Not even the most fervent Oakland Raider haters can deny the fact this team is on the rise in the recent past.
That said, Al Davis and new head coach Hue Jackson still have some serious holes to fill on this team in order to get them back to being a legitimate playoff threat.
Some of the team deficiencies have already been addressed in the draft, but still more exist.
What are those holes? Who are the free-agent players that can fill those holes?
Those are questions I will address with this slideshow.
Let's discuss a few things first...
The Raider defense needs to continue growing to match the improvement on the offense.
Every member of Raider Nation knows what the primary weaknesses were in 2010.
For those of you who don't, listen up.
1. Run Defense: The Raiders were ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed last season. This was mostly due to poor tackling by the linebackers and safeties and a soft scheme by ousted defensive coordinator John Marshall.
2. Pass Protection: The rushing offense was one of the league's best, but Jason Campbell spent more time running for his life than he did reading defenses and delivering the ball to open receivers.
Addressing these areas should be the number one priority for Al Davis and the coaching staff.
Now, on to finding talent that will help improve these areas...
Rocky McIntosh is sure to test the "Free agent waters"—assuming the lockout ever ends!
Along with London Fletcher and LeRon Landry, Rocky McIntosh leads the Redskins defense.
In 2010, McIntosh turned in 110 tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery.
McIntosh could become a restricted free agent (depending on a new collective bargaining agreement), so the Redskins would have the right to give him a tender offer.
That could make it difficult and expensive to sign him.
McIntosh never looked fully comfortable in the Redskins 3-4, and he would be a drastic upgrade over Quentin Groves at "Will" or weak side linebacker.
Manny Lawson is a run stopping beast, but would be better in coverage that Quentin Groves.
Manny Lawson is not known for his coverage skills, but he'd be an upgrade over Groves or Trevor Scott.
In 2010, Lawson tallied 59 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. Not spectacular, but solid nonetheless.
Lawson's speed and athleticism, combined with a nose for the ball and a high motor, would make him an upgrade on the outside over Groves and Scott.
His experience would make him a better option than second-year player Travis Goethel.
Clint Session is a solid, all-around linebacker that would upgrade the Raiders' coverage.
Clint Session is one of those players that never hits the front page of the sports page, but his teammates have nothing but rave reviews for him.
I know that Session isn't known for being an elite coverage linebacker, but he's far better than anyone the Raiders have on the roster (with the possible exception of Thomas Howard, whose other faults are too numerous to allow him in the lineup).
Getting Session wouldn't be my first choice for outside linebacker, and I'm betting the Colts will want to keep him.
However, we all know how Al Davis can make players "offers they can't refuse."
Tyson Clabo is an elite tackle in the league.
If Al Davis were to break the bank to get just one free agent this offseason, Tyson Clabo would be my first choice.
However, the Atlanta Falcons will not make it easy on any team that wants Clabo. But, you and I both know that Davis will only take that as a challenge!
Clabo would solidify the offensive tackle spot for several years to come and dramatically improve the Raiders' horrible pass protection.
Even though he's playing on the right side for the Falcons, Clabo has the tools to take the blind side and send second-year player Jared Veldheer to the right side or even to guard.
Whatever the case, Clabo would be a huge upgrade for the Raiders' offensive line.
Daryn Colledge has some new jewerly, but is a new team in his future too?
Daryn Colledge is not known for his run blocking, but his pass protection is pretty darn good.
Coming off a Super Bowl championship, the Packers have invested heavily on younger offensive linemen such as Brian Bulaga, T.J. Lang and 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod.
With that much young talent on the offensive line, it's likely the Packers will tend to other, more pivotal free agents at other positions.
Colledge isn't my first choice, but he could still be the missing piece for the Raiders' interior offensive line.
Marshall Yanda had somewhat of a breakout year in Baltimore.
Marshall Yanda is a versatile offensive lineman that is equally comfortable at guard and tackle.
Yanda started all 16 regular season games and both playoff games for the Ravens at right tackle. He came in for the injured Jared Gaither and did an excellent job.
At 27, Yanda is still young, just now entering his prime. His versatility would give the Raiders options to mix and match the offensive linemen to find the right combination.
What the heck, if you're trying to make your team better, you might as well make it younger at the same time.
Dawan Landry is a bit lacking in coverage, but would greatly improve the Raiders' tackling.
Dawan Landry showed last season that he is a solid tackler but still struggles in coverage.
With Michael Huff slated to hit the free-agent market, the Raiders staff may not be sold on Stevie Brown and Mike Mitchell, so another safety will be needed.
Being coached up by Kevin Ross and Rod Woodson would go a long way to improve Landry's suspect coverage skills. Perhaps, his willingness to hit and his ability to tackle would rub off the the rest of the defensive backs.
Charlie Peprah substituted admirably for the injury prone Atari Bigby.
Charlie Peprah is not a household name, but he is a solid young safety that could grow a lot under the tutelage of Kevin Ross.
In 2010, Peprah replaced the oft-injured Atari Bigby and did a nice job for the Packers in their run to a world championship.
Assuming the Packers remain committed to Bigby (also a free agent), Peprah will be a relatively inexpensive safety to help the Raiders' struggling run defense improve.
Uhhh...wow! What was I saying again?
Allow me to be clear, I'm not suggesting that any of these players would cure the Raiders' ills. Just that they would all be an upgrade over the talent that is currently on the team.
Also, it's likely that most of these players will be offered lucrative contracts by their current team. Seriously, do you see Ryan Clabo not being offered a contract by the Falcons?
However, if Oakland could sign one or two of these men, the Raiders would be instantly improved from a talent perspective.
Getting them to gel and fit together as a team is an entirely different topic for a separate article.
Raider Nation can only hope Al Davis, the front office and head coach Hue Jackson can get together, decide on the players they covet, then work hard to bring in the right players to upgrade this team that is sitting on the verge of a return to greatness.
What do you say Raider Nation? Who do you like? Who do you not like? Who would you add? Who would you leave off this list?
What players do you think have the "commitment to excellence" to get the Raiders back into a position where they can "just win baby" with "pride and poise"?
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