Gutierrez: Ranking the Raiders' free agents

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Gutierrez: Ranking the Raiders' free agents

July 26, 2011

GUTIERREZ ARCHIVE
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Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.com

NAPA -- More than likely, fourth-year players being labeled unrestricted free agents is one of the reasons Al Davis and the Raiders abstained from voting to ratify the owners' CBA proposal last week. That and the murkiness and feeling of the rich-getting-richer (think Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys) and the poor-getting-poorer (the, ahem, Raiders) vibe of the new supplemental revenue sharing system.

So with the new language in the new CBA, the Raiders suddenly find themselves with seven more unrestricted free agents in their midst, including Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller and second-team All-Pro free safety Michael Huff. A look then, at the Raiders' 17 unrestricted free agents (only New Orleans, 26, San Diego and Seattle, 22 each, have more UFAs) plus one restricted free agent, on the eve of training camp opening in Napa, and where they rank in importance of re-signing. At least from this Insider's perspective...

Silver and Black category
The Raiders should do everything in their power to re-sign

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha - Yes, I know the three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro cornerback is as good as gone. But if there's even a sliver of a chance of re-signing the top free agent on the marketnah, never mind. Seems like both he and the Raiders have turned the page.

Tight end Zach Miller - The most valuable, and productive, member of the Raiders' offense the past three seasons, his blocking ability is on par with his pass-catching capacity. Plus, Hue Jackson and new offensive coordinator Al Saunders utilize the tight end with aplomb.

Running back Michael Bush - Some good news for the Raiders as Bush was classified a third-year player and thus, a restricted free agent, meaning the first- and third-round tenders the Raiders assigned him stick. Along with Darren McFadden, Bush powered the Raiders to the NFL's No. 2-ranked rushing attack. And with Jackson's desire for more of a power-running back, retaining Bush is a must.

Long snapper Jon Condo - Don't laugh. You'd be shocked at how important a long snapper truly is to special teams, where games are often won and lost. All-Pro punter Shane Lechler continually sings the praises of Condo, another fourth-year player suddenly flung into unrestricted free agency who, by the way, is one of the best long snappers in the game.

Silver category
It would be nice to retain their services, but would not make or break the season

Free Safety Michael Huff - There is mutual interest but until the last two seasons, the No. 7 overall pick of the 2006 draft was seen as a bust. Of course, he's come on late and even picked up an All-Pro vote last season but with the Raiders needing to shed salary -- as much as 10 million -- to get under the 120-million salary cap, he might be too expensive to bring back. Still, his career seems on the upswing.
Linebacker Ricky Brown - He is the Raiders' lone backup to second-year middle linebacker Rolando McClain and understands the role. Especially that of being the quarterback of the defense.

Linebackerdefensive end Jarvis Moss - Came on late after being cut by Denver and impressed coaches with his athleticism and nose for the ball. A great change-of-pace pass rusher, Moss hinted on Twitter Tuesday he was close to a deal with the Raiders.

Offensive lineman Khalif Barnes - Versatile big man who can catch a pass might have caught a break with so many youngsters on the offensive line. Could potentially challenge for the right tackle spot.

Offensive lineman Mario Henderson - What if the Raiders decided rookie Stefen Wisniewski was not ready to start at center yet, and they moved Jared Veldheer back to center? That would open a spot at left tackle for Henderson, right?
Offensive lineman Langston Walker - Purportedly, the Cal big man and ninth-year veteran is contemplating retirement. But if he could man right tackle while rookie Joseph Barksdale gets caught up, he could find a role again.

Quarterback Charlie Frye - Jason Campbell is the starter and Kyle Boller has been re-signed as the back-up. If the Raiders are unable to find that developmental QB they crave, QB coach-in-waiting Frye might be their guy.

Linebacker Sam Williams - A glue guy if ever there was one. He doesn't pile up stats, gaudy or otherwise, but he's a special teams standout and while there may not be a market for him, he'd come back for the vet's minimum and steady special teams play.

Black category
Can't really see the Raiders bringing them back or making an effort to

Offensive lineman Robert Gallery - Is the one-time cornerstone left tackle-turned-left guard in Seattle with Tom Cable yet? Both team and player have already bid adieu.

Receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins - Has not been the same, as a pass catcher or kick returner, since getting blasted by Eric Weddle going across the middle in the 2009 season opener. Jacoby Ford's emergence makes JLH more than expendable.

Linebacker Thomas Howard - From starting at weakside linebacker to forgotten special teams player. How did he get into the doghouse so quickly? His speed might find him a roster spot, but not the money he once envisioned.
Center Samson Satele - Li'l Wiz being named the starting center on draft weekend all but sealed Satele's fate. The salary cap issues and Satele becoming a UFA probably settled it.

Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski - From folk hero to purported distraction and having his health questioned publicly by Al Davis. Not exactly a recipe for staying in Oakland.

Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan - Who? Exactly. Late season-signee who came aboard when Gradkowski's season was ended prematurely.

Raiders' first-round pick Conley opens up on emotions after off-field issues

Raiders' first-round pick Conley opens up on emotions after off-field issues

ALAMEDA – Gareon Conley’s name has been sullied, at least temporarily. He feared it would be long enough to send him free falling down the NFL Draft.

The Ohio State cornerback and top-15 prospect was accused of rape stemming from an April 9 incident in Cleveland, an allegation he called “completely false.”

The Raiders clearly believe him. That’s why they drafted him No. 24 overall on Thursday evening, and expect him to be a long-term solution in their secondary.

Conley wasn’t sure how far he’d fall after being beaten down by one rough week, when the allegation went public. Reggie McKenzie’s first-round selection and subsequent call was more emotional than expected.

“It made it 10 times more special,” Conley said Thursday night in a conference call. “Just having that doubt in my mind, just not knowing (how far I would fall). Just having faith and having doubt, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When it came, it shocked me. It felt unreal, honestly. It still feels unreal.”

Being a top pick was expected after an excellent career at Ohio State. The rape accusation threatened to destroy his draft-day dreams. Conley has not been arrested or charged in relation to the incident, though an investigation is ongoing.

Conley said he volunteered to take a polygraph test that was shared with NFL teams, and reportedly passed the one he took. He said in a statement there are witnesses and video evidence proving he didn’t do anything illegal.

Conley spent the last few days trying to proclaim his innocence. 

He is scheduled to meet with Cleveland police on Monday to discuss the April 9 incident -- he'll also submit a DNA sample, according to ESPN -- where group sex was suggested and a woman claimed she was sexually assaulted.

Conley believes his name will be cleared in time.

“I’m very confident it will be resolved," Conley said. "I took a test today that helps. Then when I made my statement and all the evidence that I have, I feel confident it’ll be resolved.”

Conley admits he shouldn’t have put himself in a compromising position, which occurred at a Cleveland hotel earlier this month.

“I could’ve made way better judgment,” Conley said. “I mean, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I definitely could’ve made a better decision.”

Conley hopes to move beyond it quickly and start focusing on football. He is scheduled to fly west for a press conference on Friday.

Conley is thankful to the Raiders for believing in him despite his recent troubles.

“It’s off the charts, honestly,” Conley said. “Just to know that they have faith in me, not even just as a football player but as a person like that, it speaks highly of them, and I really appreciate it. It’s an honor to be a part of the Raider organization.”

McKenzie: Raiders did their 'due diligence' before drafting Gareon Conley

McKenzie: Raiders did their 'due diligence' before drafting Gareon Conley

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders used the No. 24 overall pick on Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley. This wasn’t a second-round flier or a late-round gamble.

That’s a first-round pick. Rolling the dice this early is ill advised. The Raiders don't believe they did with a selection accompanied by a $5.78 million signing bonus, $10.5 million in total money and a valuable fifth-year option to keep a player in town.

They wouldn’t risk such an asset on someone in serious legal trouble. The Raiders did significant research on Conley, who was accused of rape earlier this week, before making a selection. Results gave the Raiders confidence in their choice. 

Conley has not been arrested or charged over an allegation that stems from an April 9 interaction in a Cleveland hotel.

Conley said the accusations are “completely false,” in a statement released by his agent. He claims to have witnesses and video evidence that he didn’t do anything illegal during an exchange where group sex was suggested. He is scheduled to meet with Cleveland police about the allegation and an investigation into it on Monday.

Conley said he took and passed polygraph test prior to the draft, hoping to avoid a free fall into the draft’s later rounds.

The Raiders clearly believe him. They wouldn’t have used such a high pick on the Ohio State cornerback otherwise. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team thoroughly investigated the matter, and felt comfortable using a high pick on someone who sat alone atop their draft board at No. 24 overall.

“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process,” McKenzie said Thursday night, after making the Conley pick. “We trust our research, reports, everything that we have on Mr. Conley. We feel really good about picking Gareon Conley and having him join the Raiders team and having him be a great teammate for our players.”

McKenzie didn’t detail the Raiders research efforts, but didn’t seem concerned about this off-field issue.

“I don’t want to get into all the details,” McKenzie said, “but the bottom line is that we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were.”

McKenzie said he spoke with owner Mark Davis about Conley, as he does most first-round options.

The Raiders were impressed by Conley’s workouts and his game tape. The rape accusation obviously gave the NFL pause regarding his draft status, and he slipped somewhat in the first round.

The Raiders are confident following an internal investigation that his legal troubles will pass without incident.

“The research was done,” McKenzie said. "It wasn’t just a gut (feeling). It was based on research, and we’re very confident in all the information that we got.”