Al Davis has a lengthy to-do list this offseason.
As usual, fixing the offense is a puzzle Al will grapple to solve. The last few seasons have not shown much improvement. We have to wonder what, if anything, Al will do to at least try and fix the root of the problem. That being too much underachievement and not enough talent on the roster.
First he will have to decide if he is keeping head coach Tom Cable.
In all likelihood, he will not fire Cable. Reason being, he has already gathered input from the players. He knows they back Cable. Not that there isn’t room for improvement, but in the end, a strong preference for coaching continuity prevails.
Cable has managed to create a lot of distractions in 2009. If he had won 10 games and won the division, all of this might be overlooked or even help label him more of a Raider Mystique type of guy. Instead, Cable has been vilified by the media and fans that don’t like the off-field distractions any more than Al Davis does.
There are not a lot of fans that like Cable. It is a more of a willingness to put up with him for the sake of stopping the coaching carousel.
Count on Cable staying on at least another year. My opinion is that Cable should make Ted Tollner the offensive coordinator. His current title of "passing game coordinator" is a half-baked role, and it is obvious Cable is out of his depth as a play caller. Hand the ball to Tollner, an experienced offensive coach who is more than capable to call plays and have control over the offense.
The issue of QB JaMarcus Russell and his slow development as a professional won’t be decided until mini-camp in the spring and then onwards to training camp come summer.
My bet here is Al will try and find a veteran QB to truly challenge Russell and also bring in a draft pick and/or free agent. Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye are additional options to keep around, and no doubt Al appreciates the players' solid play when called into duty.
In the end, however, Al realizes he has to look for more robust options since Russell can’t be relied on and Gradkowski may not be a long-term answer. Frye definitely isn’t. Frye’s best chance to make the team in 2010 would be as third string.
With keeping Russell, it’s not about the money anymore. Russell’s salary is a lot to simply give away, but Al is funny when it comes to paying players. If a guy does not live up to his contract, he tries to restructure.
Considering the legal difficulty of forcing a player to do that, we can expect Al to eat the JaMarcus money and move forward. With some players, he has leverage to restructure, but JaMarcus is in his own category. Al knows it and will likely abide by the legal obligations in this case.
A lot of money has been sunk into the offensive line over the past few seasons, but it has not been enough. Still, we can’t expect the offensive line to be rebuilt entirely in 2010. Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle will likely stay on with their sizeable contracts at guard. Mario Henderson will be pushed to improve at left tackle.
There has to be a high draft pick for a right tackle and a center that will come through. If Cable still backs Cornell Green at right tackle and somehow convinces Al of this, then that is a sign of doom for next season. It is hard to figure that they will consider centers Samson Satele or Chris Morris as an answer after a weak 2009 showing.
Proven free agents have to be brought in to compete at every O-line position. There must be depth there, or the offense will suffer. Even with a mobile QB, it’s not enough.
More, and better, receivers need to be involved. If Darrius Heyward-Bey is not playing like a man possessed in training camp and the preseason, then he needs to sit.
Al has to look past the investment, and his ego, concerning the possibility of having another No. 1 pick fail. Just play your best receivers. We can anticipate this will be Chaz Schillens and Louis Murphy, but more depth is needed.
Also, Oakland needs to figure out the running game already. I think we’ve seen enough to know that Justin Fargas won’t hold up an entire season. He’s a battering ram and will have games with some strong running, but Michael Bush has to get more carries. Whatever Cable does not like about Bush needs to be dismissed in favor of getting the ball into the hands of the best player available. Fargas is good, but Bush is better.
Darren McFadden is more of a slot back, so they need to figure out the best way to use him or he will have another mediocre season.
Fullback is open ground. It is debatable if they will keep Gary Russell and Luke Lawton. Marcel Reese may get another shot at winning the job. It seems likely they will draft or recruit a free agent. My feeling is that Oren O’Neal is not physically capable of resuming his once promising career. Knee injuries are tough to recover from, so he can‘t be counted on.
It would not surprise me at all if Al drafted a running back or tight end either, even though those are two positions not really of high need right now. So long as Zach Miller is healthy at tight end, they have a strong point on offense. Plus, they have two really good tight ends in Tony Stewart and Brandon Meyers.