Oakland Raiders Justified in Spending Big on Javon Walker

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Oakland Raiders Justified in Spending Big on Javon Walker

It didn't take long for the media to find the perfect word to describe the six-year, $55-million deal the Oakland Raiders extended to wide receiver Javon Walker.

"Lucrative."

The word fits. The 29-year-old ex-Denver Bronco cashed in for more than any other free-agent wide receiver this offseason. He'll earn more than Randy Moss in New England, Bernard Berrian in Minnesota, Jerry Porter in Jacksonville and Donte' Stallworth in Cleveland.

The lucrative deal, however, prevented something potentially ludicrous from occurring in Oakland in 2008. That is, having Johnnie Lee Higgins (or any other wideout on the Raiders' current roster) start the 2008 season as the team's No. 2 receiver.

If the Raiders didn't lock up at least one proven pass catcher this offseason, they'd have been left with only one experienced WR on their roster, 28-year-old Ronald Curry. He's the only under-contract wideout on Oakland's current depth chart -- Walker not included -- who has more than 10 career catches.

Now, with the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Walker in the fold, Curry suddenly becomes the No. 2 guy. For $55 million, Walker will jump into the top receiving slot, giving young quarterback JaMarcus Russell two proven targets next season, instead of one proven pass catcher and several young unknowns.

In his six-year career (four with the Green Bay Packers, two with the Broncos), Walker has hauled in 252 passes for 3,815 yards and 30 touchdowns. The former first-round pick from Florida State has surpassed the 1,000-yard bar twice since entering the NFL, making him the only Raider with at least one 1,000-yard season under his belt. Even Porter, who left the team this offseason for a $30 million deal with the Jaguars, has never reached 1,000 yards receiving in a season.

The major question surrounding Walker, however, is his health.

The soon-to-be seventh-year man is guaranteed a $6 million signing bonus and a $5 million salary over the next two years -- or $16 million total -- despite missing 23 games because of injury over the past three seasons.

Last season, Walker missed eight weeks after suffering a right knee injury in a Week 3 loss at Jacksonville. In the two weeks prior, the veteran wideout posted consecutive 100-plus-yard outings to kick off the '07 campaign.

Two years earlier, in 2005, Walker tore his right ACL during the Packers' season opener. He had two surgeries that year to repair the knee.

The heavily front-loaded deal, then, is a rather surprising one, considering Walker's recent trouble avoiding injury. Yet, not acting at all would have been an equally surprising move for team owner Al Davis to make. Outside of Curry, all of the wideouts on Oakland's roster are untested.

Of all the big-money deals the Raiders have made this offseason, this one makes the most sense.

Anthony Carroll can be contacted at acarroll@realfootball365.com

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