The Raiders thought they would be faced with a difficult offseason decision about the status of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Turns out Asomugha's lack of statistical production made the decision for them.
When Asomugha failed to reach a number of incentives, his contract automatically voided. When the NFL Players Association and ownership reaches a collective bargaining agreement, Asomugha will be free to the highest bidder.
The initial reports were confirmed by Raiders senior executive John Herrera.
"The contract is voided, but we have to wait on all the ramifications of the CBA before we really move on from there," Herrera said.
Asomugha's contract included a Raiders option for the 2011 season which the club could pick up for $16.8 million or the average salary of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL, which ever figure was higher.
In a year where Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees could be seeing new money, Asomugha's salary could exceed $17 million.
There is no guarantee the Raiders would have picked up the option anyway. The original deal paid him $28.5 million in 2009 and 2010 and while Asomugha made two Pro Bowls, he had a single interception and the Raiders' defense was still shaky against the pass.
The decision was taken out of Oakland's hands when the following things happened in 2010. First, Asomugha missed two games with an ankle sprain, meaning he had less playing time than the previous year.
Although his coverage skills were still exceptional, opponents threw in his direction only 33 times all season, completing 14, for no touchdowns. Asomugha had no interceptions, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries and no sacks.
Had Asomugha broken through in any of those categories, the contract would not have been voided and the decision on whether to pick up the expensive option would have belonged to the Raiders.
The Raiders have been predictably mum on the subject of whether they'll pursue a contract with Asomugha at a lower salary, and Asomugha has been unavailable for comment as to whether he wants to return.
After the Raiders' regular-season finale, Asomugha said he hoped for continuity after an 8-8 season, wanted coach Tom Cable to return, and said it "wasn't even an issue" about the continued employment of the head coach.
Just three days after the Raiders finished a 31-10 win over the Chiefs, the Raiders announced they had declined to pick up Cable's option.
Asomugha's option loomed large over the Raiders' postseason decisions in light of the labor uncertainty and the fact that the Raiders have a lot of key unsigned players, many of whom they'll attempt to bring back.
Particularly if a salary cap is in place, paying Asomugha the kind of money called for in the option year would have made it difficult with regard to several other players.
In the secondary alone, free safety Michael Huff (whose contract voided) and Stanford Routt, the Raiders' other starting cornerback, are likely to be unrestricted free agents.
So is Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour and starting left guard Robert Gallery, mainstays of the offensive and defensive lines.
If the new CBA grants unrestricted free agency after four years -- which is what the standard was until last year's uncapped year -- then tight end Zach Miller and running back Michael Bush would both be on the market.
Miller is the Raiders' leading receiver over the last four years and Bush gained 655 yards and scored eight touchdowns in a key role behind starting running back Darren McFadden, who has been prone to injury during his first three seasons.
-- While the 49ers moved quickly across the bay to hire Stanford coach and one-time Raiders assistant Jim Harbaugh as their head coach, the Raiders began the work of replacing coach Tom Cable in virtual silence.
Other than a confirmation from team spokesman John Herrera that "the interview process has begun," things remained quiet at the team's Alameda facility.
Herrera said the Raiders would neither announce nor confirm the names of any candidates.
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson remains the front-runner, although a source close to Jackson said he wasn't the first interview and it's not entirely clear whether the first man in the office of Al Davis was a candidate for head coach or another position on the staff.
--There is precedent for the Raiders staying way under the radar and taking their time but eventually naming Jackson as head coach.
Following the 2001 season, after Davis traded Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he appointed Bill Callahan "captain of the coaches" and watched closely as the offensive coordinator ran the offseason as an acting head coach.
After 22 days, Callahan was hired, and no other candidate was brought in.
After the 2008 season, when Cable finished the year as interim head coach, Davis took 37 days to name a successor. During that time, Cable stayed in the building and worked as if the head coach, even though he didn't have a contract at the time.
Davis eventually named Cable as the coach, with Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride the only serious contender.
Gilbride's name came up again in an NFL Network report as having been contacted by the Raiders.
Another coach rumored to be in the mix, for either head coach or defensive coordinator, is Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Ryan was the Raiders' defensive coordinator from 2004 through 2008 and maintained a positive relationship with Davis even when he left after his contract expired, with John Marshall taking his place.
The Raiders have not made public any dismissals or departures from the current staff, but Marshall's position is tenuous after Oakland gave up 30 or more points six times and failed to make the postseason despite a dramatically improved offense.
--Wide receiver Tim Brown was the only Raider among 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was eligible for the first time last year and did not make the first cut after being named a finalist.
A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Brown is the club's all-time leader in receptions (1,070), receiving yards (14,734), receiving touchdowns (99), punt returns (320), punt return yards (3,272) and punt return touchdowns (3).
Among those who were finalists last year but did not make it this year were cornerback Lester Hayes and punter Ray Guy.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I've been through too many changes in the NFL. Nothing shocks me. At the end of the day, everything is a business. People see us play on Sunday, and it looks fun -- it is fun -- but when contracts are up and decisions have to be made, they're going to be business decisions."
-- QB Jason Campbell on the dismissal of coach Tom Cable on the Paul Finebaum radio show in Birmingham, Ala.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
As effective as Marcel Reece was as an occasional runner but in particular as a receiver out of the backfield, he had some difficulties late in the season blocking against the league's better pass rushers.
The Raiders would like him to get stronger without losing any quickness to enable him to hold up physically against defensive linemen.
The problem? A potential lockout would mean a loss of contact with Reece in terms of workouts.
Expect the Raiders to look hard at blocking fullbacks late in the draft.
Starter -- Jason Campbell. Backups -- Bruce Gradkowski, Kyle Boller, Charlie Frye.
After twice losing the starting job to Gradkowski, Campbell gained traction over the last five games of the season and solidified his status as the 2011 starter. His 84.5 passer rating was the highest since Rich Gannon in 2002 and his scrambling ability kept drives alive. Gradkowski's fire and energy won him the job from Campbell in Week 2 and again later in Week 12, but he injured his throwing shoulder and ended up each of the last two seasons on injured reserve. Boller got minimal playing time but has a background with Jackson. Frye, who spent all season on injured reserve with a thumb injury, lost his biggest booster in Tom Cable.
Starters- Darren McFadden, FB Marcel Reece. Backups -Michael Bush, Rock Cartwright, Michael Bennett.
McFadden missed three games due to injury (hamstring, turf toe) but still enjoyed a breakout season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, gaining 1,157 yards, catching 47 passes for 507 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. He looked every bit the 2008 No. 4 overall pick after a disappointing first two seasons. Reece was more involved as a playmaker than any Raiders fullback in years, with 122 yards rushing and 25 catches for 233 yards and three touchdowns, although his blocking could be better. Bush provided 655 yards and eight rushing touchdowns as the thunder to McFadden's lightning. He had two 100-plus yard games when McFadden was hurt. Cartwright was a core special teams player and locker-room leader. Bennett was veteran insurance who was seldom active.
Starter -- Zach Miller. Backup -- Brandon Myers.
The Raiders' leading receiver in each of the last four years, Miller had 60 receptions for 685 yards and a career-best five touchdowns despite a plantar fascia tear and a leg contusion that hobbled him for part of the season. Easily the Raiders' most reliable receiver, the injuries hurt his blocking at times in the second half of the season. Myers caught 12 passes for 80 yards and is a reliable backup but like Miller in that he's an adequate blocking presence if not a huge one.
Starters -- Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy. Backups -- Jacoby Ford, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schilens, Nick Miller.
Heyward-Bey has yet to validate the No. 7 spot the Raiders used in the 2009 draft although he's been given ample opportunity. In 25 games, he has 35 receptions for 490 yards and two touchdowns, 26 for 365 and one score in 2010. He had much fewer drops and only marginally better production. Murphy improved only marginally from a promising rookie season (41 catches, 609 yards). Ford, a rookie fourth-round pick, was the most dangerous receiver with an 18.8-yard average and two scores on 25 catches. Higgins has regressed in each of his last two seasons. Schilens, rehabbing from a twice-broken foot and knee surgery, wasn't available until the end of the season and caught five passes. Miller has been a fringe player as a receiver and return specialist.
Starters -- LT Jared Veldheer, LG Robert Gallery, C Samson Satele, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Langston Walker. Backups -- T Mario Henderson, G Daniel Loper, G Bruce Campbell, T Khalif Barnes.
Veldheer started nine games as a third-round pick from a Division II school and showed considerable promise despite a propensity for penalties and some difficult games against tough matchups like James Harrison, Cameron Wake and Dwight Freeney. He and Gallery, who missed four games with a hamstring pull, created a lot of running room for the second-ranked running game. In the second half of the season, Satele may have been Oakland's best lineman, getting consistently to the second level and as far as the sideline to block on reverses. Carlisle's play has begun to slip and adding gap blocking reduced his effectiveness. Walker has provided more than the Raiders could have anticipated, although it's conceivable Henderson, displaced by Veldheer, could move to the right side. Loper filled in when Gallery was injured and seldom played after that. Campbell played exclusively at right guard and never got any time on the line as a developmental pick. Barnes played in packages with three tight ends as the third eligible receiver, provided extra run push in those sets and even caught a touchdown pass.
Starters -- DLE Matt Shaughnessy, DLT Richard Seymour, NT Tommy Kelly, DRE Lamarr Houston. Backups -- DE Trevor Scott, DT John Henderson, DT-DE Desmond Bryant.
Shaughnessy has the look of a future star with seven sacks in year three. Seymour might have been the NFL's most dominant lineman when the Raiders went on a three-game win streak, but had hamstring issues at the beginning of the season and again at the end. Kelly enjoyed a breakout year with seven sacks and a noticeable improvement in his level of play. Houston had five sacks as a season-long starter and Henderson missed seven games with a stress fracture but showed he could still be a run-stopping force inside by keeping his snaps to a reasonable range. Scott was getting pressure if not sacks before being lost for the season with a torn ACL. Bryant, a second-year player who was an undrafted free agent out of Harvard, had two strong games and an especially dominant season finale playing both end and tackle when Seymour was out with a hamstring injury.
Starters -- WLB Quentin Groves, MLB Rolando McClain, SLB Kamerion Wimbley. Backups -- OLB Travis Goethel, OLB/MLB Ricky Brown, OLB Thomas Howard, OLB Sam Williams, OLB Bruce Davis.
Groves converted from defensive end to weak-side linebacker and provided more energy and enthusiasm than big plays. McClain ended up the Raiders' third leading tackler who by the end of the season and was beginning to assert himself as a force after a less than inspiring start. Wimbley, acquired by trade from Cleveland, served as a nickel pass rusher in addition to being the strong-side linebacker and had a team-leading nine sacks. Goethel won the job as the weak-side linebacker during training camp only to have back surgery and miss half the season. He was splitting time with Groves and will get a good shot to start. Brown remains a special teams staple and twice filled in for McClain in the middle when the rookie was injured. Howard was phased out and saw time on in certain packages because of suspect run defense. Williams is a core special teams player who is a favorite of the owner. Davis was signed off the 49ers practice squad and was active for only six games, making four special teams tackles.
Starters -- LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, RCB Stanford Routt, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Michael Huff. Backups -- CB Chris Johnson, CB Jeremy Ware, CB Walter McFadden, S Mike Mitchell, S Hiram Eugene, S Stevie Brown.
Asoumugha was targeted only 33 times, gave up 14 completions for no touchdowns and was virtually ignored on his side of the field. Opponents only had a 40 percent completion rate going at Routt, who beat out Johnson and intercepted two passes to have his best season. Branch had a tough year in coverage, giving up a team-high eight touchdown passes and a 75 percent completion rate by opposing quarterbacks. Branch's tackling was also suspect at times. Huff had some big moments as a blitzer and ball-stripper as well as other difficult moments as a single deep safety. Johnson's play was off and on in a year he was beaten out by Routt. Ware and McFadden were forced into the mix because of injuries toward the middle of the season, struggled, and ended up being inactive for the last three games. Mitchell saw considerable playing time as a big nickel linebacker and showed progress from his rookie season. Eugene is a core special teams player who is marginal at safety. Brown, a compensatory seventh-round pick, showed a nose for the ball in training camp and had worked his way into the secondary rotation by the end of the season.
K Sebastian Janikowski, P Shane Lechler, KR Jacoby Ford, PR Johnnie Lee Higgins, PR Nick Miller, LS Jon Condo.
Janikowski had a career-high 33 field goals but missed eight kicks after missing only three in 2009. One of those misses, from 32 yards against Arizona, cost the Raiders the game. He had 29 touchbacks, but only four of those came in the last seven games as he appeared to lose his deep stroke. Lechler's gross average dropped from 51.1 to 47.0 and his net from 43.9 to 40.8, but he still led the AFC in both categories and made the Pro Bowl. Ford was an electrifying kickoff returner, setting a franchise record with three touchdowns. He'll be tried on punt returns in training camp, because neither Higgins nor Miller did anything special in that area. Condo has not made a bad snap in three years on the job.