When Terrell Owens hit the open market and the Raiders never made a move, it underscored the belief of Al Davis in young receivers Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens.
Rather than pursue Owens, the Raiders renegotiated the controversial contract of Javon Walker, who at present is the lone true veteran presence on the Raiders receiving corps.
Owens, though he may be slipping, caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys. Higgins (22 receptions, 366 yards, four touchdowns), Schilens (15 receptions, 226 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Walker (15 receptions, 196 yards, 1 touchdown) combined for 52 catches, 788 yards and seven scores.
Owens signed a one-year contract with Buffalo while the Raiders, as they have for much of free agency, stayed on the sideline.
Upon his release, there was immediate speculation Owens would be a target of the Raiders.
Davis is not a believer in locker room chemistry, thinking it is a byproduct of wins and/or losses. In a press conference announcing the retirement of Rich Gannon, he laughed off Owens' problems by saying he had dealt with players such as Art Powell, a noted 1960s talent with a mind of his own.
Raiders coach Tom Cable, on the other hand, has talked of changing the locker room culture and wants players who buy into the program.
But while Cable is concerned with chemistry, Davis more likely wanted to avoid bringing in a player who is on the downside of his career. In 2001, Jerry Rice was able to contribute to a veteran Raiders team which was coming off a division title.
Owens, by contrast, has consistently positioned himself with contenders and the current Raiders are mired in a six-year slide with 11 or more losses each year.
It's also worth nothing Owens had just two games of over 100 yards receiving last year _ a career low _ and his stats were fairly pedestrian minus those two games.
Walker, due a $5 million roster bonus and $4 million in salary, agreed to accept $2 million in salary this year and $2.6 million in salary next year, guaranteed.
Higgins and Schilens finished the season as the starting receivers and are expected to be key targets for JaMarcus Russell in 2009.
· The Raiders appeared on the verge of their first notable free agent strike of the offseason until negotiations with tackle Khalif Barnes broke off.
Sources from both sides indicated Cable was interested in bringing in Barnes and making him the Raiders left tackle, believing Barnes had the athletic skill to convert to the Raiders zone blocking system.
Barnes also came recommended by Keith Gilbertson, his coach in college at Washington and a Cable confidant.
However, when it appeared Barnes would come aboard, negotiations slowed and then ground to a halt, with Barnes taking a visit to Tampa Bay.
Barnes had behaviorial issues in Jacksonville, including a DUI, another driving offense, and a game which he didn't start because of being late for meetings.
That probably didn't bother Davis as much as Barnes' being responsible for 7.5 sacks, and nine penalties, stats too reminiscent of the departed Kwame Harris. Harris was also pushed by Cable last year and it was the coach's biggest mistake in terms of personnel.
·· Running back Justin Fargas' commitment went beyond excellence. He showed a commitment to the financial well being of his team with regard to the salary cap.
Fargas, along with left guard Robert Gallery, restructured his contract to help the Raiders remain safely under the $127 million league figure after the monster contracts signed by Nnamdi Asomugha and Shane Lechler.
Although figures were not known, Fargas cut his cap figure of $5.29 million cap figure and solidified his status on the roster.
There had been some speculation he could be in trouble, given the Raiders tandem of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, combined with Fargas' history of injury.
· It wasn't a huge loss, but the Raiders lost a key contributor to their success toward the end of the season when safety Rashad Baker signed a one-year free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Baker's playing time was increased in the second half of the season when the Raiders de-emphasized Michael Huff, who not only lost his starting job at free safety but also sat in many of the Raiders other defensive packages.
Baker had three interceptions, tying Chris Johnson and the departed DeAngelo Hall for the team lead.
In the season finale, a 31-24 win over Tampa Bay, Baker dropped Warrick Dunn for a 1-yard loss at the 10-yard line on a short completion which helped force the Bucs to settle for a field goal, and had an interception on a deep pass which led to the Raiders final drive and a field goal to put the game away.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Baker's interception helped put the Eagles in the playoffs as a wild card team.
· With the economic downturn combined with struggles on the field, the Raiders did not increase ticket prices for the 2009 seasons.
Some plans were available for as low as $260.
Since taking over their own ticket sales, the Raiders have been blacked out six times in 24 regular-season home games. Contrast that from 1995 through 2005, when tickets were sold by the now-defunct Oakland Football Marketing Association.
Under an agreement reached upon the club's return that Davis once referred to as "diabolical," there were 59 blackouts in 88 games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What needs to change for us is we need more guys like Nnamdi and Justin, who play the game the way it is supposed to be played. They play all out all the time and they play hard. They live their lives the way they're supposed to _ with honor," · Raiders coach Tom Cable at the Commitment to Excellence award banquet honoring Nnamdi Asomugha and Justin Fargas.
TEAM NEEDS/OFF-SEASON STRATEGY
The Raiders made no real move to retain Rashad Baker, but his departure leaves the Raiders extremely thin on their last line of defense.
Other than getting a last big year out of Rod Woodson, safety has been a constant problem for the Raiders since they returned to Oakland in 1995, and this offseason is no exception.
1. Safety: The only safeties on the roster are Hiram Eugene a former street free agent, who ended the season as the starting free safety, 2005 draft flop Michael Huff and 2008 draft pick Tyvon Branch. Might the Raiders place a call to Roy Williams?
2. Offensive tackle: Protecting JaMarcus Russell is Job 1, and as it stands now the starters are Mario Henderson at left tackle and Cornell Green at right tackle. Given the aborted pursuit of Khalif Barnes, Henderson could move to the right. Doubtful that Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe could drop to No. 7, but the Raiders can always hope.
3. Center: With Jake Grove headed to Miami in free agency, 13-year vet John Wade is the current starter. The Raiders have had talks with Buffalo free agent Duke Preston, and the draft is a possibility. Their No. 7 pick is too high for Alex Mack, who probably won't last until the second round.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
· WR Drew Carter suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the next-to-last preseason game, spending the season on injured reserve. He has had four ACL surgeries - two on each knee.
· DL William Joseph didn't make it through the final cut in training camp but was re-signed during the season, playing eight games and contributing three tackles and five assists.
· WR Ashley Lelie played in 13 games before missing the final three games with an ankle injury, catching 11 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
· CB Justin Miller helped energize the Raiders' kickoff return team, running back two for touchdowns in seven games after he was waived by the Jets.
· QB Marques Tuiasosopo moved past Andrew Walter to become the backup to JaMarcus Russell for the last quarter of the season, although he didn't get in a game.
· LB Sam Williams is a favorite of the owner and hasn't developed as a strong side linebacker but has some special teams value.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
· LB Ricky Brown (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) won the starting job as the starting strong side linebacker in training camp, but ended up missing the last nine games with a severe groin injury.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
· LS Jon Condo is entering his third year of nearly perfect snaps. Also good at covering kicks on punt snaps.
· S Hiram Eugene.
· C Chris Morris.
· G Cooper Carlisle: UFA; 5 yrs, terms unknown.
· LB Isaiah Ekejiuba: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
· CB Nnamdi Osomugha: Potential UFA; $28.5M/2 yrs; all guaranteed with third year team option.
· CB Chris Johnson: Potential UFA; $15.3M/4 yrs, $4M SB; 2009 cap: $3M.
· P Shane Lechler: Potential UFA; $12M/4 yrs, $9M guaranteed.
· TE Tony Stewart: UFA; terms unknown.
· QB Bruce Gradkowski (waivers Browns).
· OT Erik Pears: Not tendered as RFA by Broncos; terms unknown.
· FS Rashad Baker: UFA Eagles; 1 yr, terms unknown.
· LB Marquis Cooper (presumed deceased in boating accident).
· WR Ronald Curry (released).
· DE Kalimba Edwards (released/failed physical).
· FB Justin Griffith (released).
· C Jake Grove: UFA Dolphins; $29M/5 yrs, $14.5M guaranteed.
· OT Kwame Harris (released).
· S Gibril Wilson (released).
Were Raiders wise to pass over Owens?
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