Asomugha heads Raiders free agent class

Al Davis shelled out more than $200 million in free agency last year, bankrolling the highest payroll in the NFL. For his investment, the Raiders owner received a 5-11 season that fell far short of expectations. Whether Davis will be as free with his money this time around remains to be seen but first he must decide what to do with Oakland's 17 players who are set to hit the free agent market.

In this first of a three-part series, Silver and Black Illustrated takes a look at the first batch of Raiders who will become free agents on Feb. 27 along with our analysis of what the team should do. The players are broken up into two groups, unrestricted free agents who can negotiate with any team, and restricted free agents who can sign with other teams only if Oakland fails to match the respective offers.

Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha heads the list of unrestricted free agents and will be highly sought after in free agency, if he makes it that far. All expectations are that the Raiders will use the franchise tag on Asomugha for a second straight year, guaranteeing him close to $12 million in 2009.

But Davis may be looking to use that money elsewhere, as it became clear Oakland is in need of upgrade in several areas.

Here's a look, in alphabetical order, at the first six players on the Raiders' list of free agents:

(UNRESTRICTED)

Nnamdi Asomugha

Cornerback

2008 Performance: Enjoyed one of his finest seasons, evidenced by opponents' refusal to throw in his direction. That's hurt his interception numbers but doesn't take away from the solid, shutdown player Asomugha has turned into. He received his first Pro Bowl selection, long overdue as it may be, and is in an elite category of cornerbacks in the NFL today.

2008 Grade: A

Projected market interest: High

Projected Raiders interest: Ideally the Raiders would like to get Asomugha signed to a long-term deal but barring that Oakland is all but certain to slap the franchise tag on him. The team has very few stars and they realize it would be a major mistake to let him get away.

SBI's call: Asomugha is an elite corner whose talent often gets overlooked because he has never played for a winning team, and although he sounds like he wants out, the Raiders would be foolish to let him get away. Davis needs to break the bank and do whatever it takes to get him signed to a long-term contract.



Rashad Baker

Safety

2008 Performance: Baker played primarily on special teams but played more on defense as an extra defensive back as the season wore on and finished tied for the team-lead with three interceptions, two coming against Carolina. A better-than-average back-up who got stronger as the season went along.

2008 Grade: C-

Projected market interest: Low

Projected Raiders interest: He doesn't fit into any of the team's long- or short-term plans but Baker will probably get an invite to training camp at the very least. Depending on how many defensive backs the Raiders bring in, Baker may even have an outside shot at being the dime back next season.

SBI's call: Baker has some upside but the Raiders can't afford to keep many roster spots for players who aren't contributing on one side of the ball or the other. Baker may be good on special teams but until he proves he can be a factor on defense Oakland would be best served letting him go.



Drew Carter

Wide receiver

2008 Performance: Has missed the entire season after tearing up his knee in the preseason and landing on injured reserve.

2008 Grade: N/A

Projected market interest: Tepid

Projected Raiders interest: Oakland seriously needs to address its shortcomings at the receiver slot and they've already made overtures to Carter about returning. All indications are that the two sides will get a deal done but for now there doesn't appear to be a big rush.

SBI's call: Carter was the one receiver who QB JaMarcus Russell felt a rapport with and losing him put a definite crimp into Russell's evolution. Since none of Oakland's other receivers have done anything to distinguish themselves, bringing Carter would be a logical step in the right direction.



Cooper Carlisle

Right guard

2008 Performance: Didn't have the success he did in '07 but still held up fairly well and was again one of Oakland's most consistent linemen, though nagging injuries slowed him some. Carlisle had problems in pass protection but that was a common theme along the Raiders' front.

2008 Grade: C+

Projected market interest: Lukewarm

Projected Raiders interest: They've already got to find a pair of new offensive tackles and have other issues that need attention. The last thing Al Davis wants to do is have to go find a new right guard, especially since depth at that spot is an issue. They'll make a strong push to keep him.

SBI's call: Though he doesn't get a lot of recognition Carlisle has actually be one of the few bright spots for Oakland's offensive line over the past two seasons. The team doesn't have anyone ready to replace him and with questions already at tackle, the Raiders need to try to keep him in the fold.



Ike Ekejiuba

Linebacker

2008 Performance: One of the leaders on special teams, Ekejiuba played sparingly on defense but was tremendous on the coverage units, a problem area for the Raiders in the past. That garnered him enough votes to be an alternate for the Pro Bowl, something that speaks to his effectiveness considering most of the support came from his peers.

2008 Grade: B-

Projected market interest: Low

Projected Raiders interest: Though the team would like to see more from him on the defensive side of things, they also realize how critical Ekejiuba is to their special teams and will thus try to keep him on the roster.

SBI's call: With Jarrod Cooper retired, Ekejiuba has developed into the leader of Oakland's special teams and the best tackling threat. Because money apparently isn't an issue for Davis, it'd be a good idea for him to get Ekejiuba re-signed.



Jake Grove

Center

2008 Performance: Though he was slowed by a calf injury late in the season Grove played fairly well early on then was very strong at the end. He was a key cog in the success of the running game but questions about his ability to stay healthy remain a concern in Oakland.

2008 Grade: C+

Projected market interest: Low

Projected Raiders interest: Grove's been the company man since he joined the team and proved he could get it done on the field when he's healthy. That being said, Oakland will still peruse the free agent market to see if they can't find a way to upgrade.

SBI's call: While there's still room for growth, along with the matter of consistency, Grove is still an adequate player who has at times shown the ability to dominate in spurts. While we'd like to see an upgrade, the Raiders could do worse than keeping Grove. They also have too many other concerns to deal with and trying to find a new center should be low on the priority list.


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