Raiders free agency in focus (part one)

Before the Raiders can start planning for free agency, they must first wait to see what happens between NFL owners and the players association. The two sides have been in talks about a new Collective Bargaining Agreement ever since the owners opted out of the old CBA in May 2008. So far, however, there hasn't been much progress.

That could cause some problems, not only in Oakland but around the rest of the league. Under the previous CBA, a player could become an unrestricted free agent after four accrued seasons in the league. With the agreement expiring, that number will change to six years — leaving hundreds of players who have been waiting patiently for their opportunity to test the unrestricted free-agent market — as restricted free agents instead. That would radically shake up the landscape of the market and would result in an uncapped year for the 2010 season.

Such talk has sparked rumors about owners locking players out in 2011 and players striking, issues that have fans around the league nervous. But tight end Tony Stewart, the Raiders' player rep, is holding out hope that owners and players will come to an accord before it reaches that stage. "So many things happen in the 11th hour and so many things are said before then that has no effect on the decision," Stewart said. "Look at the last CBA, it was done at the last minute when everybody was talking about a strike. The players want to play. We just have to figure out how to come to an agreement."

Stewart's biggest concern is that the issue of a new CBA comes at a time when the rest of the country is deeply entrenched in a recession. With an economy that still has a weak pulse, a lockout or strike could resonate deeply with fans and other people not associated with owners or players.

"A lot of people look at it as just millionaires and billionaires fighting but there's people out there working these games, it's their second or third jobs and they're trying to put food on the table," Stewart said. "It's not just putting us out of a couple games but people's livelihood, too. It could really change the whole league." Whatever happens, Al Davis and his coaching staff have a litany of decisions to make.

A big decision that has already beeb made is what to do with kicker Sebastian Janikowski. One of 17 potential free agents on Oakland's roster, Janikowski is coming off the finest season of his career and would have garnered a lot of attention on the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

"He's not very old so he's got a long life left as a kicker in this league," head coach Tom Cable said before Janikowski was re-signed last week. "Hopefully we'll get something worked out with him and he'll be a Raider."

A year ago punter Shane Lechler and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha both talked about the possibility of playing elsewhere, then each wound up signing lucrative extensions that made them the highest-paid players at their position.

Keeping Janikowski proved to be a no-brainer for the Raiders. He has been the team's most consistent scoring threat for the past five years and has gotten better with each season, going 26 of 29 on field goal attempts in 2009, including a team-record 61-yarder.

Coming up in part 2: 16 Raider free agents and S&BI's take on what to do with them.

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