Many fans of Raider Nation are both a bit nervously skeptical and pleasantly optimistic. Allen has had no previous head coaching experience; but his expertise on the defensive side of the ball is intriguing for a team that ranked near the bottom in the NFL in most defensive categories last season.
While Oakland has many items to address in terms of new coaching personnel, there are other decisions that need to be made in terms of player retention. They have 15 players eligible for free agency in 2012, including 14 unrestricted free agents. The Raiders must pay close attention to this list because, as it stands now, they only have two picks in this spring’s NFL draft—one fifth and one sixth-rounder (though it’s possible they will receive a few compensatory picks from the league).
Because of the dearth of draft options in 2012, Allen and the Raiders will need to study their own free agents carefully and determine which players will be retained for next season and possibly beyond.
Here is a look at five Raider free agents Allen and the new coaching staff should consider re-signing.
One of the strengths of the Oakland Raiders in the past few seasons has been the play of their offensive line. In 2011, Oakland ranked seventh in rushing yards and tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed (25). Part of the core of the line is offensive tackle Khalif Barnes.
The 29-year-old Barnes helped open up holes for running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Oakland finished the season with a 4.5 yards-per-carry average—good for seventh in the NFL.
Barnes started all 16 games for the Raiders in 2011; he has 78 starts in his career. Though he has had some ups and downs throughout his three seasons in Oakland, the Raiders need to keep their offensive line intact in order to preserve the continuity of the running game. Furthermore, in the passing game, Barnes’ play at right tackle helped keep the immobile Carson Palmer on his feet.
Signing Barnes to another one-year contract would be a good option for the Raiders’ offense.
Because of his defensive background, new head coach Dennis Allen will be studying very closely videos of the performances of the Raiders’ defenders—including the unit’s free agents. Given Allen’s experience as a defensive backs coach, he will have particularly close interest in the play of the Oakland secondary and that of safety Tyvon Branch.
Opponents torched the Raiders in the passing game, as Oakland ranked 27th in passing yards, while giving up a franchise-worst 31 touchdowns through the air.
However, one of the brighter spots was Branch, whose all-around play at safety was solid: 109 tackles, four passes defended, one sack and an interception.
The four-year pro earned $555,000 in 2011, and he has started every single game the past three seasons. Re-signing Branch would be a great move for Allen and the Raiders. Branch has shown consistent play during his tenure in Oakland, and the 25-year-old will only continue to improve as he gains more experience. Of the Raiders’ secondary corps, Branch proved to be the best player.
It would be an excellent move to re-sign him to a long-term deal this offseason.
Where would the Raiders be without the support services of Michael Bush? In 2011, for the fourth consecutive season, Oakland called to the bullpen, utilizing Bush as a long reliever in the absence of running back Darren McFadden, who again missed several games due to injury.
In McFadden’s stead, Bush started the final nine games of the season, finishing with a career-high 963 yards rushing to go with six touchdowns. He also caught 26 passes for 230 yards and one score.
McFadden has been extremely brittle in his four-year career, and it’s quite uncertain what his health status is at present. Towards the end of the season, there was little word regarding any progress McFadden was making in returning to full strength. Fortunately, the Raiders have had Bush serving as their insurance policy in the backfield. Oakland has been in such good hands with Bush as the team’s backup running back, he should be referred to as Allstate.
The good news is that Bush has proved he can carry a full-time workload, so if (or when) McFadden were to go down again, the Raiders would barely miss a beat on offense.
The bad news, however, is that Bush has proved he can carry a full-time workload. Translation: big payday.
Oakland is unlikely to be able to afford both Bush and McFadden with the salaries of two starting tailbacks. And yet Bush will probably not be content with serving as the team’s also-ran running back.
The Raiders should consider slapping the franchise tag on Bush in the offseason in order to keep him on their roster. It’d cost the team probably close to $5 million. Otherwise, if the rumors of potentially trading McFadden come to fruition, Oakland can sign Bush to a long-term deal to be their full-time starting halfback.
It’s not often that a team has to give extensive attention to their long snapper. But then again, not many long snappers make the Pro Bowl.
Jon Condo was chosen as the AFC alternate to appear in this year’s Pro Bowl, a true testament to the dynamic play of Oakland’s special teams. The six-year pro has played four seasons in Oakland; and last season he earned $600,000.
Though not an incredibly dire loss if the Raiders allow him to leave, re-signing Condo would do wonders for the morale of the special teams squad, particularly those he works so closely with, fellow Pro Bowlers Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler.
In light of the poor performance of Oakland’s not-so-special teams unit, signing Condo to a multi-year deal would be a good idea.
There isn’t really much to be proud about the 2011 Oakland Raiders’ defensive unit. The defensive front, the linebackers and the secondary all performed equally poorly.
The defensive line and linebacking corps were shoddy at best, giving up over 136 yards per game as part of Oakland’s 29th-ranked defense. Needless to say, the defensive tackles and ends were not serviceable against opponents’ running games, and they did not attack as impressively versus the pass, finishing 15th in total sacks.
The reason that the outside linebacker Quentin Groves will be under scrutiny this offseason is because the Raiders have three members of the defensive line that will be free agents—Jarvis Moss and Trevor Scott being the others.
Scott, unfortunately, missed several games due to injury; and Moss is considered a backup at defensive end. Groves, however, performed the most consistently, and he finished the season with 24 tackles and one forced fumble. The 27-year-old only started three games in 2011, but given the inconsistent play of the linebacking unit, it’s possible that he will be retained. Considering that middle linebacker Rolando McClain might not be back in Oakland due to his legal troubles, Groves, who made $555,000 in 2011, could be an affordable option to re-sign.
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