Examining Raiders free agents part II

In this second of a three-part series taking a look at the Raiders' 17 pending free agents, Silver and Black Illustrated takes a closer look at players like cornerback Chris Johnson, who came up big for Oakland after the team cut ties with DeAngelo Hall midway through the year, as well as Shane Lechler, the NFL's career-leading punter who is headed to his fourth Pro Bowl.

Chris Johnson

Cornerback

2008 Performance: Came out of obscurity to take over the starting cornerback position left vacant when Hall was waived. Johnson didn't win the job by default and has proved it since getting into the starting lineup, though he has a rough day against San Diego late in the season. He had his best game against Carolina when he and Asomugha helped hold Panthers' WR Steve Smith to one meaningless catch, and also played well against Houston and Tampa Bay.

2008 Grade: B

Projected market interest: Tepid

Projected Raiders interest: Three months ago it appeared the Raiders would be ready to say goodbye to the struggling defensive back but since he stepped into the starting lineup Johnson has proven to be a valuable commodity. With Asomugha's situation uncertain, Oakland's front office wants to make sure they don't have to find two new starting corners.

SBI's call: Johnson surprised several long-time observers with how well he played after Hall was cut loose. That he did it on a long-term basis says something. Still, he's probably best suited as a nickel or dime back which means the Raiders can tell him goodbye if they can find another starting corner somewhere.



William Joseph

Defensive tackle

2008 Performance: Signed late in the season after injuries depleted the defensive line but didn't have much of an impact, finishing with eight tackles in eight games.

2008 Grade: D+

Projected market interest: Low

Projected Raiders interest: The team has already targeted the interior line as an area in need, and considering Joseph was only brought back midway through the year, it's clear Oakland doesn't see much upside in the former first-round draft pick.

SBI's call: The Raiders have far too many problems on their line and Joseph hasn't shown he can be part of the solution. It was a decent risk in the offseason but Oakland needs more of a front-line player to help fix it's problem defending the run.



Shane Lechler

Punter

2008 Performance: Veteran special teams star put together yet another stellar season despite routinely having to bail out Oakland's struggling offense. He led the AFC with a 48.8-yard average and topped the NFL in net (41.2) while landing 33 kicks inside the 20. Considering he carried the numbers while punting 90 times makes Lechler's seasonal work all the more impressive.

2008 Grade: A

Projected market interest: Incredibly high.

Projected Raiders interest: Al Davis knows how critical it is to have a punter like Lechler when the offense is as bad as it's been in recent years but don't expect the Raiders to break the bank trying to re-sign the Pro Bowl punter. While Davis would love to have him back, the team's late-season signing of a low-level punter to the practice squad was an indication Oakland is making emergency plans if a deal can't be done.

SBI's call: A no-brainer just like Asomugha. Lechler has been the team's one constant Pro Bowl player and he only seems to get better with time. The Raiders would be foolish to let him go, and they know it, though Lechler might be tempted to play in his home state of Texas. The Cowboys have a serious issue at the punter spot and Jerry Jones would have no problem opening up his wallet to pay Lechler, who may also be swayed by the fact the tax rate is lower in Texas than it is in California.



Ashley Lelie

Wide receiver

2008 Performance: Didn't have the big impact he had hoped for but he's been as good as anything else the Raiders have thrown out there. Signed just before the start of the regular season, Lelie caught a pair of touchdowns and has shown he can still be a downfield threat but he hasn't been as consistent as he'd like and missed two of the last three games with injuries.

2008 Grade: C+

Projected market interest: Lukewarm.

Raiders projected interest: Since they're going to cut ties with Ronald Curry and may do the same with Javon Walker, the Raiders may be inclined to offer Lelie a multi-year deal though it would have to be incentive-laden.

SBI's call: Keeping Lelie makes sense, even if Oakland keeps Walker or finds another (better) receiver in free agency or the draft. While we question using him as a No. 1 receiver, he should do well in a secondary role.

Robert Thomas

Linebacker

2008 Performance: Signed early in the year after being cut in the preseason, Thomas started one game before landing on injured reserve with a knee injury.

2008 Grade: C-

Projected market interest: Low

Projected Raiders interest: Oakland already has Ricky Brown to man the strong side position so Thomas won't be high on their priority list.

SBI's call: As long as Brown's health holds up -- and that's a question mark after he sat out the final nine games with a groin injury -- the Raiders have no reason to sign Thomas. But if Brown is still hurting in the offseason Oakland may want to rethink.



Marques Tuiasosopo

Quarterback

2008 Performance: Was Oakland's emergency quarterback save for a brief appearance against Carolina when JaMarcus Russell and Andrew Walter were both hurt.

2008 Grade: C

Projected market interest: None

Projected Raiders interest: Lukewarm. Oakland likes having a veteran face in the QB's meeting rooms to help mentor Russell but the team will take a look around and see what else is out there before offering Tui a new deal.

SBI's call: With all the problems on offense and the problems the team has had in keeping Russell from getting hit, Oakland would do wise to have a more reliable option than Tuiasosopo, who is one of the game's greatest people but hasn't had much success on the field.


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