Gutierrez: Ranking the Raiders' free agents


Gutierrez: Ranking the Raiders' free agents

July 26, 2011


Paul Gutierrez

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.

Donald Penn ends holdout, returns to Raiders practice

Donald Penn ends holdout, returns to Raiders practice

ALAMEDA -- Left tackle Donald Penn missed Raiders training camp, two preseason games and a return to the team's practice facility while holding out for a new contract. 

He still doesn't have one. Penn ended a 26-day holdout on Wednesday afternoon, returning in time to practice with his team for the first time since the offseason program. He returned on faith, believing the Raiders would work out a higher pay rate after he re-joined the club. 

General manager Reggie McKenzie made it clear on July 31 that the Raiders wouldn't talk contract with a player who wasn't in camp. That stance never changed. 

Penn still wants a new deal. That hasn't changed, either.

The Pro Bowler out-performed the two-year, $11.9 million contract he signed during the 2016 offseason. Penn allowed just one sack and 28 total quarterback pressures last season, totals that ranked No. 6 among all NFL tackles. He wanted salary to reflect performance, with paychecks that put him in the top 10 offensive tackles. He is scheduled to receive a $5.8 million base salary in 2017, which ranks far below highest earners. 

Penn doesn't need to play in either contest to prep for the season, and he has plenty of time to get ready for the Sept. 10 opener at Tennessee. Everything he does can be simulated in practice, though game intensity is tough to match. He should slide back in with the starting offensive line, allowing Mashall Newhouse from the left side to right tackle and wage a position battle there with Vadal Alexander. 

Donald Penn practicing with the Raiders for the first time this preseason

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Penn was formally added to the active roster late Wednesday afternoon. Defensive end Jimmy Bean was waived in a corresponding move.

Bulked up Amari Cooper 'not going to let anybody push him around'


Bulked up Amari Cooper 'not going to let anybody push him around'

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper enters this season bigger and stronger, yet still just as fast. The Raiders receiver analyzed how opponents covered him, honing on what worked best.

Defenders tried to be physical at the line of scrimmage to disrupt his timing and divert precise routes. They also shaded safeties to his side, doubling coverage downfield to make Derek Carr throw another direction.

The Raiders quarterback didn’t do that Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams. Cooper ran a go route, with a linebacker trailing, a corner on the outside and a safety crashing from the interior. In that moment, Carr let Cooper go make a play.

It was an excellent catch where Cooper high-pointed the ball and brought it down in heavy traffic. That wasn’t the type of play he was known for in previous seasons. He’s excellent at making explosive plays after the catch.

Cooper didn’t have room to move after hauling in the first-quarter volley. He crashed to the ground, but held on for a 31-yard gain, proving he can produce in different ways.

“He’s becoming that guy that we can throw it up to,” Carr said. “We all know (Michael Crabtree) can do that. In ‘Coop’s’ rookie year, he’d come down with a few of them, but it’s consistent now that he wants to be a guy that has every aspect of the receiver game. He put it on display on the one that I threw up to him. I tell the receivers before every game, ‘If it’s you one-on-one on a go and that’s the play call, I’m always going to give you a chance. I don’t care what it looks like. You go make the play or nobody does.’ I guess ‘Coop’ really took that to heart, because he wants the ball to keep coming to him.”

Cooper has said before gaining 1,000 receiving yards isn’t that hard, and he hasn’t been satisfied with two straight Pro Bowl seasons. That’s why Cooper came into training camp bigger, stronger and ready to push back.

“I think that that’s the (new) aspect this year. He’s just playing so physical,” Carr said. “He’s not going to let anybody push him around, and that’s his personality since I’ve known him. He doesn’t want anyone to push him around. He doesn’t want to take anything from anybody. I think that each year he has gotten so much better at both of those.”

High-pointing a ball is one thing. Avoiding route disruption is another. He turned to Crabtree for help near the line of scrimmage, and has added dimension to the start of his route.

“I usually use my feet to get separation off the line of scrimmage at the top of my route,” Cooper said. “But, one of the things I’ve learned from him is you can also get the same results using your hands. … The defensive back, he wouldn’t know. Are you going to use your feet? Are you going to use your hands? So it’s a good change up.”

The Raiders have seen an improved Cooper this summer in practice and preseason games, someone who isn’t simply stronger. He’s using his strength well to counter how he’s being defended.

“Much has been made about him being bigger and stronger, and you certainly see that,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “It’s harder for defenders to knock him off his route. He maintains proper route depth more consistently, and his play speed is high for someone who didn’t get a lot of practice (in training camp, due to injury). We were pretty pleased with what we saw (Saturday against L.A.).