Gutierrez: Raiders' top priorities entering camp

Gutierrez: Raiders' top priorities entering camp
July 26, 2011, 4:45 am
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July 25, 2011

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Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.com

The NFL has announced that the Raiders will begin training camp Wednesday. The Raiders have offered no confirmation, or denials. All they say is when camp gets going, they will again be in Napa, as planned all along. A look then, at five-plus concerns the Raiders must address as doors to the facility become unlocked and players begin to filter through

Five-plus concerns the Raiders must address as they prepare to report to Napa for training camp:

1) The salary cap conundrum
According to numerous reports, the Raiders are already 10 million over the salary cap of 120 million. And that's before Oakland has re-signed any of its 18 remaining free agents (17 unrestricted, one restricted) or any of its drafted rookies. If it sounds like it's time to hit the panic button in Silver and Blackdom, maybe.

But there are always loopholes in the system and Al Davis has been a master at keeping guys he wants and getting others he's lukewarm on to accept paycuts andor restructuring their contracts. It's going to be tight, no doubt. Names sure to pop up as potential cutting material - offensive linemen Cooper Carlisle, who is due to make a reported 2.5 million in 2011, and Samson Satele, who was initially given an original-round tender but is suddenly an unrestricted free agent. Plus, there could be attempts to restructure contracts belonging to recent draft picks Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rolando McClain.

RELATED: Raiders ready to lock in, begin work in Napa
2) The Zach Miller Situation
It appears as though Davis gambled and lost by not slapping the Franchise Tag on Miller when he had a chance before the lockout hit, instead using it on linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. The thought was that Miller would be a restricted free agent, thus, easier to keep after putting first and third-round tenders on the Pro Bowl tight end. But the language in the new CBA had fourth-year players as UFA's and some talent-hungry and well-heeled owner could potentially swoop in on Miller.

The Raiders need to pull out all their stops to keep him in the fold. He has been the team's most valuable player on offense the past three seasons, and with JaMarcus Russell as the quarterback for two of those campaigns, that's saying a lot. Miller was in the unique situation of being the Raiders' player rep through the lockout so he's seen things from all sides. He likes being a Raider, though, and appreciates the history of the team and the position. So Oakland has that going for it, which is nice.

3) Preparing for life after Nnamdi Asomugha
There's still a sliver of hope, however thin it may be, that Asomugha gives the Raiders the ultimate hometown discount and returns to the East Bay. But the feeling here is that the team has been preparing for life after him, the second his contract is voided, perhaps even before as he was due to make 18 million had the contract not voided.

Numerous teams have been linked to the All-Pro shutdown cornerback, from Houston to Green Bay to Baltimore to the New York Jets to, the latest to join the rumor mill, the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders affording Stanford Routt a three-year, 31.5-million contract, with 20 million guaranteed all but closed the door on Asomugha's return to the only professional team he's ever known.

4) What to do with Michael Huff
There have been rumblings the Raiders tried hard to come to a contract agreement with the second-team All-Pro free safety before the lockout hit, to no avail. So there's definitely mutual interest. Thing is, he's a fifth-year player who did not start playing to his stature as a No. 7 overall draft pick until lately. Plus, with the Raiders already 10 million over the 120-million cap, he might be too expensive to retain.

Would he take a significant pay cut to come back to Oakland and continue his growth, or would a bigger payday closer to the Texas native's home be too tempting to pass up. In any event, the Raiders seemed to see this coming when they threw that four-year, 10.25-million contract at Hiram Eugene.
5) Welcoming back Michael Bush, with a caveat
The Raiders were apparently victorious in their claim that Bush should be classified as a third-year player rather than a fourth-year veteran since he did not appear in a game his first season in Oakland after being drafted as damaged goods out of Louisville. As such, he is a restricted free agent, and the first and third-round tenders will stick, making it all the more likely he will return to the Raiders at a decent price to again be the "Smash" to Darren McFadden's "Dash" in their offensive backfield.

Still, the Raiders might have to dole out some sort of discipline in light of his off-season arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Plus, the league might have something to say about it as well. Stay tuned
5a) Patching up the offensive line
Imagine an O-line of LT Jared Veldheer, LG Daniel Loper, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Bruce Campbell and RT Joseph Barksdale. That's probably what the Raiders were imagining on draft weekend as well. But that's two rookies and a pair of second-year pros charged with protecting the quarterback and maintaining the league's No. 2 running game. That's too much inexperience to start the season, what with the lack of mini-camp and OTA's, so the Raiders might have to look at bringing back one or two of their own to, ahem, steady to ship. How do Mario Henderson, Langston Walker and Khalif Barnes grab you?