Offseason off to good start for Raiders

The Raiders are already off to a better start to their offseason than they were a year ago. There's no head coaching controversy lingering overhead, the team got good news on the medical front for two of their key players and the front office is already making moves on the personnel front.

That has to be encouraging to anyone who witnessed the drama and sideshows that overshadowed anything the team did on the field in 2008.

While the players did a better-than-could-be-expected job of insulating themselves from the Al Davis-Lane Kiffin feud, the fact that there is no more controversy eliminates a key distraction. Tom Cable, whether you like him or don't, is the man and I'm sure we won't have to deal with any stories about mysterious letters being sent to him from Al. Or at least I'm pretty sure.

News that quarterback JaMarcus Russell and running back Darren McFadden underwent successful surgeries is also good news. Both operations were relatively simple procedures -- Russell's to remove bone chips in his right ankle, McFadden's to clean up some minor issues in his left shoulder -- and both should be fine when the offseason workouts begin in March.

Again, more good news. Obviously Russell and McFadden are Oakland's 1-2 punch on offense and the best weapons the team has. That being said, they still need more time on the practice field together, particularly if the Raiders plan on using McFadden more as a receiver this season, something they should strongly consider if they don't upgrade their receiving corps.

Oakland also got a jump on free agency by apparently re-signing cornerback Chris Johnson to a reported four-year contract and claimed quarterback Bruce Gradkowski off waivers. While the Gradkowski move isn't that significant, retaining Johnson is.

The Raiders still haven't tipped their hand with regards to Nnamdi Asomugha, although it's pretty certain they'll franchise him. By keeping Johnson, they avoid the possibility of losing both of their starting corners should they opt to let Asomugha go.

Johnson was having a pretty non-descript career until he was put in the spotlight midway through last season after the Raiders cut DeAngelo Hall. I was among the most skeptical but Johnson wound up playing very well considering how much he was targeted given that teams rarely through Asomugha's way.

While one media outlet cited Johnson's agent as confirming the deal had been done, Raiders spokesman John Herrera said Friday he hadn't received anything official regarding the Johnson move. That could just be a matter of semantics, though, as the paperwork for the deal might still be getting reviewed.

None of this is earth-shattering news or anything worth getting too excited over. But given what the headlines were about a year ago, these minor items are definitely encouraging signs.



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Interesting to note that Falcons punter Michael Koenen has agreed to sign his franchise tender Friday and will earn a one-year contract worth $2.48 million because that's what it would cost the Raiders to keep their own free agent punter, Shane Lechler.

While it's still doubtful that's the direction Davis will go, it's something at least worth considering because it would save Oakland almost $10 million by franchising Lechler instead of Asomugha, money that could be used to patch some of the other holes.

We'll see. Something tells me Lechler eventually lands in Dallas but Al's been known to pull a trick or two out of his sleeve before.


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