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Decision on Penn a Key One for Raiders

Solid left tackle can be an unrestricted free agent, so will McKenzie re-sign him, lure a new free agent or use his top pick on a left tackle?

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    Raiders left offensive tackle Donald Penn, blocking Tamba Hali of the Chiefs this season (above), can be an unrestricted free agent. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

    If the Raiders want Derek Carr to keep improving, general manager Reggie McKenzie will have to pay attention to his offensive line this offseason.

    In particular, to the left tackle position.

    Donald Penn, who’s been a rock at that spot for the Raiders since signing a two-year deal with the team before the 2014 season, can be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The 32-year-old veteran has protected Carr’s blindside and been an anchor on the end of a line that has morphed over the past two seasons into a much better unit.

    Penn was a good signing by McKenzie, who landed the former Buc for $9.6 million over two years, but the Raiders might have to raise that bar in order to keep him around for 2016.

    Meanwhile, McKenzie also must decide what to do with a pair of other tackle candidates, J’Marcus Webb and Khalif Barnes. Barnes, a valuable veteran who’s been able to play both guard and tackle, also is an unrestricted free agent. And Webb, who started at right guard and then moved outside to right tackle after Austin Howard was injured, had just a one-year deal and can walk away. Webb proved to be a valuable signing, too. The former tackle was converted to guard by offensive line coach Mike Tice and was solid.

    One plus for the Raiders will be the return of Menelik Watson, who was penciled in as the starting right tackle before a season-ending injury before Game 1.

    But with all that in mind, the Raiders – who have the 14th overall pick in the draft, plus plenty of salary-cap room – could invest in the tackle position. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently released his first mock draft for 2016 and had Oakland selecting Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin.

    “Adding a tackle like Conklin, who played left tackle and played it very, very effectively for Michigan State, he’s an outstanding football player,” Kiper wrote. “At one point and time I had him going a little higher than that. Conklin would be a great pick.”

    Also, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com noted recently that several outstanding tackles may be available in free agency, including Russell Okung of Seattle, Cordy Glenn of Buffalo and Andre Smith of Cincinnati.

    Whatever the Raiders do about their offensive line, however, will likely start with their decision on whether to re-sign Penn, who wants to stay with the Raiders.

    “I love it here,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I grew up a Raiders fan and we’re getting closer to bringing it back to the old, winning ways.”