The Oakland Raiders received some potentially troubling news with the development that the contract of superstar cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has unexpectedly voided, making him a free agent who the Raiders can’t give the franchise tag to.
This news doesn’t necessarily mean Asomugha is leaving Oakland. But there will be a lot of interest elsewhere. Al Davis loves Asomugha. I expect him to do what it takes to keep him.
That creates another problem. The Raiders have several potential free agents. If the Raiders have to address Asomugha’s contract a year earlier than expected that may make it more difficult to keep other free agents and to pursue free agents from other teams. Davis is known for paying big dollars to his own players to keep them from going elsewhere. In the past two years, the Raiders have given Asomugha, punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski record deals for their respective positions to keep them off the market. Davis can’t keep doing that. It’s not feasible.
Here are some of Oakland’s potential free agents in addition to Asomugha: Defensive end Richard Seymour, guard Robert Gallery, tight end Zach Miller, running back Michael Bush, safety Michael Huff and cornerback Stanford Routt. Bush and Miller will only be unrestricted if a new collective bargaining agreement is written to allow four-season players to be unrestricted, still they could be restricted and would be attractive to some teams.
The following are the five re-signing priorities, in my opinion, regardless of potential status.
Asomugha: This is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Oakland has to keep him. The Raiders have paid Asomugha $15 million a year the past two seasons and will likely be willing to do it again. He is still in his prime and he shuts down half the field. Don’t worry about his lack of interceptions. Opposing teams don’t throw his way. Asomugha changes the playing field. The Raiders can’t let him walk away.
Seymour: This is a tricky one. The Raiders have to keep Seymour, because they are giving up the No. 17 pick in the April draft to New England as the compensation for the September 2009 trade that brought Seymour to Oakland. Oakland has already paid Seymour, 31, a ton of money -- he was given the exclusive franchise tag in 2010 -- and it has to either lock him up long term or franchise him. The Raiders can’t see Seymour walk before they give up compensation for him. Thus, Asomugha and Seymour are going to cost the Raiders a lot of money -- and likely flexibility in finishing other deals.
Miller: The Raiders have to hope their talented tight end is a restricted free agent, so they can give him the highest tender and essentially take him off the market. That would be expensive, but Oakland needs to keep this young star. Miller is the type of player Davis would overpay to keep. But in a year like this, with the likes of Asomugha and Seymour on the market, there is a chance Miller could sneak out of town. That can’t happen. He is a quarterback’s dream.
Gallery: The veteran guard is Oakland’s best offensive lineman. This is a fragile offensive line. It can’t afford to see Gallery go. But I wouldn’t be shocked if he fell through the cracks. Gallery had a close relationship with fired coach Tom Cable, so his loyalty level may not be great.
Routt: He had a very good season. There will be interest on the open market. The Raiders have already begun the progress of considering re-signing Routt. With Asomugha’s status now unclear, the Raiders would be smart to keep Routt.
Players like Bush and Huff have their strong points, but the Raiders aren’t going to be able to keep everyone. Tough decisions are going to have to be made. This is not a perfect situation, but the Raiders are going to have to do the best they can to keep their best core players.