New Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie isn’t wasting much time shaping his roster and his first move was to cut cornerback Stanford Routt, one of the team’s better defensive players. It might have been necessary as McKenzie reshapes the team’s salary cap.
The Raiders signed Routt to a three-year, $31.5 million deal, with $20 million in guaranteed money, last February, essentially choosing Routt over Nnamdi Asomugha, who is considered one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. Asomugha walked to the Eagles as a free agent.
Routt’s deal was later restructured to five years and $54.5 million, with the $20 million in guarantees — of which $10 million was reportedly to kick in this year.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that this move will cost Oakland $2.2 million in salary-cap space in 2012. The exact cap figure has yet to be figured, but the Raiders will have to make other moves.
This move might be an indication that Oakland is going to be aggressive in making cuts. It will have to go get help in several years in free agency – beginning with possibly two cornerbacks — and it has free-agent priorities in running back Michael Bush and safety Tyvon Branch. One of those two will likely be given the franchise tag.
You have to wonder what other high-dollar Raiders could be on the chopping block. Among those who have signed big recent contracts are defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive back Michael Huff. Other players who could be candidates for restructuring or to be cut to save cap room include defensive tackle John Henderson, linebacker Aaron Curry and guard Cooper Carlisle.
Many around the NFL scoffed at Routt's big contract — and it is clear McKenzie is in that camp.
Routt is a decent player, but he is probably best suited to be a No. 2 cornerback. He was better playing alongside Asomugha than he was as the team's No. 1 corner. Routt was solid in coverage, but was penalized 17 times and gave up eight touchdowns, tied for the second-highest total in the NFL last season.
Still, the release of Routt is risky because the Raiders now don’t have any reliable cornerbacks on the roster. They hope to develop young players DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa; perhaps Huff will be moved to cornerback. The Raiders have a small draft class, so most of their additions at the position will probably come through free agency.
Among the top cornerbacks available in free agency (depending on who is given the franchise tag) will be Atlanta’s Brent Grimes, Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan and Kansas City’s Brandon Carr. A name to keep an eye on is New Orleans’ Tracy Porter, who played under new coach Dennis Allen in New Orleans.
This move doesn’t hurt Routt, 28, much. He was paid an enormous amount last season and now becomes one of the better cornerbacks available. Plus he gets jump on free agency, free to sign with a team at any time.
He could help all three of the other teams in the AFC West as a No. 2 cornerback, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver, Kansas City and San Diego all look at him.