Raiders were ready for Allen's retirement

Eric Allen's decision to retire didn't catch the Raiders entirely off guard. Oakland officials had suspected for some time that the veteran cornerback would not return for the 2002 season and took precautionary measures by drafting Philip Buchanon and signing free agent Terrance Shaw. But neither of those two will get the first chance to replace Allen in the Raiders starting lineup. That opportunity falls in the lap of Tory James, Oakland's top backup in the secondary the past two seasons.

Allen's retirement became official this week, the 36-year-old former Arizona State star deciding to spend more time with his wife and three young sons. Allen, widely popular in the Raiders locker room and throughout the NFL for that matter, is also said to be prepping for a career in broadcasting or television, something he dabbled with during his time in Philadelphia and in Oakland.

He finishes as one of the game's most decorated defensive backs, a 14-year veteran who was voted to the Pro Bowl six times. Allen ends his career with 791 tackles, 54 interceptions and three sacks.

Allen joined the Raiders through a trade with New Orleans in 1998, and though a knee injury cut short his '99 season, Allen returned from major knee surgery to have a rejuvenated year in 2000. He tied for the team lead with six interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns, giving him eight touchdowns on returns for his career.

But Oakland won't have much time to shed tears over Allen's retirement. With training camp set to open in late July the team needs to find a replacement. James, 29, has been the Raiders nickel back each of the last two years and has filled in as a spot starter from time to time. His best moment so far with Oakland came during the 2000 playoff game against Miami when he made two interceptions, returning one 90 yards for a touchdown.

James is a pretty good cover corner who has the size (6-2, 195) to match up physically against the league's bigger receivers. He's not as polished as Allen was during his prime but few corners are. It's not a knock on James so much as a reflection of Allen's greatness.

That being said, James won't just get the job handed to him. Not with Buchanon, the team's first-round draft pick and widely considered to be one of the top cornerbacks to come out of college in recent history, waiting in the wings. Buchanon figures to become a rich man in the coming weeks when his agent and the Raiders start brokering a deal and Oakland isn't going to want to see its newest millionaire sit on the bench for very long. But first the young rookie has to make the transition from the college game to the NFL, where things move at a considerably faster pace.

Shaw also has to be considered in the mix, though he's probably the longest shot of the three. More likely, he'll take over the nickel or dime duties until Buchanon's up to speed.

Given the three options, the Raiders feel pretty good about where they are. Two years ago, after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and had to have it replaced by a tendon from a cadaver, Allen spent a few moments contemplating retirement. Had he done it then, Oakland's secondary would have been in a bind because there was no suitable replacement.

At least now they have options, pretty good ones at that.

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