Everyone in Oakland knows of the huge void on the offensive side of the ball. However, it’s not at quarterback, as for the first time in years, the Raiders head into the season with a clear-cut starter in Jason Campbell. And while Oakland’s wideouts are not scaring any defenses per se, the receiving corps boasts some precocious young talent that has rounded into form over the past couple of seasons.
Instead, the vacancy on offense has been created by the recent departure of tight end Zach Miller, who signed a five-year, $34 million contract as free agent with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday. Losing Miller was somewhat of a surprise; the Raiders had been working to get under the salary cap in the anticipation of retaining the Pro Bowler.
Miller’s exit, though, did not receive the hoopla or attention that the other former Raider free agent did. In losing both Miller and Nnamdi Asomugha, the Raiders lost their most consistent performers on each side of the ball. Unfortunately, Miller’s production on offense will be more sorely missed than Asomugha’s impact on defense.
With all of the turmoil at the quarterback position over the past several seasons, compounded by the lack of consistency and depth from the wideouts, Miller proved to be Oakland’s most steady and reliable receiver. Since his selection in the 2007 draft, Miller has posted team-high totals, catching 226 passes for 2,712 yards and 12 TDs over the past four seasons. His consistency and his overall improvement culminated in his first Pro Bowl selection after last season.
And it is that constancy that will be missed on the Oakland offense. Through all of the rancid quarterback play from JaMarcus Russell, Miller kept catching balls. Throughout the running game being hampered by various injuries to Darren McFadden and Michael Bush and Justin Fargas, Miller kept blocking. And with the lowly production from receivers Jerry Porter, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Javon Walker and Darrius Heyward-Bey, Miller was wide open.
Yes, through all the changes on offense, Miller remained the most consistent weapon, acting as a security blanket during Campbell’s acclimation to the Raiders system. And though Miller kept the Raiders warm during cold offensive spurts, Oakland did not make it a high enough priority to re-sign their Pro Bowl tight end. Recent signings point to the Raiders focusing on defensive upgrades rather than making additions to the offense.
But now they need to start adding.
With new head coach Hue Jackson taking the helm and controlling the offense, the Raiders need to replace the steadiness of Miller in both the passing and running games. Unfortunately for the Silver and Black, they do not possess a lot of depth at tight end.
The tight ends currently on the roster are led by third-year special teams veteran Brandon Myers, who has a mere 16 catches for his career. Next on the depth chart are rookies David Ausberry and Richard Gordon. Needless to say, there is some room to improve at this position. Rather, Oakland needs to say they should improve this position.
There has been some speculation about whether the Raiders would pursue Kevin Boss, the current free agent recently of the New York Giants. Boss, like Miller, was selected in the 2007 draft, and has been a stalwart member of the multi-faceted Giants offense. His potential led to the dismissal of incumbent Pro Bowler Jeremy Shockey, and Boss started the 2008 and ’09 campaigns as the No. 1 tight end. Last season, however, Boss regressed a bit, playing in only nine games due to injury. Still, for his career, he has put up solid numbers with 105 receptions, 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The tight end has expressed interest in having a new boss, so it would be a great fit for him to come to a budding team like the Raiders. Should Boss opt not to be bossed around by Al Davis and Co., the Raiders need to find another suitable candidate to fill Miller’s shoes. With the lack of experienced tight ends, Oakland should find a replacement for their lost offensive weapon.