What To Do with Oakland Raiders' Key Free Agents

D.J. O'ConnorSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 16, 2013

What To Do with Oakland Raiders' Key Free Agents

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    The Oakland Raiders have a list of 17 unrestricted free agents.  We don't need to evaluate guys like Matt Leinart who are obvious candidates to not be re-signed.

    The focus of this article is to look at several of the Raiders' biggest free agents and to decide whether or not they should be brought back by Reggie McKenzie and company.  

    There are many factors to look at here, such as salary versus cap space, as well as talent and depth versus how expendable that player is.

    With those factors and more in mind, let's look at some of the Raiders' key free agents.

Phillip Wheeler

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    In the intro slide I said that Matt Leinart was an obvious choice to not be re-signed.  Wheeler is the opposite of Leinart.  Wheeler has got to be one of, if not the, most important players to be re-signed.

    Watching the Raiders defense in 2012, some fans may be skeptical about bringing back anybody from that unit.  

    But just because the unit overall was below average, that doesn't mean that guys like Phillip Wheeler, who replaced Rolando McClain as the leader of the defense with the "green dot helmet," aren't worth bringing back.

    Wheeler was a rare bright spot on the Raiders defense with over 100 tackles as well as three sacks.  He also showed that he possesses the hard-hit ability of many Raider greats with his two forced fumbles.  

    Those numbers should all improve with a second year under the same defensive coordinator and a possible switch to the 3-4 formation as their base defense.

    Another defender worth bringing back is...

Desmond Bryant

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    Much like Wheeler, Bryant was a rare bright spot on the Raiders defense, and re-signing him should be a high priority.

    Since joining the Raiders in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard, Bryant has climbed the depth chart, and he started the second half of the season in place of the injured Richard Seymour.

    In his eight starts, Bryant got himself 3.5 sacks and proved to any doubters he is ready to start.  

    His time may have come with the voiding of Richard Seymour's contract, making Seymour another free agent, and one Oakland likely won't be able to afford to bring back.

    It is also possible that Tommy Kelly could be a cap casualty.  With possibly both Kelly and Seymour leaving town, Bryant can jump from third to first on the depth chart.  

    Bryant also has played some defensive end in the NFL, so he could be helpful if Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver do decide to switch to the 3-4 defense.

Brandon Myers

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    After a breakout 2012 season, Myers may be seeking a heft pay raise from his employer.  With the Raiders cap situation being what it is, that raise might not come in Oakland.

    Myers certainly was a bright spot in the Raiders offense, leading the team with 79 receptions for 806 yards.  But considering much of the Raiders' success throwing the ball came in garbage time against prevent defenses, Myers numbers are just like Carson Palmer's 4,000-yard season: meaningless on a 4-12 team.

    If Myers were to re-sign at a fair price, I would be on board with signing him to a long-term contract.  But of all the key free agents on the team, Myers may be the most expendable.

    With David Ausberry also on the team (and cheaper than Myers), Myers is not the best pass-catching tight end on the 53-man roster.  Ausberry was drafted as a wide receiver out of USC and converted to tight end.

    With Al Saunders spending most of his time these days with the tight ends in Oakland, I have no doubt he can develop Ausberry into just as good, if not a better, pass-catcher than Myers.

    Being a tight end also requires the ability to block for the run and pass.  Myers did not do very good in either of those departments.  

    Like I said before, only re-sign Myers at the right price for a decent tight end.  The same could be said for almost any free agent, so for the sake of taking a side, I say let Myers walk.

Andre Carter and Matt Shaughnessy

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    These two free agents share a slide because the status of one of these players should directly effect the status of the other.

    Shaughnessy has been expected to be a breakout star for the last couple of offseasons, but he never seems to reach that potential many believe he has.

    After racking up 11 sacks over his first two years in the NFL, a shoulder injury ended his 2011 season after three games, and he never seemed to return to his prior form.

    He had a career low (with the exception of 2011) in sacks with 3.5 in all of 2012.  

    Carter, meanwhile, joined the team midseason to help the Raiders pass rush after being a Pro-Bowl player in New England, but he also seemed slowed by a previous injury in 2012.

    The difference between the two is that Carter showed signs of his previous self late in the year with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble, while Shaughnessy never seemed to recover fully.

    There isn't room for both of these players, especially with Lamarr Houston fortifying the other defensive end spot.  

    It is possible that one of these players accepts a rotational role on the team, coming in to spell a teammate, but if I have to pick one, I pick Carter.

    Carter can be the team leader the defense so badly needs right now with Seymour and McClain likely departing.  Carter showed he still has some gas in the tank, while Shaughnessy looks like his shoulder injury has gotten the better of him.  

Cooper Carlisle and Khalif Barnes

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    Barnes and Carlisle also share a slide because they both have the same fate.  I have both of these players leaving the Raiders.

    The picture for this slide shows the brightest moment of Barnes' career as a Raider when he lined up as a tackle-eligible and went out and caught a touchdown pass from Jason Campbell.  

    Almost any other photo you find of Barnes will show him being beat by a superior pass-rusher, or he'll be on the sideline nursing an injury that kept him out several weeks in 2012.  

    If Barnes were willing to switch to tight end, he would be a blocking upgrade over any of the Raiders' current tight ends, and he can catch the ball as seen in the picture, so he could be a secret-weapon-type of player.

    Carlisle has silently become one of the longest-tenured Raiders, calling Oakland his home since 2007, which gives him six seasons in the Silver and Black.  That's just the problem with Carlisle, he has been in the NFL for 13 years and he is going on 36 years old.  

    The Raiders drafted Tony Bergstrom as the first draft pick of the Reggie McKenzie era, so they likely want to see what he can do.  Not to sound like a broken record, but it is also cheaper to go with Bergstrom than bring back Carlisle, even at the veteran minimum salary.  

    Other than Bergstrom is Lucas Nix, another young guard who is also someone whom the new regime may want to see play.  With Bergstrom and Nix chomping at the bit, I don't see Carlisle coming back in 2013.

Shane Lechler

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    It's always hard to see one of the longest-tenured players on the team wearing another uniform, but that may be the case with Lechler.

    Lechler is coming off a $4 million-per-year contract, and unless he realizes that no punter (even if he is right there with Ray Guy as one of the all-time greats) is worth $4 million a year, he will be leaving Oakland.  

    Back in the preseason when rosters had to be cut down to 53, the Raiders placed a young punter, Marquette King, on the injured-reserved list so they would not have to cut him and allow him to become a free agent who could sign elsewhere.

    That tactic may have been used by McKenzie to signal that he is prepared to move on rather than pay Lechler along the lines of what Lechler was paid by Al Davis.  

    McKenzie would be wise to negotiate with Lechler and see if they could agree to a new contract with a more reasonable salary.  But with the Raiders' well-known cap crisis, Lechler may not be willing to come down as low as McKenzie needs him to.

    Then again, we all thought Lechler was a goner back in 2009 when he signed the aforementioned $4 million-a-year contract just before free agency opened up.  

    Will Lechler surprise us again?

Honorable Mentions

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    Mike Mitchell: After the rest of the NFL thought the Raiders reached for Darrius Heyward-Bey in the first round of 2009, they did it again in the second round with Mitchell.  Since then, Mitchell has improved as a football player and I think he is worth keeping.  The Raiders could move Tyvon Branch to free safety and allow Mitchell to start at strong safety where he can show off that hard-hitting ability he has.

    Matt Giordano: Giordano led the team in interceptions in 2011, but in 2012, he was constantly beat deep in coverage, and when he was actually able to make a play, he seemed to hurt himself.  Giordano has to be replaced by McKenzie with someone who can at least stay on the field.

    Phillip Adams: Adams had injury problems of his own late in the year, but I want to see him back.  Not as a starter, but he could be a very good nickelback or dimeback for the Raiders.  He did make an end-zone interception off Peyton Manning, not many guys can say that.  Besides, do the Raiders have anyone better at the moment?

    Mike Goodson: Goodson turned out to be OK for the Raiders as Darren McFadden's backup.  The question now is, with a new offensive coordinator coming to Oakland, will Goodson fit that scheme as well as he fit into zone-blocking?  I say keep Goodson as a decent and affordable backup who can catch the ball out of the backfield.  

    Omar Gaither: With how much better the Raiders defense played at the end of the year, I ask myself if it was because Rolando McClain was horrible and Gaither was alright, or is Gaither a diamond in the rough?  I say keep Gaither on a one-year deal and see how well he does in training camp.