Creating depth at positions of need.
The eighth pick in the draft is high enough that it will produce a quality player. However, it is far enough out of the top five that it may not yield a player at a position of need that is worthy of a top 10 pick.
The consensus among fans and experts seems to suggest that the Raiders most urgent needs are offensive tackle, defensive tackle, middle linebacker, and cornerback. There are some good players at these positions that will be available when Oakland gets their turn at the podium, but most of them won't be worthy of a top 10 pick.
So what to do?
Why not sign a few free agents that will provide the depth needed with players that are already experienced? Doing this will free Al Davis up to take the best player available on draft day, regardless of what position they play.
Here are my thoughts on the free agents that could fill a role and can step in and play if the rookies aren't quite ready to contribute:
OT: Mark Tauscher
Mark is a 10-year veteran who has had some success after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2001 draft. He has started at right tackle most of his career, but is versatile enough to play guard if needed. He has had some injury issues recently, but should be healed and ready to go by training camp.
Mark could also provide leadership for a rookie should Al Davis do what everyone thinks he will and draft Bruce Campbell with the eighth overall pick. I'm fairly sure that the Raiders can get Tauscher with a team-friendly salary, so why not give him a shot?
DT: Tank Johnson
Drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft, Tank has the talent to start. The only question is whether or not he will get out of his own way.
When have "off-the-field" issues like Johnson's stopped Al Davis from signing a guy, or when has it stopped Raider fans from embracing a guy? It hasn't. Not to mention, being surrounded by Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly should help remedy a lot of that.
The fact is that he would not be the long-term answer the Raiders need at defensive tackle, but right now he is a better option than Gerard Warren. Another thing: signing Johnson would provide is another player to compete for the starting job. That just might push Warren enough for him to finally play to his potential.
MLB: Keith Bulluck
A former first-round pick and Pro Bowler that plays with his heart and doesn't settle for mediocrity.
This guy is a leader and a play-maker closing in on the end of his career. If he were to sign today, we would have a starting MLB from day one. Again, he isn't a long-term answer, but a player that can teach and mentor a rookie until he is ready to produce.
I know he has had injury issues, but it's only because he plays as hard as he can on every down. He has proven throughout the years that he is willing to sacrifice his body for the success of the team. This is an attitude that is sorely lacking on the Raider defense.
Plus, he hates the Steelers as much as Raider fans do! You have to love a guy like that.
CB: Deshea Townsend
Drafted in the fourth round of the 1998 draft, this 34-year-old is the prototypical nickel back the Raiders desperately need.
Deshea has been both a starter and a role player for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 12 seasons. He played a key part in two Super Bowl championships and has mentored players like Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor.
Having Townsend in the nickel package instead of Stanford Routt would be an upgrade in terms of knowledge and consistency. If his physical tools are too degraded to justify playing him ahead of Routt, having him on the sidelines would be a huge resource from which Stanford could draw.
Again, he isn't a long-term answer. What he can provide to Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson, and any rookie that would be brought in would be immeasurable in terms of leadership and overall knowledge of the cornerback position.
Keep in mind, I do not believe any of these players are the only options or the final options. In fact, I only see two of them as potential starters.
Tauscher and Bulluck would be instant upgrades and would help the team on the field and in the locker room right away.
Townsend should not be considered a starter, but more of a mentor to Routt and the other young cornerbacks. He could produce in the nickel and dime packages all the while teaching and giving the young guys an example to look to as a leader and sort of a "coach in uniform."
Tank Johnson is the one guy on this list that could backfire. He would bring with him a lot of baggage and may not be willing to let it all go and do what's expected of him.
If we sign any or all of these players, the team won't be forced to take any player in the draft based solely on the position he plays. Davis could take the best player on the board at any position.
The worst-case scenario is that none of these guys turn out to be as good as I think. OK, so?
There is no salary cap this year and we should be able to sign them to incentive-laden contracts that don't have a whole lot of guaranteed money. If it came down to it, they could be cut without the team taking a huge hit.
With the exception of Johnson, these players will provide leadership and a winning attitude that the Raiders have needed for several years now.
Let me reiterate: I'm not suggesting that these players would solve all of the Raiders' problems or that they should definitely be signed.
I'm only suggesting that they are players that would bring a lot of needed depth at positions of need and should be considered by Al Davis.