First day of Free Agency sees Raiders roster stripped to the frame

Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

The first day of free agency was a rough one for the Raiders as they watched their best players leave for big money and were forced to cut ties with some of their own big contract players.

For most fans, free agency is considered a time of great opportunity. For some, those opportunities seem endless, when many of the best players in the NFL today can be yours... if the price is right.

Aye, that's, as the Bard would tell us, is the rub. That price tag. The Raiders couldn't afford to be major players in free agency, and even if they could, they weren't going to overpay for anyone. And that's what the first wave of free agency is all about.

That same first wave saw other teams step in and steal away the Raiders two prized free agents - Desmond Bryant and Philip Wheeler - and sign them to monster contracts the likes of which the Raiders would never and could never match. And just like that, their starting strong side linebacker and starting defensive tackle are gone.

Round about the same time the Raiders were watching their hot commodities take their talents to South Beach and Cleveland respectively, they were making some self-inflicted wounds. Call it surgery, if you will. The kind that will take some time to heal but would have gotten very unhealthy if left untreated.

That operation was to cut Darrius Heyward-Bey and Michael Huff from the team, and more importantly their sizable salaries from the books. Each player carried over $10 million against the salary cap this year - Huff from the remnants of a big contract he received prior to the 2011 season, and DHB from the final season of his rookie contract.

For Huff, it became about the ability to restructure. Namely, that there really wasn't any. He restructured last off-season to help relieve the major cap overage then. Now, outside of a pay cut, there was nothing to be done in the way of a restructure. He clearly balked at the notion, as most players do.

For Heyward-Bey, it was simply a cost/benefit analysis. Few receivers in the NFL are worth over $10 million in cap hit. If he had been productive, it would have been worth trying to extend him with a restructure. But that wasn't the case so the only option was to cut ties.

These cuts leave the roster pretty bare. Especially the defense.

The defensive line currently has just two starters under contract. One of those players is Tommy Kelly who, like DHB and Huff, carries a cap hit North of $10 million so it would stand to reason he too will soon be out. Kelly's departure would leave defensive end Lamarr Houston as the lone defensive lineman under contract. The other defensive end, Matt Shaughnessy, is currently a free agent as is his backup, Andre Carter. Backup defensive end, Dave Tollefson was also cut today.

The linebacking corps is in even worse shape. It too has just one returning starter - last year's fourth round pick, Miles Burris. Well, unless you count Rolando McClain who is technically still under contract. Like Huff, DHB, and Kelly, his cap hit surpasses $10 million, but that isn't even the issue. He has been on his way out the door since week 12 of last season when he was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

The Raiders did make two proactive moves of late. The first was to restructure Tyvon Branch's deal which lowered his 2013 cap number by $7 million. They then made their one signing on the first day of free agency - they re-signed cornerback Phillip Adams to a one-year deal.

Branch is the only full time starter returning among the Raiders' secondary. Although, Adams started three games last season and if he can stay healthy, he could potentially start again next season. But that's it. Adding to the lack of proven starters are backup safeties Matt Giordano and Mike Mitchell, and slot corner Joselio Hanson all being free agents.

The offense is in better shape for the time being. Darrius Heyward-Bey was the only offensive player who is officially gone as of now. But several others could be out as well.

The only players on the Raiders offense whose jobs appear truly secure are offensive linemen Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, and Mike Brisiel and full back Marcel Reece. The number one receiver is out, the number one tight end - Brandon Myers - is a free agent, the number one running back - Darren McFadden - is prime trade bait material, his backup - Mike Goodson- is a free agent, and Carson Palmer carries a hefty $15 million cap hit.

I am going to stick with my belief that Carson Palmer stays for the immediate future. Cutting him is too costly and it is far too difficult to fill the quarterback position for the Raiders to let him walk.

It isn't confined to offense and defense, though. Punter Shane Lechler is a free agent and is very likely leaving as well.

This team is left needing to add more players than current starters still on the roster.

In total, they need starters at 13 different positions: Wide receiver, tight end, offensive guard, offensive tackle, running back, both defensive tackles, defensive end, inside and outside linebacker, free safety, cornerback, and punter.

That's a lot of positions to fill. They currently have just six draft picks, three of which come in the final two rounds. Even with no movement on day one, there is no way around the Raiders making a significant number of free agent signings. Now that most the bloated contracts have been doled out, the reasonable approach can begin.

This team is nearly a blank pallet now. Upon which Reggie McKenzie can begin creating what he hopes will be his masterwork. The gallery opening is set for September.

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