It wouldn't feel like a Raider offseason without the drama of their annual salary cap conundrum. This year will be no different. Even after releasing Stanford Routt, the Raiders are $11 million over the cap.
While the salary cap is rarely an issue for teams, assuming players are willing to restructure, there are always guys like Routt who end up being released. In Routt's case, the issue was as much about the ludicrous money he would make down the road as it was the $5 million roster bonus he was due on February 10. Assuming the Raiders stray away from their predominant bump-and-run coverages under Dennis Allen, Routt's value in the secondary had already begun to diminish.
So who might be next?
The biggest cap numbers coming up are easily tied up in Carson Palmer, Richard Seymour and Kamerion Wimbley. Combined, they will account for $38.5 million against the salary cap in 2012. Seymour is in the final year of his deal, while Palmer is set to make at least $12.5 million per season through 2014. Wimbley will make $11 million in three of the next four seasons through 2015.
It had been reported that $29 million of Wimbley's contract was guaranteed, but much like Routt's deal that is not the case. The Raiders will pay Wimbley $6.5 million this season whether he is on their roster or not. Cutting him by March 17 would save the team $4.5 million. The Raiders don't have a lot to work with at linebacker, but Wimbley is the best they have. He struggles in coverage, but Dennis Allen found a way to keep Von Miller out of coverage most of last season. I'm sure Wimbley's not a guy Allen is anxious to release regardless of his contract. He could be a candidate to have his contract restructured, but according to NFL Network's Jason La Canfora, Wimbley isn't interested in taking a pay cut. That doesn't necessarily mean he won't restructure, but it does mean he won't be conceding a lot. His agent, Joe Linta, was on Sirius NFL Radio Tuesday and said the Raiders haven't contacted him, so good luck figuring out what will happen there.
The Raiders are locked in to Richard Seymour's $15 million cap figure for next season, but he has already expressed a willingness to restructure. My guess is that an extra year or two could cut that number in half. Before discrediting Seymour's value at 32, don't overlook the fact that he was statistically on pace to have one of the best years in the past decade for a defensive tackle last season. His numbers through eight games prorated were far beyond what Albert Haynesworth did in his final year in Tennessee. Seymour feels he will be 100 percent in 2012, and obviously the team feels he has good years left. I fully expect his contract to be extended for another two years.
Thanks to Hue Jackson's self-proclaimed "greatest trade ever made," the Raiders will pay Palmer more money over the next three years than any other Raider. GM Reggie McKenzie has verbally committed to Palmer and every indication is that he'll be around as long as he performs. The Raiders have no other options for 2012, so he's not going anywhere.
After the big three contracts, the only other real savings could come from releasing Tommy Kelly, Michael Huff, Aaron Curry or John Henderson.
Henderson and Huff have base salaries of $4 million, although Huff's is guaranteed. Henderson will most definitely be released or asked to restructure. His contract expires after next season, and at 33 he would likely jump at the opportunity to extend his deal. It would make more sense for the team to keep Henderson around at a discount than to part ways with him. He is still a solid run-stuffer and was forced to play three downs for much of last season.
Michael Huff is due an additional $4 million roster bonus on March 16. His 2012 cap number has been reported to be just under $10 million if he's on the roster. Unless Reggie McKenzie finds reason to think Huff can be an elite safety, he will be released. Huff had been durable until last season but has never been a tremendous ball-hawk or run-stopper. The Raiders have always asked more of their safeties than any team in the league, so he should look better in a new scheme, but probably not $10 million better. My gut tells me he'll be a Dallas Cowboy next season.
Tommy Kelly is set to make $6 million next year, and will make at least that through 2014. His contract was heavily scrutinized in 2008 when he signed the seven-year deal, but he has generally lived up to expectations. At 31, he doesn't seem to be slowing down, and I'm not sure he's the best candidate to be axed. Since his knee injury in 2007, he hasn't missed a single game and has recorded at least seven sacks each of the past two years—not bad for a defensive tackle.
Aaron Curry is set to make $5.75 million in 2012 and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. His status with the team is entirely contingent on Dennis Allen's confidence that he can be a solid starter in his system. If he's not convinced Curry can be a better-than-average linebacker, the decision will be easy. Curry played reasonably well in 2011 but has always been a liability in coverage. Unless Allen has a defensive scheme that hides an entire linebacking core that struggles in coverage, Curry could definitely be the first to go.
So when will something happen?
March 16 and 17 are key dates for the contracts of Wimbley and Huff, but the deadline to get under the cap is March 13. This gives McKenzie just over three weeks to shake things up even more. At this point, Huff and Curry appear to have the least job security, especially if the team has any aggressive plans for free agency. At minimum, it will want the option to spend, so it makes sense that more changes will be coming.
If there is a silver lining it's that when so many players are overpaid, it won't take more than one or two cuts to get comfortably under the salary cap. And when the time comes to sign draft picks, everyone knows the Raiders aren't going to be overwhelmed.