. Privately, though, Oakland is concerned about its present and for good reason. Quarterback Rich Gannon continued to skip a voluntary passing camp, reportedly angry at the Raiders organization over his contract status.

Gannon, a two-time Pro Bowl MVP who has led the Raiders to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, is signed through the 2006 season. But the 36-year-old quarterback can exercise an option at the end of the upcoming season and become a free agent.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen told a national television audience Saturday that Gannon was upset with the Raiders for ''low-balling'' him in contract negotiations. Neither Gannon nor his agent, Kendall Kremer, could be reached for comment but Oakland head coach Bill Callahan, Jon Gruden's successor with the Raiders, didn't appear to be overly worried though he admitted he was concerned.

''Rich wasn't here for the quarterback orientation (but) I'm encouraging him to be here for the mini-camps,'' said Callahan on Saturday. ''These voluntary mini-camps are voluntary and he's exercising his option. Hopefully we can resolve his situation before we get into these mini-camps. I'd like to have him in here as quick as possible.''

Last year Gannon became only the second quarterback in franchise history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. In the last two seasons alone Gannon has passed for 7,258 yards and 55 touchdowns with just 20 interceptions.

One theory for Gannon's absence from the offseason workouts is that he is dismayed over Gruden's departure to Tampa Bay. Though Gannon and Gruden often clashed on the field and in the meeting room, it's widely known the player and former coach were also close. When Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay during the offseason in exchange for a plethora of draft picks, word leaked out of the Raiders camp that Gannon wasn't pleased with the change.

More critical, though, appears to be Gannon's contract status. Gannon earned $3.5 million in base salary last season and is slated to make $2 million this season. According to NFLPA.org, Gannon's salary would jump to $5 million for each of the next three seasons. With Oakland faced with the serious prospect of having to make over its offense in the next two years as players like Tim Brown and Jerry Rice near the end of their careers, Gannon might be concerned not only of the team's future but his own. When Brown and Rice go, it could also mean the end of the line for Gannon, who could be looking to cash in while he still can.

In Gannon's absence second-year quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo and veteran Rick Mirer have been working with Oakland's offense. Bobby Hoying continues to rehabillitate from elbow surgery -- ''it's going well,'' Callahan said -- but the Raiders know they need a happy Gannon to keep things rolling. With another voluntary mini-camp scheduled for next weekend, time is running thin.

''It's a decision that he has to make,'' Callahan said. ''I want him in here. I'm concerned about him not being here now. I would like to have him in the volunteer (camp), but like I said, he's exercising his option not to come in. He needs to be here, he likes to be here, working out in the off-season. I have great confidence in Rich that he is a pro and he is preparing himself in every way, shape and form to get ready for the season. We'll see if he comes (to the mini-camp) or not.

''The sooner the better. I hope that he can rectify things in his mind so that he can come back to Oakland because I want him, we all want him, we need him.''


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