With the CBA coming oh so close to expiring, most are focusing on what this might mean long term (a possible lockout). Meanwhile, the Raiders have been smart enough to focus on what it means now.
If the sides allow this CBA to expire and no new CBA has been reached, all offseason activities except for the NFL draft will be put on hold. That means teams will no longer be able to re-sign their free agent players, nor will they be able to sign free agents from other teams. While this may not sound like a big deal, it has major implications for a team like the Raiders who have a large number of free agents and are attempting to build off of a strong season in 2010.
We cannot assume that any of the players who are not signed before the CBA expires will be on our team next year. We have no idea when free agency will occur or what kind of competition for these guys we will face. That is a major problem when you consider the fact that it would mean the Raiders would be forced to enter the NFL draft without knowing if they will need to replace their starting tight end, backup running back, starting safety, or starting cornerback.
In his list of the Top 10 AFC West free agents, ESPN blogger Bill Williamson dedicated half of the list to Oakland Raiders, including who he believes to be the top two free agents in the AFC West in Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller. With so much at stake in these free agents, it would be wise for the Raiders to diminish the unknown and lock some of these guys up now.
Knowing where the team stands with regards to at least a couple of these key positions before the draft would enable the Raiders brass to focus on actual needs for the team as opposed to potential needs. Additionally, if the Raiders take for granted that we can bring these players back, then fails to do so, we could end up with some major holes in our roster and few options to fill them.
Who should the Raiders focus on signing before the March 4 deadline?
While most have focused on the fact that the Raiders have given out rather large contracts this offseason, few have discussed the fact that they are actually signing contracts. No other teams have made as many moves to solidify their roster this offseason as the Raiders have and while I may not agree with the sizes of the contracts, these players needed to be signed.
If the Raiders want to continue building off of the success they saw last season, it is important that they continue to try and sign core players right up to the CBA expires. Signing guys like Zach Miller, Michael Bush, Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff before this deadline will guarantee continuity and allow the Raiders to focus on other areas, such as the offensive line, when the draft rolls around.
UPDATE: Reports are surfacing that Robert Gallery has decided not to return to the Raiders. It appears as though he had a conversation with Al Davis after which he made his decision. Who wants to bet he is going to wind up in Seattle?
UPDATE 2: The NFL owners and the NFLPA have agreed to a 24hour extension on the new CBA talks. Personally, I do not think that this means anything in terms of coming to an agreement. The sides still appear to be too far apart. However, it is 24 more hours that the Raiders can use to sign their free agents, lets hope they take advantage.
UPDATE 3: Reports are now surfacing that there has been a 7-10 day extension of talks. This give the Raiders even more time to solidify their roster and be prepared for the NFL draft.
Additionally, the Jacksonville Jaguars' leading receiver, Mike Sims-Walker, tweeted what appeared to be a good bye message to Jags fans yesterday. The tweet, which went up Thursday night read: "its official, I personally wanna thank all the fans who stuck with me in Jacksonville for the last 4 years but sorry to say my time is up!!" This is big news for a team like the Raiders who need a #1 receiver. I had previously wanted them to sign a vet who could help mentor the young corps of receivers that the Raiders already have, however, when a guy like Sims-Walker becomes available, he is always worth a look. Sims-Walker is a young, big bodied receiver who is a deep threat. His size would be a big compliment to the Raiders receiving corps and would clearly be the best receiver on the team. If the Raiders can sign Walker, especially before the CBA expires, it would be a massive coup for the the team.