By Jason Holjes
Well, normally you don't hear continuity and the Oakland Raiders paired together in a sentence, but due to the relatively quiet offseason you could make that assertion today.
The Raiders have made some quiet yet important moves this offseason that really show that head coach Tom " The Cable Guy" and owner "King" Al Davis are on the same page. First they paid the best player on their team and the best player at his position in the league, cornerback Nhamdi Asomugha, a fee that may be a little steep, but nonetheless fills a dire need for the team.
With an owner that lives or dies by man to man coverage down the field, it was a must to lock him up even if it was a three year 48 million dollar guaranteed contract. The Raiders follow that up with a crucial signing of Shane Lechler, who not only is the best punter in the league, he has the best punting stats of any punter in history, not to discount the great Ray Guy but Lechler is in a league of his own.
Oakland also decided to keep players that not only can play, but that also wanted to remain Raiders i.e. Ricky Brown, Isiah Eckubajh, John Condo, Chris Johnson and the talented and explosive Justin Miller. To the average non-Raider fan these moves might not seem to be the high profile free agent signings that the mainstream media is accustom to bashing, but if you read between the lines...the Raiders are putting an emphasis on special teams and continuity.
The mainstream media doesn't ever give the Raiders enough credit, but they year in and year out have the best special teams in the league. Now some will say the Ravens or Bills earn that title, and you could make that argument but in field goals made, punting and return average, and on return defense the raiders make a strong case to be the best.
The biggest test for the Raiders this season is keeping young Jamarcus Russell upright by way of protection. They kept the veterans that fit into their zone blocking scheme and added a former second round pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars, offensive tackle Kalif Barnes, who should protect Russell's blind side. Barnes has a mean streak and coach Cable will keep him under wraps, look for him to flourish and sign a multi-year deal with Oakland midway through the season. This signing takes me to the Cable and Michael Crabtree connection.
Mike Lombardi of NFL Network, formally of the front office of the Oakland Raiders and an Al Davis Cohort believes that the Raiders will not take a wide receiver and will go after a tackle in the draft. I don't buy this for one minute (refer to Robert Gallery).
Gallery was touted as the can't miss tackle of the generation; a player who knows how to play left guard, and expected be a pro bowl guard, but not in the same conference as the Steelers and the Ravens, who always hog up the offensive line pro bowl nods. The Raiders passed up wideout Larry Fitzgerald for Gallery, and I cant see the same mistake happening twice.
Al might prefer the standout from Missouri Jeremy Maclin more than Crabtree and would not go wrong either way. I say Al sides with the only two time Biletnikof winner and selects Crabtree.