The Oakland Raiders have been fairly quiet this off season aside from a couple of contract restructures. That trend continued early in the first day of free agency, but then, as it looked like the day might wind down without any significant moves, Raiders fans were overwhelmed with a stream of news regarding the team and not much of it was very good.
It did not surprise anyone that the first news associated with the Raiders was news of players being cut. What was a surprise, however, were the players that got the ax. Most assumed that if news of a cut came, it would be of Rolando McClain and/or Tommy Kelly. Or, in the case of something really crazy, Carson Palmer. Instead, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff and Dave Tollefson were cut at the same time.
Tollefson is the only player who was not a surprise. He was signed to a two year contract last off season and did almost nothing for the Raiders in 2012.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is not a big surprise given how big his contract was. The part of his cut that was surprising is that they cut him rather than restructuring his contract. While he never even came close to living up to his draft status, he was developing into a solid receiver and he did not strike me as the type to refuse to re-structure a contract, especially given his under performance. Which means that McKenzie may not have even given him the option of restructuring.
The big surprise came with Michael Huff. Much like DHB, Huff was a high draft pick that never lived up to his draft status. But he was also never as bad as DHB was in his first couple of years. Plus, Huff showed that he was a team player last year when he spent almost the entire season playing out of position at corner back. According to ESPN, he was asked to take a pay cut and refused.
The result of that purge was that the Raiders are not comfortably under the salary cap ($23 million according to some, just over $14 million according to others). That means the Raiders have gone from being in salary cap hell, to suddenly having the ability to make some fairly big moves in free agency should they choose to. Two guys they will not be spending that cash on, however, are Philip Wheeler and Desmond Bryant.
The Raiders lost their top two unrestricted free agents on the first day when Wheeler signed with the Miami Dolphns and Bryant signed with the Cleveland Browns.
Wheeler was on a one year contract with the Raiders last year and showed that he could do more than what he had done with the Colts. The Raiders are thin at the linebacker position and really hoped they could bring Wheeler back. Meanwhile, Bryant was likely their best free agent and many believe he has a good career ahead of him. The loss hurts more when you consider that Tommy Kelly is expected to be cut later this week and Richard Seymour had his contract voided.
That means until further notice, Christo Bilukidi is the Raiders best defensive tackle. Bilukidi was a 6th round pick in 2012 and is still a very raw prospect.
The loss of Wheeler and Bryant was painful, especially for a Raiders team that already had a ton of holes it needed to fill. Last season, both players were some of the only positives that could be found on the defensive side of the ball. But with that being said, both guys got big contracts from their new teams and with the Raiders in the cap situation they are, they were clearly outgunned.
The only other Raiders news on the first day of free agency was that the team re-signed corner back Philip Adams. After the Raiders corners were ravaged by injuries, Adams got an opportunity to do more than just return kicks and made the most of it. Adams, who was a 7th round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2010, just completed his third season in the NFL and still has a lot of work to do. But last season he showed that he has some talent and could potentially be a good nickel back for the Raiders in 2013.
After all of the dust cleared from the flurry of moves connected to the Raiders in the first day of free agency, only one thing is clear, there are still a lot more moves to be made. The Raiders still have a lot of holes they need to fill, and are still expected to make some cuts and restructure some contracts. But despite all of the questions surrounding the team right now, one thing is for sure, the Raiders must make some big upgrades in free agency and the draft, or Rotoworld could wind up being correct in its assertion that the Raiders will be historically bad next season.