Off-season shakeup

Shortly after dropping the news that Kerry Collins would be elevated back into the Raiders starting lineup, head coach Norv Turner was asked about the future for Marques Tuiasosopo.

Turner, whose own future in Oakland is uncertain, was at a loss for an answer. "That's so hard for me to talk about, anything that's going to happen after the season," Turner said last week. "You know ... that's hard for me to answer that." Tuiasosopo's plight is just one of several issues the Raiders are going to have to deal with once their dismal and disappointing season comes to a conclusion on New Year's Eve.

Despite two straight years of bringing in marquee players through free agency and trades, Oakland continued its downward spiral that began with its loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Since then, the Raiders have won just 13 times in 45 games prior to last week's game against Cleveland and will sit out the postseason party for a third straight year.

With so little success and so much money being dolled out to underachieving players, expect owner Al Davis to have another busy offseason shaking up Oakland's roster while trying to stop the Raiders' ship from sinking completely into the abyss.

Deciding what to do with Turner and Tuiasosopo are just the first steps. Davis also must deal with Charles Woodson's pending free agency, how to fix an offensive line that has been terrible this year, and patching holes on an improving but still average defense, all the while trying to market his team to the masses. This being the Christmas season and all, Silver and Black Illustrated decided to give Davis a hand with his long list of chores and offer up our own analysis of the most pressing issues with the Raiders' roster, which most assuredly will undergo a makeover in the offseason.

QUARTERBACK

Collins took a lot of heat early in the season despite putting up impressive numbers that had him ranked among the NFL's top passers. Since slipping back into some poor habits — throwing off his back foot, missing open receivers — he's become an even bigger target for critics and, maybe more important, the Raider faithful. Tuiasosopo got a double kick in the groin when he was hammered in his first start of the season — and just the second of his five-year career — then was benched a week later despite being told by Turner he would be the team's starting quarterback the rest of the season.

Forecast: Collins might have his detractors but one of them isn't Al Davis, who believes Collins has a strong enough arm to take advantage of Oakland's fleet of receivers, including and most primarily, Randy Moss. Collins must first renegotiate his contract or risk being let go, though that's not likely to be an issue. A coaching change might do Collins well, especially if the Raiders bring in someone like Jim Fassel, who coached Collins in New York. Tuiasosopo will probably ask to be traded or released, which is understandable. Whether he gets it or not remains to be seen. Andrew Walters is still too raw to be a factor.

OFFENSIVE LINE

What looked on paper to be one of the NFL's strongest units has been the biggest problem spot for the Raiders this season. After giving up just 30 sacks in 2004 Oakland's line had already been beaten for 38 through 13 games this year. It hasn't just been blitzing teams that have given the team fits. Opponents have gotten away with four-man rushes because the Raiders' line has been simply overwhelmed and unable to handle any kind of pressure. Injuries have taken their toll but few expected the fall-off to be this bad.

Forecast: It's obvious the overall talent of the line was overrated and there needs to be a shake-up somewhere. Moving Robert Gallery to left tackle and sliding Barry Sims inside to the guard would give Oakland a potentially dominant cornerstone to build from, though Gallery's mysterious regression this season makes that a questionable call. Expect the team to bring in a veteran guard in the offseason because neither Ron Stone nor Brad Badger has been overly impressive this year. Don't be surprised if the team signs a veteran center to help tutor Jake Grove, who sometimes plays as if he's better suited for guard.

DEFENSIVE LINE

This started out to be one of the bright spots this season but an injury to a rejuvenated Warren Sapp totally changed things. The Raiders' once strong run defense has disappeared in recent weeks and opposing quarterbacks are still getting far too much time to find open receivers downfield. That being said, defensive end Derrick Burgess is having a monster year and would be a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year were it not for the overall lack of success Oakland is having this season. Easily the steal of the offseason. Forecast: As good as Burgess has been the Raiders still need to find another pass-rushing defensive end to complement him on the opposite end of the defensive line. For some reason Oakland won't let Tyler Brayton have the opportunity to be that player even though he seems physically matched perfectly for that role. If they continue to keep Brayton at outside linebacker, expect the Raiders to use one of its high draft picks on a defensive lineman.

LINEBACKER

The Raiders have had to play a lot of nickel and dime defense this season, primarily because they don't have any depth at the second level outside of veteran Danny Clark and rookie Kirk Morrison. Clark is a workhorse who pursues well while Morrison has been a real gem in his first NFL season, leading the team in tackles while showing good speed and hitting skills. Forecast: Oakland's decision to go back to a four-man front was a good one and allowed the defensive line to better use its talent. Now it's time to address the linebackers. Because Morrison can play all three positions the Raiders have the flexibility to bring in someone on the weakside or strongside and then just adjust Morrison accordingly. There won't be a lot available in free agency or the draft but it wouldn't be surprising to see the Raiders make a run at Julian Peterson of the 49ers, especially if they have the cap money saved by not franchising Charles Woodson.

SAFETY

Speaking of Woodson, the Raiders discovered the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback makes a pretty good safety as well. Before suffering what is looking to be a season-ending broken leg, Woodson was playing most of his time there, giving defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the flexibility to match him up against opposing team's top receiver. That relieved some of the pressure on rookie cornerback Stanford Routt and third-year veteran Nnamdi Asomugha. Without Woodson the Raiders haven't been the same though Renaldo Hill has played better than expected filling in for Woodson after also moving over from cornerback. Stuart Schweigert, in his second season, is getting more comfortable at the NFL level and is beginning to make big plays with a more aggressive style that sometimes leaves him vulnerable.

Forecast: The whole key rests on what the team does with Woodson. If they re-sign him or franchise him again, then the Raiders can get away with keeping Gibson, who with Woodson in the lineup often lined up essentially as an outside linebacker where his shortcomings in coverage could be hidden. Without Woodson Oakland will have to bring in someone else because Gibson has not shown he can handle the strong safety slot effectively enough. There will be plenty of safeties on the free agent market, including Adam Archuleta of the Rams and Lance Shulters of Miami.

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