Beginning this weekend, Raiders fans may finally start getting an idea what general manager Reggie McKenzie is up to this off-season.
Teams can begin negotiations late Friday night for unrestricted free agents from their own teams, getting a few days’ head start on the kickoff of full-scale free agency and trade season scheduled to begin Tuesday, which is also the day teams will have to be at or under the salary cap for 2013.
The Raiders have a number of key players whose contracts will expire Tuesday and may be headed elsewhere, including tight end Brandon Myers, punter Shane Lechler, linebacker Philip Wheeler and defensive tackle Richard Seymour. While most indications are that the team will not try to retain Seymour and Lechler, McKenzie may have interest in keeping Myers and Wheeler for the right price.
Oakland picked up some room under the salary cap Thursday when safety Tyvon Branch agreed to restructure his contract, which freed up more than $5 million in cap space, reported Jerry McDonald and Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group.
If the team can also restructure deals with some of its other highest-paid players, such as quarterback Carson Palmer, safety Michael Huff and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey – or perhaps release one or two – more space could be gained for retaining key free agents or going after players cut free from other teams, beginning next week.
Among the other players Oakland might want to retain, report McDonald and Corkran, are offensive tackle Khalif Barnes, guard Cooper Carlisle, running back Mike Goodson, safety Mike Mitchell and defensive end Andre Carter.
As Nate Davis of USA Today noted this week, the Raiders still are dealing with overpriced deals for under-performing players still on the roster from the Al Davis era and the trade for Palmer in 2011. Palmer’s $13 million price tag for 2013 is an anchor that weighs heavy on whatever McKenzie does this off-season, unless he can get Palmer to agree to restructure his deal (or release him).
“McKenzie is steadily unloading onerous contracts like the ones Seymour and Lechler received from late owner Al Davis,” he wrote. “However the Oakland cap is still in such a state of disrepair that it will be hard to hang on to productive young players like (Desmond) Bryant, Myers or Wheeler. McKenzie, who earned his stripes under Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson, is trying to replenish the talent base through the draft.”
Palmer, in fact, is the key. Though Branch and guard Mike Brisiel have agreed to restructure deals to give the Raiders room to be flexible under the cap, what happens over the next few days with Palmer’s deal may give Raiders fans a much better indication how this off-season will go.