As a franchise that was languishing on the edge of the salary cap heading into the league year's opening, Oakland's moves were likely financially motivated. Heyward-Bey and Huff alone combined for a cap number of a shade under $22 million, per Spotrac.
While that all won't be recouped—dead money from previous bonuses still lingers—the releases will go a long way toward giving the Raiders financial flexibility this offseason. For a team that finished 4-12 in 2012, the freedom supersedes what the three players can bring to the field.
From a football perspective, Heyward-Bey is obviously the most critical loss. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft was seemingly on the cusp of reaching his potential in 2011. He finished that campaign with 64 receptions for 975 yards, combining his track-star-level speed with an increased route-running ability and sure-handedness.
However, the Maryland product’s 2012 season is mostly remembered for a scary concussion suffered in Week 3. After taking a vicious hit from Steelers safety Ryan Mundy, Heyward-Bey was motionless and had to be carted off the field. While he admitted to blacking out over the experience, he returned to the field after missing just one game. Unfortunately, he could not regain his excellent 2011 form.
Heyward-Bey finished the 2012 season with only 41 catches for 606 yards and five touchdowns, taking a back seat to Denarius Moore and tight end Brandon Myers on the pass-catching hierarchy. With a cap figure of $10.60 million for next season, it seemed preordained that Heyward-Bey would have to restructure his contract or face being released.
The latter scenario is now in place, so Heyward-Bey will have to prove he’s worth the risk for a new franchise. With plenty of receiver-needy teams on the market and him having just turned 26 years old in February, all signs point to him having a drove of suitors this spring.