Reggie McKenzie takes over as the main football executive and has already been working to shape the Raiders into his team. McKenzie started with the head coach and has been interviewing and evaluating his front office staff and scouting department over the past few weeks.
Raiders fans are accustomed to coaching change, but front office and roster changes have always been subtle from year to year. Al Davis was the final decision-maker for the Raiders and he would slowly sour on players and wholesale changes would always come at the expense of the head coach.
McKenzie's philosophy will differ from the late Davis' philosophy. Davis loved speed, but he was just as interested in his size, strength, speed and other measurable traits as he was with a fast time in the 40-yard dash. Former Raiders and Packers general manager Ron Wolf told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that McKenzie was one of the few that can tell who can play and who can't play.
McKenzie will like some of the players on the Davis-constructed team and he won't like some.
To go about creating a shopping list for the Raiders offseason, it is first necessary to make an educated guess as to the weaknesses McKenzie sees in the roster and who is available to strengthen the team.
The Raiders will be lucky to get pick 97 in April's draft, so expect McKenzie to spend time looking for players that can help solve the Raiders defensive problems in free agency. McKenzie will also need to solidify the Raiders offensive line by finding inexpensive fits for the zone-blocking system.
Middle Linebacker (Need 1)
The Raiders will enter 2012 with four linebackers: Rolando McClain, Aaron Curry, Kamerion Wimbley and Travis Goethel. The Raiders will need more bodies and McKenzie may decide that replacing two or three of the starting linebackers is necessary.
McClain quickly wore out his welcome in Oakland and McKenzie can safety look for replacements now as opposed to giving McClain a third season as would typically be the case with a draft pick.
The Stud: D'Qwell Jackson, MLB
Jackson was a force up the middle for the Browns. He's expressed a desire to stay in the Cleveland and the Browns could use the franchise tag to keep Jackson's services, but if he hits the open market McKenzie should be interested.
The Young Star: Curtis Lofton, MLB
Lofton is just 25 and will be looking for a lucrative contract. McKenzie has said he will stay away from overpriced players and Lofton could qualify, but McKenzie also needs the stud middle linebacker the Raiders haven't had in years.
The Technician: Stephen Tulloch, MLB
Technique is one of Tulloch's strengths and the discipline needed to be a good technician could be useful to Dennis Allen and the Raiders defense. He'll have plenty of offers out there, but he's certainly a player the Raiders could look at to shore up the substandard group of linebackers.
The Familiar: Joe Mays, MLB
Just as it is easier to install an offense when the quarterback already knows the system, Mays was the "quarterback" of the Broncos defense under Raiders' head coach Dennis Allen. He'd be an ideal candidate to join the Raiders and steal the starting job from Rolando McClain.
4-3 Outside Linebacker (Need 1)
The Stud: Erin Henderson
Henderson is an all-around outside linebacker that could really help out the Raiders defense, but the Vikings would be crazy to let him walk. If he becomes available the Raiders should consider his services.
The Frequent Traveler: Manny Lawson
Lawson became expendable in San Francisco, but he became a solid player for the Bengals and he'd be complementary linebacker to the group the Raiders have now.
The Value Proposition: Chris Chamberlain
He's a solid linebacker that wouldn't cost as much as many of the other top options. He'd compete with the Raiders' other linebackers for a starting job.
The Familiar: Wesley Woodyard
He played more than 300 snaps in Dennis Allen's defense last season. If he comes over from the Broncos he would compete for a job and help the Raiders quickly install and implement Allen's defense.
3-4 Outside Linebacker (Need: Unknown)
The Only Good Option: Anthony Spencer
He's benefited from DeMarcus Ware on the opposite side, but he's a good player in his own right and has proved he can play. It seems the Raiders will remain a 4-3 team and Spencer will find a better home in a 3-4 scheme, but should the Raiders make a switch he could come into play.
Cornerback (Need 1)
The Throwback: Cortland Finnegan
He's a physical cornerback to pair with Stanford Routt. He should be more available and more affordable than Brent Grimes. Finnegan is also good in run support, a problem area for the Raiders in 2011. The concern here is how the NFL will officiate a "dirty" player on the most penalized team in the league.
The Cross-Bay Badass: Carlos Rogers
He played like a top-five cornerback in 2011 and figures to be paid handsomely this offseason. The 49ers would like to retain him, but may have trouble retaining Rogers and Dashon Goldson. He'll command big bucks, but McKenzie needs to quickly find a player to play opposite Routt.
The Rival Ringer: Brandon Carr
If the Raiders show interest in the 25-year-old Carr, he'll be able to leverage the Chiefs and Raiders against each other for his services. He's young and seems to improve every year. He's a good No. 2 cornerback and has room to grow and time to do it.
Safety (Need 1 or 2)
The Raider: Tyvon Branch
The Raiders will look to retain Branch. He's been an underappreciated player on the Raiders defense for many years and Dennis Allen's defensive scheme may finally feature him.
The Injured Enigma: LaRon Landry
He's been a star when healthy, but he suffered a nasty Achilles injury and his future is uncertain. The Raiders may be able to swipe a premium talent for a decent price, but he'll need to pass a physical.
Mr. Inconsistent: Michael Griffin
What are you going to get from Griffin? History shows Griffin is either a Pro Bowl -aliber safety or a backup-caliber safety and nothing in between. That's a bit disturbing, but the inconsistency might make him more affordable.
The Heavy-Hitter: Dashon Goldson
The 49ers will not lose Carlos Rogers and Goldson, but they will have to choose. If Goldson hits the open market he could be an option for the Raiders as he was last offseason. The fans will overrate Goldson's season based on a few highlight reel plays and his hard-hitting style.
Offensive Line (Need 2)
The Forgotten: Sean Locklear, OT
He signed a one-year deal in Washington and didn't start. The Raiders will be moving back the the zone-blocking scheme and Locklear would seem like a logical and inexpensive option to fix the revolving door at right tackle.
Cable's Contributor: Breno Giacomini, OT
Giacomini spent three seasons without getting much playing time, but he started playing consistently in Tom Cable's zone-blocking system in Seattle and came on strong toward the end of the season. Another affordable option to consider at right tackle.
The System Fit: Chris Myers, OC
If the Raiders feel comfortable with Stefen Wisniewski remaining at left guard, there are two zone-blocking centers available this offseason. One is Houston's Chris Myers. The Raiders offensive line coach was assistant offensive line coach for the Texans last year and Greg Knapp the quarterback coach. Myers is an interesting option if the Raiders can steal him away from the Texans.
The System Fit: Scott Wells, OC
Like Myers, Wells is a zone-blocking center. It could be difficult for Wisniewski to pick up and make the line calls in a zone-blocking system initially. Wells or Myers would be ideal players to help the line. The addition of a zone-blocking tackle and center would solidify the Raiders' offensive front.