Free Agency Will Give a Very Different Look To the 2011 Oakland Raiders

Steve LudwigContributor IJanuary 8, 2011

Bush only one of over a dozen key Oakland free agents
Bush only one of over a dozen key Oakland free agentsTim Umphrey/Getty Images

We’ve all been fixated on the coaching change in Oakland where Al Davis elected not to renew Tom Cable’s contract despite, by all accounts, the Raiders making significant, if inconsistent, progress this season. However, with the changes coming this off season to the Raiders roster, a new head coach should be of less concern than the re-signing of several key free agents.

While Raider Nation saw progress, an 8-8 season is seldom something to celebrate. A “we’re not losers any more”,(or “we don’t suck as bad as we used to”), wasn’t the mantra Davis wanted.

Letting Cable go makes sense if Davis foresaw Hue Jackson leaving for another head coaching position and determined that Jackson is more critical to Raider success going forward than Cable. If that’s the case, he should name Jackson the new head coach immediately instead of continuing to allow Jackson test the open market.

To those who are upset with the lack of consistency at the head coaching level, I say that with over 14 key contributors going into free agency, player consistency is going to be the key success factor. We’ll likely see a very different Oakland Raiders team next season.

The heart and soul of the Oakland Raiders offense has been the running game. Darren McFadden finally broke out after several injury plagued seasons.

Michael Bush proved to be a solid every down back in his absence, and a great complementary back when McFadden was healthy. The path for the running game was paved by a solid offensive line, anchored by Robert Gallery and Samson Satele.

Bush, Gallery, and Satele, along with Langston Walker and Cooper Carlisle, are all free agents. Bush has been impatiently biding his time as a back-up for several years, and will demand starter level money to stay if he can be dissuaded from leaving for a team that will let him start.

The running game was supported by a passing game that saw generally poor production from a young receiving corp. Chaz Schilens was capable, but injured most of the time, and Louis Murphy was a work in progress. Jacoby Ford showed that he can be a special player but Darrius Heyward-Bey showed nothing to warrant his first round draft status The most reliable receiver on the team continued to be Zach Miller, who is also entering free agency.

At quarterback, Jason Campbell remains under contract, but Bruce Gradkowski and Kyle Boller will likely be gone. I don’t view this as a catastrophe, as over time, Campbell has shown himself to be fairly reliable.

The Oakland defense also made significant strides this season, with Nnamdi Asomugha continuing to shut down one side of the field and Stanford Routt’s continued development. This allowed Richard Seymour, Tommy Kellly, and Kamerion Wimbley to get into opposing backfields.

Richard Seymour was given the franchise tag last season, and will again be a free agent. Pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley is also a free agent and Nnamdi Asomugha has the option to void his contract unless the Raiders guarantee him $16.8 million or the franchise value of a cornerback, whichever is higher.

It’s hard to picture the Raiders having success without the key contributions of Bush, Miller, Gallery, Seymour, Asomugha, and Wimbley.

It’s going to be very difficult to keep them all although I can see Davis throwing money at Asomugha, Seymour, and Miller.  Bush may very well be gone, since the team has dangled him as trade bait in the past and he would clearly like to be the starter.  Gallery is likely gone, based on his price tag and relationship with Tom Cable. This is troubling as the offensive line clearly performs much better when he’s in the lineup.

As intrigued as we all are by the coaching situation, keeping key contributors will have far more impact on the continued improvement of the Oakland Raiders.