It's that time of year again. Time for Al Davis, Hue Jackson and the Oakland Raiders' scouting staff to get to work finding new blood to add to the team in an attempt to build upon the improvement made last season.
With several needs on the team, the Oakland front office needs to be smart and bring in players that fit the system and fill needs.
The days of building your team only through the draft are over. A team must sign free agents to get better, faster. The right mix of veterans and rookies can turn a bad team into a good one almost over night.
Everyone in Raider Nation and beyond knows what positions the Raiders need to fill, but which will be filled with veterans and which will be filled with rookies?
Since I've already highlighted some rookies in my previous article, let's take a look at some potential free agents that can help the Raiders continue the trend of improvement they started last year...
Logan Mankins is a dominant pass blocker that would solidify the Raiders' right side.
Much was made about Logan Mankins being unhappy in New England and holding out last year. He eventually signed his tender offer and played in 2010.
Mankins now has the opportunity to test the free agent market to find the best deal.
Pursuing Mankins makes a lot of sense for Oakland because signing him will do several key things:
1. Improve the talent at guard. Cooper Carlisle will become expendable and the play at right guard will be greatly increased.
2. It will allow Al Davis and Hue Jackson to use the Raiders first pick in the draft on another position—such as center or offensive tackle.
3. Mankins has been there and won that. The veteran experience he would bring will be invaluable to the growth of young players like Bruce Campbell and Jared Veldeer.
Although he's likely to demand a lot of money, Mankins would help the Raiders immeasurably.
Harvey Dahl is a special breed of nasty. Perfect for the Raiders.
Harvey Dahl is half of one of the best run blocking tandems in the NFL. Along with Tyson Clabo, Dahl helped anchor the Atlanta Falcons running game that took them to the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Signing Dahl will do the same as signing Mankins in many respects, but without the championship experience.
Dahl is a much better run blocker than Mankins and is more than adequate in pass protection.
The biggest advantage to signing Dahl is financial. Dahl is not likely to garner as much money as Mankins. This may make him a better pick up in the long run.
Tyson Clabo can put most defensive ends on their butts.
Tyson Clabo is the other half of the dominant run blocking tandem I spoke of in the previous slide.
Clabo came into the league as an undrafted free agent, but has matured into an amazing run blocker and an above average pass blocker.
The Falcons will likely be pushing harder to retain Clabo than Dahl which means the cost might go up. However, knowing the right tackle spot is filled with a great player may make it worth the price.
If the Raiders could sign both Clabo and Dahl, it would create instant chemistry on the right side of the line. Nothing is more important for an offensive line.
Jared Gaither should be hungry after missing the 2010 season with a back injury.
Jared Gaither is a player I'm not completely sold on, but most of my readers have been shouting for him to come to Oakland for nearly a year.
I figured I better include him in this list or face the wrath of Raider Nation!
Wanting Gaither and getting him are two very different things. A couple of things may get in the way.
1. He has recently expressed his desire to stay in Baltimore. This means he may be willing to play on the right side and be paid accordingly to stay in Baltimore.
2. Any team that lures him away from Baltimore is going to pay a high price. Whether he's worth the money or not, with all the important players the Raiders need to resign, they may not have the money.
Whatever the case, Gaither would certainly be an upgrade at either tackle spot, but the money it will take to get him may be an insurmountable obstacle.
Ryan Kalil may be the best player on a bad Panthers' team.
Acquiring Ryan Kalil will not be easy. The Panthers are well aware of how important he will be should they want to return to being a winning franchise.
However, when Al Davis puts his sights on a player, money is not an issue. Therefore, Kalil may receive an offer he simply can't refuse.
A dominant run blocker with the speed and agility to snap the ball, then pull out to lead a sweep, Kalil is an elite center in the league.
Signing Kalil would be an amazing feat, but could prove to be the move of the century if Oakland can make it happen.
Olin Kreutz has been to six Pro Bowls as a center.
Even though he's a bit "long in the tooth," Olin Kreutz is still a top-shelf center in the NFL.
The Bears have good depth on the offensive line and could survive losing Kreutz's services. This may make Kreutz a viable replacement for Samson Satele.
Superb technique and a wealth of knowledge will make Kreutz a fantastic signing for whichever team spends the money and signs him.
Why not Oakland?
Chad Ochocinco is currently changing his last name back to Johnson.
One of the big trends on Twitter recently was that Chad Ochocinco was changing his name back to Johnson.
Some pundits took that to mean he knows he won't be wearing the No. 85 next season—that he'll be leaving Cincinnati.
Raider fans further speculated this was because he wanted to come to Oakland and knew that Darius Heyward-Bey already had that number.
You can call him what you'd like—Ochocinco, Johnson, cocky, mouthy, flamboyant, irritating or flashy, but you can't call him lazy.
The one thing you should be calling him is "productive."
His experience has already rubbed off on young players like Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson. They will both tell you that they are better players because of "85."
Giving him the opportunity to be "the guy" again and allowing him to teach the young talent of the Raiders' receiving corps will only serve to make the entire offense better.
James Jones has made a name for himself and the Packers may not be able to resign him.
All James Jones seems to do is make big catches in critical moments.
It's very likely that Jones will want to be paid like a starting wide receiver. Many "experts" doubt the Packers will be willing to do that with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver already making big bucks.
This means there's a good chance the Raiders will have a shot at signing Jones as their No. 1 receiver.
He's young, talented and has great hands. All the things you look for in a wide receiver. He's also not likely to demand the money Chad Johnson or Steve Breaston will.
I say Davis and the Raiders should make a serious run at this guy.
Brent Grimes didn't play like the undrafted free agent he was.
With the signing of Dunta Robinson, many in the NFL world forgot there was another cornerback on the Falcons. His name is Brent Grimes.
Grimes, an undrafted free agent, finished second in the league in passes defensed and help lead a much improved Falcons' defense.
Assuming the Falcons don't slap the franchise tag on him, or another team offers him the moon, Grimes will improve any secondary he plays for in 2011.
Johnathan Joseph will make a nice addition for any team.
After having a breakout year in 2009, Johnathan Joseph took a step backward in 2010—the entire Bengals team did for that matter.
Joseph is a player that can do it all. Solid in man-to-man coverage, disciplined in zone and a strong tackler that supports the run extremely well.
Assuming the Raiders pull out all the stops to resign Nnamdi Asomugha, adding Joseph would make the Raiders' secondary even better than it already is.
These players aren't the marquis players Raider Nation would like to see in Oakland, but they can still improve the Raiders.
Some of these players would only be moderate upgrades for Oakland, but there's no such thing as too much experienced depth.
I've profiled a "wish list" of free agent players that would greatly improve the Raiders at key positions. Some will be available for the right price.
Unfortunately, a lot of these players will be resigned by their current team before they even hit the open market. Those that aren't retained by their current team should be pursued by Al Davis and the Raider front office.
Whatever the case, any of the 20 players I mentioned would help the team and be at least moderate upgrades over the Raiders' incumbent players at those positions.
What do you say? Who did I miss? Who would you most like to see wearing Silver and Black in 2011? Let's hear it in the comments.