Oakland Raiders 2011 Offseason: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
After the lockout ended, Raider fans felt it was a matter of time before a few things happened:
1) We'd lose Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff in free agency.
2) We'd re-sign Michael Bush and Zach Miller.
3) We would add a veteran or two to both the offensive line and the wide receiver corps.
Well, much like many things that transpired around the NFL after the lockout ended, some of the speculation was correct, and some was quite far off.
We did lose Nnamdi, but surprisingly we re-signed Michael Huff to a hefty contract.
We did re-sign Michael Bush. But in what I consider to be the biggest blow of the offseason, we lost Zach Miller. I'll expand on this later, but what alarmed me here was how the Raiders prioritized their players, and not necessarily losing Miller per se.
Many people ran for their swords when we lost Aso and Miller, dumped a bunch of money on guys like Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley and Huff, and Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford were injured early in training camp.
All of the good will fostered by last season's success seemed ready to blow up, and panic has begun to set in for some.
Personally, I don't see it. I'm not going to profess we are better at corner or tight end after losing our two most productive players, but I am also not sticking needles in my eyes either.
There is plenty of good to go with the bad and ugly. Turn the page to find out what I mean.
The Good: Re-Signing Key Pieces
As I mentioned before, we did re-sign the two Michaels, Huff and Bush, and they are both in camp and making plays.
Apparently the Huff-Cowboys hat thing was much ado about nothing, which is a little surprising, but it's still better than Hiram Eugene.
Bush, in particular, has been an animal in camp. He's always been lauded for his size and strength, but this year he seems to have retained that strength while shedding a few pounds and getting quicker and more explosive. Michael Bush with the same skill set, only faster and more agile? Yes, please.
We also locked up Stanford Routt, Richard Seymour and Kamerion Wimbley for multiple years, meaning the defensive core will be intact for a few years yet.
Of course, the nature of the deals given to these men without the forethought of the new world NFL caused some serious issues, which I'll touch on in a few moments. But, we've got them at least, and they did all restructure said deals when needed.
While we have yet to re-sign Langston Walker in the wake of Jared Gaither's failed visit to Oakland, we did lock up Samson Satele to compete with rookie Stefan Wisniewski at center and add depth on the line.
Satele is much maligned in Raider Nation, but having a proven veteran on the squad who can step in after this limited offseason is something that is imperative in the new world NFL, and Satele can also play guard. He gives the team depth if nothing else.
So while we were unable to retain our top two free agents, we did retain some key pieces that should help the team push for a division title. The defense, in particular, looks poised and ready to wreak some havoc.
The Bad: Losing Asomugha and Miller
Despite hopeful speculation that the Raiders could adjust to their disastrous salary cap situation and re-work enough deals to re-sign Nnamdi Asomugha, it was honestly never going to happen.
The writing was on the wall when the Raiders overpaid Stanford Routt with a $10 million per season contract before they even knew what the NFL landscape would look like after a new CBA was reached.
The writing was further on the wall when Nnamdi, a California native who attended Berkley and has numerous charitable endeavours in the State, wondered when his home team was going to make a serious offer to him. Apparently, they never did.
The writing screamed from the rafters when the Raiders drafted DeMarcus Van Dyke in the third round and Chimdi Chekwa in the fourth. Both are corners, and two corners drafted last season, Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden, are also on the roster. They've been insulating themselves against this for some time.
The Raiders know Nnamdi better than anyone, so why would they build a contract for him that would void if he didn't reach certain numbers? Numbers he'd reached only once in his career because of the nature of his game.
They never intended to bring him back. Al Davis made it clear to me when he said "with the money we'd pay him we could get two or three players." Clearly, the value for Nnamdi wasn't evident to the Raiders.
He was loyal to us during lean years; we rewarded him with over $30 million the last two. Nobody owed anyone anything at this point.
However, Zach Miller was owed something from the Raiders. Despite playing injured, and despite having no appreciable outside help and seeing more coverage per game than some TEs see in an entire season, the Raiders apparently saw fit to wait on signing their best offensive player until other less important pieces were taken care of.
I was upset when Miller left for Seattle, because he'd made it clear he wanted to be here, and hinted that he felt perhaps Oakland didn't want him as much as he wanted them. He's one of my favourite players, and I was disappointed to see him go.
I wasn't, however, disappointed once I saw how much money Seattle was paying him. I knew we couldn't match that, that Kevin Boss was available, and that we could get him far cheaper.
Boss and rookie WR David Ausberry have been showing they are capable of replacing Miller, but we still should've handled the situation better.
Losing Miller was very disappointing because it never seemed like a realistic possibility until it actually happened, but if it came down to money, the Raiders simply couldn't match Seattle due to some poor management.
The Ugly: The Nnamdi, Wimbley, Seymour and Routt Contracts. Oh My!
I already mentioned that the Raiders had Nnamdi under contract, but had built the contract around incentives that, based on his track record and statistics, Nnamdi was never going to reach. Therefore, instead of having Nnamdi under contract this season, the contract instead voided and made him an unrestricted free agent.
He has subsequently taken his talents to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, to the Eagles so called "Dream Team."
A similar situation occurred with Kamerion Wimbley's contract, though the Raiders inherited that one from the Cleveland Browns so they can be forgiven. But it's not too much to ask a franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars to vet the contract of incoming players to see if there are any clauses that can bite them down the road.
The Raiders should have been aware that Wimbely's rookie contract was going to void and signed him to a reasonable extension as soon as the issue came up. Instead, they waited, and his contract did indeed void. Rather than risk losing him, the Raiders were then forced to slap the franchise tag on Wimbley.
This had a two-fold effect. First, it meant that Wimbley would be due over $11 million this season as the franchise player, and while good, he's not worth that money. Not when Nnamdi and Miller needed to be re-signed.
Second, it meant that the franchise tag couldn't apply to Miller. The Raiders were hoping that, after the new CBA, the standard for becoming a UFA would still be six years of service and therefore Miller would be a restricted free agent, the Raiders could tender him, and things would be peachy.
Instead, it is now an accrued four years, Miller became a UFA, the franchise tag was already used, the Raiders didn't have enough money to compete with Seattle, and Miller is gone.
A major reason the Raiders didn't have enough money was due to some questionable decisions prior to the lockout. Without anyone knowing what the financial landscape of the NFL would be post lockout, and therefore with teams being prudent and shying away from re-signing anyone until they knew the landscape, the Raiders bucked the trend and threw huge money at both Stanford Routt and Richard Seymour.
To me it's embarrassing that two players who signed contracts less than six months ago had to renegotiate those same contracts just to get the Raiders under the salary cap.
The void clauses in the contracts not being addressed coupled with too much money thrown around at an uncertain time left the Raiders handcuffed when the lockout finally ended, and as a result they were never even in contention to keep their two best players, nor sign a top-tier free agent.
The poor financial management has been around a while, but this time it actually cost the Raiders more than money.
The Good: Plenty of Competition on the Offensive Line
In a testament to the popularity of Coach Tom Cable, Robert Gallery sprinted from Oakland to Seattle as fast as he could to sign with the Seahawks. Miller, too, cited Cable as a reason to go to Seattle.
Yes, he was a good guy. A bad coach, but a good guy. All the best.
Anyhow, Gallery's departure leaves a void at left guard for the first time in many moons. Last season, Daniel Loper stepped in while Gallery was injured and played adequately, but no more than that.
The offensive line had huge success opening holes in the run game, as the Raiders marched to the No. 2 rushing rank in the NFL.
However, they had virtually no success in protecting their quarterbacks. This season, Hue Jackson wants to continue the transition from dainty zone-blocking to hardcore power-blocking. He wants to build a bully on the line.
Well, there are currently 12 offensive lineman fighting for roster spots, so there are plenty of bodies to choose from.
Right now the most heated competition looks to be at center, where the re-signed Samson Satele's experience is giving him the edge over 2nd round draft choice Stefan Wisniewski. Many in Raider Nation wanted to plug Wisniewski in as the automatic starter, but if he isn't ready, he isn't ready.
A piece of disappointment came in the form of a knee injury to physical beast Bruce Campbell, who many are intrigued to see on the field. He played sporadically last season, but showed some talent. He's a physical specimen who has the build and athleticism to play either guard or tackle.
Another piece of disappointment came when Jared Gaither either failed a physical, or wanted too much money to come to the Raiders. I tend to believe it was a physical issue, because if not why hasn't anyone else attempted to sign him? Gaither would've given the Raiders another piece to compete, and a player who has shown he can be incredible when healthy and motivated.
Regardless, that left the Raiders with Jared Veldheer at left tackle. While I think Veldheer has talent, he didn't pass protect well at all last season at LT and needs to step up significantly for Raider fans to even feel comfortable dropping back to pass.
The Raiders also signed Stephon Heyer, a starter in Washington who can play both tackle and guard and right now is looking good to take over at left guard to start the season.
Hue Jackson has constantly stressed the best five guys will be on the field, and at least at this point he has the numbers and skill within those numbers to get tough competition and suss out the best players on the line.
There are many players who can play multiple positions. While it may not be the most glamourous, this line looks to have the depth and versatility to be successful.
The Bad: No Clarity on the Offensive Line
While I stressed in the previous slide that it's great to have multiple bodies to compete for positions on your football team, at this stage in the game it's also nice to have an idea of who may start on the line.
At present, the Raiders have one clear-cut starter on the OL, and that's LT Jared Veldheer. And that, unfortunately, is by default.
Last year's line was: Veldheer, Robert Gallery (LG), Samson Satele (C), Cooper Carlisle (RG), Langston Walker (RT)
At present, the line looks to be: Veldheer, Stephon Heyer, Satele, Carlisle, and Khalif Barnes.
However, only Veldheer is getting first team reps at the same position consistently. Everyone else, including Satele who I thought was exclusively a center, has played at least two positions. Some have played all five.
So while the numbers and competition are nice, at this stage in the game it's slightly unnerving to have only 20 percent of your line set, with uncertainty and competition among rookies, inexperienced players, and marginal veterans making up the other 80 percent.
We should have a better idea after tonight what the line may look like.
The Ugly: The Cable Effect
Coach Tom Cable did some things while in Oakland.
First, as offensive line coach, he instituted a zone blocking scheme that showed immediate dividend.
He mediated a dispute between Lance Kiffin and Al Davis, ingratiating himself with Mr. Davis and coming out the interim head coach as a result.
He bought into the Raider company line and was a company man to the fullest extent, toeing the line and mastering the art of saying many words while having no substance. The perfect Raider parrot.
He brought an enthusiasm and want to win back to Oakland after years of malaise during which we actually brought a Bed & Breakfast owner out of retirement to run our offense. Things seemed more professional and workmanlike.
He got players to buy in to him, his system, and his personality. He won over players and coaching staff, and even Raider fans who didn't like him as a football coach had to concede his enthusiasm was contagious and he seemed to be a good guy.
He smashed Randy Hanson's face off a table.
Yep, he did some things while he was here.
It's what he's done since leaving that I don't like.
Instrumental in turning around perceived bust Robert Gallery and making him into a good NFL guard, he fostered a good relationship with Gallery. Thus, when Cable was unceremoniously fired after the 2010 season, the first non-losing season in Oakland in seven years, Gallery was very upset.
Zach Miller, as he mentioned, was also upset. Guys along the offensive line loved Cable. He was their guy; they were his. The love was there. They all felt betrayed by the firing.
And now? Gallery and Miller are both in Seattle, under the tutelage of the man who they said never got a fair shot in Oakland and whom they both credit for being a huge part of their personal success.
While Miller's leaving was more financial than anything, his decision to land in Seattle was in large part due to Cable's presence there. Had Cable not been there? Perhaps Miller would've taken less to stay in Oakland.
While Gallery is replaceable he was still a good offensive lineman, and now the line is in flux. Cable may not have done everything we wanted him to do here, and having Hue Jackson as coach is certainly a step up, but losing Gallery and Miller to Cable stings just a little bit.
The Good: Denarius Moore and Others WR's Shining in Camp
Two years ago, it was Louis Murphy.
Last year, Jacoby Ford.
This year, another late round WR, fifth-rounder Denarius Moore, is turning heads and impressing people on a daily basis in training camp.
While first round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey is playing well in camp, the Raiders seem to do better with receivers that are a little more under the radar and taken later in the draft.
Heyward-Bey has yet to produce at a level close to late round choices Murphy or Ford, and Moore appears to be outplaying him in camp as well.
Chaz Schilens, another late round selection by the Raiders who has been extremely productive during the short windows he's healthy, has been in beast mode this camp, is fully healthy for what he says is the first time in four years, and is looking like the No. 1 WR we always state he can be as long as he stays on the field.
Even though DHB hasn't been off the charts like Moore, reports of his play from camp are very encouraging and both he and Hue Jackson seem to think he's ready to step up this season. He needs to, or needs to go. No more chances.
Not when kids like Moore need reps. Jacoby Ford, sidelined with a broken hand but expected to be ready for the regular season, knows that all too well.
The unofficial depth chart right now has DHB and Ford as the starters with Murphy and Schilens backing them up. Realistically, I see the depth chart as Murphy and Schilens starting, with Ford, DHB and Moore as backups.
Veterans Chad Jackson and Derrick Hagan, not expected to make the roster, are both having great camps as well and could sneak past Nick Miller onto the roster, adding depth and experience at a position that has been very unproductive for the Raiders over the last decade or so.
The Bad: DHB Still Going to Steal Reps
Many people know, and yell at me for, my love for DHB. Something about the kid's persona, attitude, and work ethic just make me like him, despite the fact that deep in my heart I know he's a bust thus far and we wasted a pick on him.
I want him to succeed so badly that I may be as guilty as Al Davis of pushing him ahead of more deserving players.
As the depth chart shows, DHB is starting. Now, this is a preseason depth chart that'll probably change more often than a woman on a night out, but still. He's starting, and the person he's starting over isn't Jacoby Ford. It's Louis Murphy.
It's safe to infer from that that last season, when DHB and Ford were on the field as the X and Y, it was DHB, and not Ford, who was taking snaps away from the more productive Murphy.
That's not good. This team cannot afford to force things, not after the run of futility of the last few seasons. Yet DHB seems to be one of those pet projects Al just can't let go of, and needs to see come to fruition.
Why else go so far as to release a statement in the press last year about how DHB is a great player and he was going to break out in 2010? A release that, in retrospect, looks petty, childish, and pretty ridiculous based on his actual—lack of—production in 2010.
It's time now for DHB to earn his playing time and not be gifted it just because he's another Al Davis trust fund baby that the man needs to satiate his ego. Al has certainly scaled things back in recent years, but the DHB situation is eerily familiar and just smacks of Davis ego validation.
If he's playing well, awesome. Get him out there. He's got an incredibly size-speed combination and could do some damage. But no more snaking reps from better players, and certainly no more default snaps by virtue of being a highly paid, highly drafted pet project.
I couldn't think of anything else that was really "ugly" in regards to the offseason.
To me, the main ugliness lay in losing some players we wanted to keep as a result of poor money management and poorly negotiated contracts.
Once that was over with, we were left with essentially the same team that improved leaps and bounds last season, less our best players on both sides of the ball.
But they are replaceable.
Kevin Boss actually has more touchdowns than Miller during the same timeframe, and averages more yards per catch. Granted the Giants and Eli Manning have been much better than the Raiders and their cadre of quarterbacks, but Boss isn't a huge drop off from Miller.
He's also bigger, stronger, and a better blocker. I love Miller, but Boss could actually prove to be a better all-around TE than Miller. He won't be as dynamic in the passing game; but his versatility will be a huge asset.
Nnamdi will be replaced by a combination of Chris Johnson, Stanford Routt, DVD, Chekwa, Ware and McFadden. Thus far CJ and Routt are the clear-cut top two CB's. Philip Rivers actually stated that the Raiders wouldn't lose too much in Nnamdi because CJ and Routt are both excellent cover corners.
Plus, Nnamdi was so good that teams simply stopped throwing his way. While that shut down a side of the field, it also limited the defense in the plays they could make and turnovers they could go after.
With Nnamdi gone and Chuck Bresnahan and Rod Woodson there talk has sprung up of going to multiple defensive looks and sets. Without Nnamdi to shut down a full side of the field, it makes sense.
While it's never good to lose your two best players, there are ways around it, and I see them on this roster and in the game plan. I'm excited; it starts tonight with a good showing against Arizona.
Thanks as always for reading, and remember all comments whether good, bad, or ugly are welcome!