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Raiders position battle: Menelik Watson vs Austin Howard

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The right tackle position this offseason has gone from one that looked to be Austin Howard's to lose, to one that he may have lost. At very least it is far from a sure thing with Menelik Watson giving Howard a run for his money.

Money is the primary reason it seemed initially like Howard was the favorite. He was the team's biggest free agent signing in 2014 and is set to make some $6.4 million against the cap. You don't pay that kind of money to a backup.

They signed the career right tackle to be their starting right guard and that experiment did not go well, prompting new head coach Jack Del Rio to move Howard back to right tackle in the hopes of getting the most out of him.

Tony Sparano moved him to right guard in the first place because Howard's strength was as a run blocker. At right tackle, his primary task will be pass blocking.

The 6-7, 333 pounder began the offseason as the first team right tackle but as of minicamps, it was Watson who was getting those reps with Howard working second team. This means either Watson has moved ahead of Howard, or the coaching staff is giving both of them a shot with the first team to make sure they find the right guy.

As for Watson, he was the team's 2013 second round pick which they received when they traded down in the first round with the Dolphins. He suffered several injuries early on that had him out much of his rookie season. He came into 2014 as the favorite to win the starting right tackle job as the coaches hoped he would be the long term answer at right tackle.

Watson was unable to secure the job fulltime and was often a liability. He gave up 21 hurries and 2 sacks in 9 starts.

As the first second round pick by the new regime, they have high hopes for Watson. He is being given every opportunity to win the right tackle job. If he can't, Howard will get the first chance to hold the job with Watson as the backup.

If Watson wins, then it becomes more complicated. Does the team keep Howard and his $6.4 million cap hit while he rides the bench or do they try to trade or cut him and move on? On one hand, he can be a utility fill in at tackle and guard. On the other hand, so can Khalif Barnes. And Barnes can cover left tackle as well for a lot cheaper.

All of this will be sorted out in training camp.