Oakland Raiders' Most Expensive Players and Possible Cap Casualties

D.J. O'ConnorSenior Analyst IIIFebruary 6, 2013

Oakland Raiders' Most Expensive Players and Possible Cap Casualties

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    With free agency on the horizon and a new league year set to begin in just about a month, it is time for every NFL franchise to determine who is worth what they are getting payed.

    Some players (pending free agents) will get payed more, some players will be asked to take a pay cut and others are just released to free up salary cap space.

    The Oakland Raiders are no different, and thanks to Paul Gutierrez of CSN California, we have access to the Raiders' 10 highest-paid players for 2013.  Gutierrez notes that 17 percent of the roster accounts for 71 percent of the salary cap.  

    That number does not factor in the hefty contract of Richard Seymour because of the probability of his contract being voided this week, and the Raiders have already declared him an unrestricted free agent.

    So, for the other nine highest-paid players on the Raiders roster, let's take a look at what the Raiders should do with each of them.

Carson Palmer

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    The quarterback who was acquired to maintain a push for the playoffs in 2011 under Hue Jackson has a cap number of $15.335 million for 2013.

    Palmer already restructured his contract last year to help the Raiders get out of the mess that was the 2012 cap crisis in Oakland, and depending on just how much of a team player Palmer is, he may restructure again.

    I would say Palmer is a long shot to be cut because the Raiders brass doesn't seem quite sold yet on Terrelle Pryor as the starting quarterback for 2013.  

    Palmer will likely be on the Raiders in 2013 despite a high cap number.  

    Will Palmer be a cap casualty in 2014 though?  That question is fair game.

Michael Huff

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    Much like Carson Palmer, Huff restructured his contract last year to help the team and may be asked to do so again.  

    Huff has a cap number at about $11.3 million with $4 million as base salary.  Usually when restructuring, the base salary is converted to a bonus, which lessens the cap hit.  But since Huff's base is only $4 million, he can't go much lower, and restructuring again won't help too much.

    Huff being cut I would say is possible, but unlikely.

    I say possible because last year Aaron Curry also restructured but was released less than a year later, and I say unlikely because of how weak the Raiders are in terms of depth and talent in the defensive backfield.

    Huff has played strong safety, free safety and cornerback, so his versatility helps him fit into the Raiders' needs at the position.

    The Raiders may have to suck it up and take that cap hit for 2013.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

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    DHB has got to be one of the top priorities to restructure his contract this year.

    His cap number is set to be $10.6 million in 2013, but $7.7 million of that number is base salary that could be spread out over time and turned into a bonus.

    The reason I say restructure rather than cut is because the Raiders are needy at receiver for either one of the men already on the roster to step up or to go out and grab a receiver in what could be a strong market this year.

    Heyward-Bey showed potential in 2011 when he had a career year and nearly 1,000 yards receiving, and with the speed he has, he is no worse than a deep threat who could line up in the slot while Denarius Moore (if he has a bounce-back year) and Rod Streater (if he continues to grow) are the starters.

    Also, restructuring Heyward-Bey rather than cutting him would save the Raiders the "dead money" that comes with cutting players.

Tommy Kelly

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    With a cap number of over $11 million and base salary of $6.5 million, Kelly is another candidate to restructure.

    I would say cut Kelly even with the dead money, but then the Raiders next best defensive tackle is Desmond Bryant, and he is a free agent.  Then after Bryant on the roster is Christo Bilukidi, who just finished his rookie season as a late-round draft pick.

    Kelly is a unique player because he is acting as his own agent.  The type of businessman Kelly is could determine whether or not he is on the roster next year. 

Darren McFadden

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    McFadden is possibly the most controversial player on this list because he is in a contract year, so if the Raiders were to restructure his contract, it would come with an extension to spread the cap hit throughout.

    McFadden is among the elite running backs in the NFL when he is healthy, but the problem is he hasn't played more than 13 games in a season.

    Looking at another Bay Area team, the Golden State Warriors had a similar situation with their best player, Stephen Curry.  The Warriors decided to risk it and sign Curry to a long-term contract, paying him $11 million a year, and he has helped lead the team to a playoff push.  Curry has missed some games with an ankle injury, but nothing major.

    Should the Raiders follow the Warriors model and extend McFadden's contract and hope he stays healthy, or should the Raiders let McFadden's contract expire after this season and let him walk?

Tyvon Branch

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    Branch was signed to a long-term contract last year after he was given the franchise tag, and his cap number this year will be $10.9 million.

    I would give him the same ruling as Michael Huff because Branch is also versatile, as he can play either safety position, and with how weak the Raiders secondary is, it would be that much worse if Branch and his 100-plus tackles per season were released.

    Branch is not the best strong safety in the NFL and maybe he isn't worth that high of a cap hit, but the Raiders are going to have to bite the bullet on Branch and pay up in 2013.

Rolando McClain

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    It is almost not even worth the time to do a slide on McClain after the crash and burn that was his 2012 season, including a suspension from the team and being demoted to the scout team fullback in practice after an argument with Dennis Allen.

    McClain would be a cap hit of over $6.6 million in 2013 and has a base salary of over $4 million.  Perhaps a pay cut would have been possible before he tainted his relations with the team, but now his future is most likely not in Oakland.

    He will be the easiest player on this list to see pack his bags and leave town.

Mike Brisiel

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    The first big free-agent signing of Reggie McKenzie's tenure with the Raiders may be one of McKenzie's next players to cut.

    Brisiel was supposed to help the Raiders transfer to the zone-blocking scheme, but that operation failed miserably.  

    Even if Brisiel and the offensive line were good with the zone scheme, that scheme is gone now and the power-blocking scheme returns to Oakland.

    With a cap number of over $5 million and a scheme change coming to Oakland, it is likely that Brisiel could be cut.  It is also possible that McKenzie will want to see if Brisiel can fit into power blocking just to see if there is any way to validate his first major free-agent signing.

Sebastian Janikowski

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    Janikowski will have a cap number of $5.1 million for 2013, which is high for any kicker in the NFL, but there is no kicker I would rather have for my team than Janikowski.

    Especially with the struggles of the offense last year, Janikowski's value was put on full display as he was able to convert field goals from seemingly anywhere on the field.  "Sea Bass" also shares the NFL record for longest field goal at 63 yards, and he could one day own that record himself.

    But paying a kicker over $5 million may sound out of whack to a certain someone.  McKenzie seems ready to move on from Shane Lechler—is Sea Bass safe?