Unlike the other major sports in the United States, trades in the NFL rarely, if ever occur during the season. As a result, the NFL offseason is one of the busiest in professional sports. Teams typically spend the beginning of the offseason making roster maneuvers in order to solidify any holes from the previous season. However, with the NFL lockout, this year has been drastically different, with the only real action coming in the NFL Draft.
Now, with rumors that the lockout might be coming to an end in the near future, NFL teams soon will begin a mad dash to sign free agents and get them into camp so they can become familiar with the playbooks and schemes. While free agency is important for all teams in the NFL, this season's free agent period is especially important for the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders finished the 2010 season with their best record since the Gruden Bowl. While the Raiders only finished the season 8-8, they went undefeated in the AFC West and showed that they are close to being a playoff team. Now, if the Raiders wish to build off of their 2010 season and actually make the playoffs, they will need to make some tough decisions in the free agent market.
The Raiders will have four key free agents hitting the market in Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller, Michael Bush and Michael Huff. In addition to trying to re-sign these four, the Raiders will need to make roster moves elsewhere if they truly wish to build off of last season.
Within the four key free agents on the Raiders, it is highly likely that they will re-sign tight end Zach Miller and running back Michael Bush. Miller is clearly the Raiders best and most consistent receiving threat, and Bush is the only back on the Raiders roster who has proven that he can carry a full load should Darren McFadden get injured again this season. In addition, both Miller and Bush are Al Davis picks that he is very proud of. Because of this, I do not see Davis letting either one walk, even if it means over paying them (something that Davis clearly has no problem doing).
Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Though Asomugha has been the best player on the Raiders in recent years, he will demand a very high salary in the free agent market and unless he is willing to take a home town discount, will likely not be wearing the Silver and Black next season. Meanwhile, Michael Huff has struggled to find consistency in his time with the Raiders, but had his best season in 2010 meaning he will likely demand more money than he is worth in free agency. Again, unless he is willing to take a reasonable salary with the Raiders, likely passing on a bigger deal elsewhere, Huff is unlikely to return to the Raiders next season.
Therefore, acting on the assumption that neither Asomugha nor Huff will be back next season, the Raiders will have key holes to fill at cornerback, free safety, outside linebacker, offensive line and wide receiver.
The Raiders have drafted two cornerbacks each of the past two years in order to prepare for the potential departure of Asomugha. However, none of those drafted appear ready to be a starting corner in the NFL. Because of this, the Raiders would be wise to find a veteran corner to play opposite Stanford Routt this season.
If Huff leaves, the free safety position will also be rather weak. The only true free safeties left on the team will be Hiram Eugene and Stevie Brown. Eugene has proven himself to be a special teams warrior and a solid backup, but is not an NFL caliber starter. Stevie Brown will be entering his second year in the NFL after having shown lots of promise in his rookie season. However, due to the relatively small amount of playing time he received last season, the Raiders will likely need to add some veteran depth to the position to compete with Brown for the starting role.
The Raiders drastically upgraded their linebacking corps last season with the additions of Kamerion Wimbley, Rolando McClain and Quentin Groves. While McClain and Wimbley will have unquestioned starting positions in Oakland, Groves did not show enough last season to earn the same distinction. With run defense still being an issue in Oakland, the Raiders will want to bring in another outside linebacker to compete with Groves.
Not much needs to be said about the Oakland Raiders offensive line. Clearly the weakest part of the team ever since the Gruden Bowl, the Raiders will lose perhaps their best lineman in Robert Gallery to free agency. In addition to losing Gallery, the Raiders will likely have one of the youngest offensive lines in the league with second year tackle Jared Veldheer and rookie Stefan Wisniewski likely being starters this season. If the Raiders want to continue having success on the ground and keep Jason Campbell off of his rear end this season, they will need to find at least one veteran offensive lineman to solidify the weakest part of the team.
Finally, the Raiders should strongly consider signing a veteran wide receiver to help develop their young wide receiver corps. The top three receivers on the Oakland Raiders, Louis Murphy, Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey, have a whopping five years of experience between them. Though Ford showed the ability to be a game breaking threat as a rookie, other teams now know of his talents and will be sure to keep a watchful eye on him this season. Meanwhile, Heyward-Bey and Murphy have struggled to find any kind of consistency through their first two years in the league. A veteran presence at wide receiver will help the young guns develop while giving Jason Campbell another option to lean on.
Having taken a look at the key positions of need for the Raiders in the free agency market, check back at SBNation Bay Area within the next week for a look at potential free agents that the Raiders could sign in order to fill these holes.