The loss was painful on two fronts. First off, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden, who was Oakland's coach of four seasons, stuck it to his former team. Secondly, this is likely to be the end of the Raiders as we know them.
In the harsh era of salary cap stipulations, there will be changes because Oakland is an estimated $48 million over the salary cap. The good news is that the Raiders should be able to lop off considerable salary without losing too many of their starters. The release of seven players -- only four of them starters -- along with the continued substance suspension of defensive tackle Darrell Russell can save the Raiders about $35 million.
Release candidates figure to be defensive tackle Sam Adams, cornerbacks Tory James and Terrance Shaw, halfback Terry Kirby, safety Anthony Dorsett, defensive end Regan Upshaw and wide receiver James Jett.
Adams helped the Raiders run defense improve from No. 22 in 2001 to No. 3 in 2002 but his $8.9 million cap figure is too pricey. James was a valuable starter despite playing with a broken bone in his leg and Shaw was a solid nickelback. Oakland, however, drafted Phillip Buchanon in the first-round in 2002 and he was a starter until landing on injured reserve with a broken wrist in Week 7.
Kirby also landed on injured reserve and while did a solid job as a kickoff returner and pass-catching running back, he too is a bit pricey to keep at $3.9 million. Dorsett lost his starting free safety job to Rod Woodson but performed solidly at strong safety while Derrick Gibson was hurt. There is a possibility, however, that Woodson may retire, in which case the door opens for keeping Dorsett at free safety.
Upshaw made a remarkable comeback after suffering a torn ACL in a June mini-camp, noncontact drill but he did not provide enough of a pass rush to warrant his $2.7 million cap figure. Jett, who carries a $900,000 cap figure, was active for only one game – enough said.
Quarterback Rich Gannon, wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, offensive tackles Lincoln Kennedy and Barry Sims, halfback Charlie Garner, defensive end Trace Armstrong, defensive tackle John Parrella, and Woodson account for a combined $28.3 million of salary that could be converted into signing bonuses and minimum salary.
If the Raiders chose not to bring back either Sims or Kennedy, the good news is that Langston Walker, a second-round draft pick last April showed ample promise. Armstrong, however, appears to be damaged goods after landing on injured reserve the last two seasons. Guard Frank Middleton carries a $1.7 million dollar cap figure and fellow guard Mo Collins is unsigned. Therefore, Oakland will likely lose one if not both.
The Raiders will likely keep Garner but may not have the luxury of keeping Tyrone Wheatley and Zack Crockett as backups. Fullback Jon Ritchie is also unsigned but his role diminished as the Raiders became a more three-receiver oriented team.
Cornerback Charles Woodson is entering the final year of his contract. If he signs an extension, he will likely be the highest paid cornerback in football, putting him in the $5-to-$6 million a year bracket. The question becomes, will Oakland be willing to break the bank for Woodson after an injury plagued season?
Then there is the issue of Russell and center Barret Robbins.
Russell has applied for reinstatement and is scheduled to make $10.2 million in salary and bonuses, but his salary counts as nothing as long as he is suspended. Russell may get reinstated by the NFL at some point but the Raiders are not likely to roll out the welcome mat for Russell and his off-the-field problems. Oakland, however, would take a $3.6 million cap hit by releasing him before June. Therefore, once Russell is reinstated, the Raiders have to clear $6.6 million of cap room immediately.
As for Robbins, he is one of the best centers in the NFL but may have played his last game in a Raider uniform after being suspended for going AWOL prior to the Super Bowl. Robbins is slated to make $3.25 million this season. Releasing him before June will move up a $3.1 million signing bonus acceleration. Even though Robbins' release will not help or hurt the Raiders salary cap, would the team welcome back a player who fellow teammates are not exactly defending?