310

Digesting the Wilson deal

This one, I get.

Any free agent acquisition is a gamble, but the signing of Gibril Wilson is worth the risk.

As stated last night, I’m fine with Tommy Kelly getting every dime he can get, but wonder about the wisdom of committing a guaranteed $18.125 million and more than $25 million over three seasons to a player who either has been part of the problem on defense or not special enough to raise the level of those around him.

The rest of the league can’t believe what the Raiders put out to retain Kelly, and maybe they’re right. Then again, no one else had Nnamdi Asomugha as a first-round draft pick, either _ some teams didn’t have him in the top three rounds. So it’s not out of the realm that Al Davis could be right.

But while Kelly’s deal is open to question, Wilson’s signing (six years, $39 million, $16 million guaranteed) is an aggressive move which addresses a chronic weakness in the Oakland defense.

Other than the last great season out of future Hall of Famer Rod Woodson in 2002, it’s been difficult to watch the Raiders’ safety play since they returned to Oakland in 1995. And that’s from the press box, without a rooting interest. Hard to imagine how tough it’s been for Raider Nation.

There have been considerably more whiffs than big hits, precious few interceptions (12 by safeties in 80 games since 2002) and very little in the way of the sort of intimidation Jack Tatum made famous.

Back in 2003, after the San Diego Chargers cut Rodney Harrison, the Raiders had their nemisis in for a visit. Tatum endorsed bringing him aboard, but Davis was lukewarm and Harrison went to New England and played a role in two championships.

Davis thought Harrison might have been near the end of the line. Wilson doesn’t have the rep of Harrison, but he is much younger and a physical presence. Whether he plays strong safety or free safety doesn’t matter. From here, it looks like the Raiders signed a football player, rather than a specimen.

A Raiders official told me that Wilson has more tackles than any safety in the league over the last four years. Tackles aren’t an official stat, so who knows if it’s true. What is true is Wilson played championship football for the Giants and played a role in attaining that championship.

He wasn’t Larry Brown, intercepting passes thrown directly to him by Neil O’Donnell. Nor was he Desmond Howard, breaking free on returns but offering next to nothing as a receiver.

Wilson had eight tackles and a pass defensed against Green Bay in the overtime championship game win. He was an integral part of a defense that shut down the most prolific passing offense in NFL history against New England in the Super Bowl.

During Super Bowl week, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo talked about how Wilson adapted when moved from free safety to strong safety, asking him to model himself after Philadelphia’s Brian Dawkins.

“I remember giving him a whole collection of film on Brian and he studied it and has fallen into that position quite well,” Spagnuolo said. “The free safety in that system has to be a tackler, an active guy, an aggressive guy and that’s what Gibril is.”

Admittedly, it’s easier to look good as a safety with the kind of push the Giants were getting with their front four. The Raiders’ hope is that Kelly becomes Justin Tuck, Derrick Burgess is Michael Strahan and Jay Richardson takes a quantum leap in Year 2. Then if Terdell Sands can resurrect his game and a draft pick or two comes around . . .

All that happening is unlikely, but Wilson’s signing remains a positive move by Davis to address an area that has seen too many Marquez Popes, Anthony Dorsetts, Derrick Gibsons and Darren Carringtons over the years, and too many missed tackles the past three years by Stuart Schweigert and late-season replacement Hiram Eugene.

A few years back, I thought the Raiders made reasonable calculated gambles in signing LaMont Jordan and Burgess to positions of great need. Jordan didn’t work out as well as hoped, Burgess was a success. But it was worth taking a shot. I feel the same way about Wilson.

More impressions on the free agent frenzy:

– Back on Feb. 1, I made the case that the perception of dysfunction in the Raiders organization wouldn’t necessarily affect their ability to get free agents because what players were really after was money. Write the checks and they will come. At least one agent I respect disagreed, and thought it would be tough for Oakland to be a big player.

A little more than 24 hours into free agency, I think we have an answer. The $34 million in guarantees plunked down on Kelly and Wilson have free agents taking notice. Now all the Raiders have to do is pick the right ones.

– Maybe Jerry Porter will excel in Jacksonville, but he always did his best work in Oakland in a supporting role. It may be a reach for Jaguars fans who think he’s their new Jimmy Smith.

– Word is Chicago wide receiver Bernard Berrian could come to town if he gets out of Minnesota without signing a contract. Could be wrong, but he looks like a slightly younger version of Porter from here. An upgrade from what is on hand, to be sure, but don’t get crazy with the money.

– Another “talent” available is Javon Walker, who was released by Denver. But Walker tends to be high-maintenence when things don’t go his way, and the Raiders seem to bring out the worst in those kinds of players these days.

– Miami’s signing of Josh McCown makes you wonder if they’re thinking of drafting Matt Ryan, whether it’s at No. 1 or later if they trade down. McCown isn’t a consistent enough passer to lead an offense for 16 games, but teammates flock to him and he doesn’t mind being a mentor.

McCown is one guy who looked at the Lane Kiffin situation and decided he might be better off elsewhere. But it’s doubtul the Raiders were going to be in the financial ballpark anyway with what he got in Miami.

– Philadelphia delayed its visit with Chris Clemons as it was busy signing Asante Samuel, but Clemons is scheduled to take a physical today. The Clemons camp feels it got lowballed by the Raiders after the Kelly deal.

– So Randy Moss is on the open market. He could still end up a Patriot, but right now all the hearts, flowers and happily ever after talk during Super Bowl week looks pretty staged.

– Center Jeremy Newberry remains in play for the Raiders, and Tom Cable would like him back.

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247

Jake Long at No. 4?

Just confirmed the Raiders have no intention of moving Robert Gallery back to left tackle. Gallery has talked with line coach Tom Cable and been told he will remain at left guard.

Since Sims’ departure leaves a void at left tackle, it leaves open the possibility that the Raiders would consider Michigan tackle Jake Long with the No. 4 pick in the draft.

Kwame Harris, the free agent scheduled to visit Friday from the 49ers, is considered a right tackle. Given that he watched his entire rookie season from the sidelines, it’s doubtful Mario Henderson, one of three third-round draft picks last season, would be up to being a starting left tackle in Year 2.

The free agent market is light on tackles. Cleveland’s Nat Dorsey is a four-year veteran who was a backup but is regarded as having potential. George Foster of Detroit played in a zone blocking scheme in Denver but was at his best on the right side.

At the NFL scouting combine, 49ers G.M. Scot McCloughan opined that as many as six tackles could go in the first round, but Long may be the only one who would go at No. 4. Boise State’s Ryan Clady operated in a zone blocking scheme in college, comparing it to the Denver Broncos. Clady did not participate in drills in Indianapolis because of pectoral injury sustained during a bench press workout.

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707

Tampering _ yawn

The 49ers apparently stand accused of tampering with prospective free agents Lance Briggs and Justin Smith and the agent for cornerback Asante Samuel is talking openly of the interest in his client _ which of course can only be gauged by illegal contact with prospective employers.

No word on the Raiders, but if they’re not getting a head start, they’re behind the curve.

In the NFL, if you’re not tampering, you’re not trying.

Getting tampering out of the league will happen roughly around the time the NFL eliminates gambling among fans outside of Nevada.

It is virtually impossible to enforce, buried under an avalanche of nods, winks and coded communications.

The NFL scouting combine may as well be a tampering convention. Agents hold a meeting there every year, so most of them attend. Each team sends front office personnel.

They exchange messages on their Blackberrys and cell phones, setting up meetings in restaurants, hotel lobbies and hallways of the Indiana Convention Center, legitimately discussing the re-signing of players who are scheduled to become free agents this Friday.

It doesn’t stop there. How could it?

You’re there, you’re just talking, conjuring up “hypothetical” scenarios of what it would take to get Free Agent A to sign with Team B when the phones start ringing at 12:01 a.m.

Ever seen an NFL contract? I’ve gotten a look at a few, and there is no way free agency opens one minute and several hours later a star player signs on the dotted line.

The player signs because the contract has been talked about in advance _ with more than one team. The agent advises him to sign because he has already gauged the market.

It is a workshop for coaches as well. Being an assistant coach in the NFL means always looking out for your next gig. Given their tenuous existence, it’s the common sense move. John Czarnecki of Foxsports.com, besides advancing the popular theory that James Lofton could soon be the head coach of the Raiders, also noted, “It’s also no secret that current Oakland assistants Greg Knapp and Tom Rathman will be on Jim Mora’s 2009 Seattle coaching staff.”

Czarnecki neglected to mention the third man in that rumor _ offensive line coach Tom Cable.

It’s not a reach, by any means. Knapp and Cable were assistants with Jim Mora on Atlanta’s coaching staff, and Mora is in place to succeed Mike Holmgren as coach of the Seahawks next year. Rathman worked with Mora in San Francisco.

All three assistants have two-year contracts with Oakland and are in Lane Kiffin’s dwindling inner circle, with very real concerns about their future considering the embattled nature of the man who talked them in to coming to Oakland.

Coaches are forever assembling coaching staffs in their minds for the day they get a head coaching job. It isn’t difficult to envision Mora telling all three of these men after being deposed in Atlanta, “Next time I get a head coaching job, expect a call.”

Then sending smoke signals when it actually happens.

And that’s the thing about tampering. There may be smoke, but never enough of a fire to prove it ever happened.

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314

Jockeying for position

Some better-late-than-never wrap-up notes after traveling home from the NFL combine Sunday:

– The prevailing opinion going in was that LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey might be out of reach for the Raiders, while Arkansas running back Darren McFadden would not only be there, but still might not be worth the risk because of “character concerns.”

That was before Dorsey made an extra hospital visit for more investigation on a previous stress fracture and McFadden’s blazing 40-yard dash performance put a smoky haze on his reputation for nightclubbing and paternity suits.

Of course, Dorsey has two months to have his feet thoroughly checked out and McFadden can still get into trouble before April 26.

– Something to remember about 40-yard dash times _ they’re unofficial and change from one timer to the next.

Unbelievably, a league that produces all this money runs their combine 40s without an electronically timed finish. Some teams have their own timers and that is all they use.

Frank Cooney from The Sports Xchange breaks down how the 40 works _ the scouting service which the NFL uses to post times for the media on the NFL web site _ and explained the process in its own Web site:

Those who participate in the 40 actually run twice, and on each run they are timed by two hand-held stopwatches and one electronic timer (that is actually initiated by hand on the player’s first movement).

Combine data put together for NFL teams by National Scouting includes all six of those times for each player, but no single official time.

Team scouts and coaches have various approaches for getting the 40 time they use from those six timings. Some use averages. Some throw out slowest and fastest and then average the rest. Some ignore the whole thing and use a time taken by their own scout.

By one clocking, McFadden ran a 4.27. The NFL, through SportsXchange, had it at 4.33.

According to Sports Xchange, McFadden was beaten by East Carolina’s Chris Johnson, who timed 4.24.

Not that Jackson’s time is a guarantee of success. The 4.24 time tied their fastest recorded mark by someone named Rondel Melendez, a wide receiver from Eastern Kentucky who went 4.24 in 1999 and never made a mark on the NFL.

– Raider corners Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt both went 4.29 according to SportsXchange in 2005, although that may not have been the times the Raiders recorded.

– Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston was impressive with 38 bench press reps at 225 pounds, although it’s worth noting another Ohio State defensive end named Mike Kudla had 45 reps in 2006. Ever heard of him? He’s got a “Bench Press Supersite” Web page which advertises a 610-pound bench press as a senior.

It didn’t make him a pass rusher.

– The physical tests lag far behind the medical evaluations and interview opportunities in terms of value. Someone like DeSean Jackson needed only to prove he was fast (he did, with a 4.35 or 4.31, depending on who did the timing), and then the rest of his appearance was being poked, prodded and having his psyche explored in a 15-minute interview.

– Hard to imagine a prospect so far above the rest it would be worth moving up to the top pick. Colts owner Bill Polian seemed relieved to have a team good enough that he doesn’t have to worry about it.

“Now you face the proposition of saying if I’m after the first pick and I have to pay $30 million for it, how much do I want to give up in addition to that?,” Polian said. “And if you fail with that pick, your franchise is saddled with an albatross that
you can’t get rid of for who knows how long. It’s completely changed because ofthe cost of those picks and in my view, that’s wrong. It should change. That’s bad for the game. It isn’t about money, it’s about the integrity of the game on the field.”

The NBA’s system of paying rookies makes far more sense.

If you’re Miami and the best player on the board is Chris Long, how comfortable do you feel dropping $30 million plus in guarantees on a player who was compared to Patrick Kerney, who as a free agent last season signed a contract with $19.5 million in guarantees with Seattle?

Even if the Raiders could have traded out of the No. 1 pick in the draft last season, chances are there weren’t many takers.

– Had a nice chat with Lane Kiffin at the Hyatt Saturday before he decided he wouldn’t speak on the record regarding all things Raider, but apparently was asleep for the real show well after midnight. Sac Bee beat writer Jason Jones spotted Kiffin at a cigar bar called Nicky Blaine’s and nearby nightspot Ike & Jonseys. According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution blog, Kiffin was even seen “cutting the rug” at the latter establishment.

– With several top quality restaurants and brew pubs within walking distance in downtown Indianapolis, it’s always an amusing sight to see so many head coaches and assistants ducking into the corner “Steak and Shake” for one of those regrettable late-night feasts.

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1,030

Safety-challenged

Will this be the year the Raiders either sign or discover a playmaker or a big-hitter to play safety?

The safety class is not considered particularly strong. When the first round is complete, Miami’s Kenny Phillips could be the only named called, and it’s possible no safeties at all will be taken. Alabama’s Simeon Castille was an intriguing playmaker for Nick Saban at Alabama who played cornerback but seemed to do his best work inside as a nickel corner and safety.

Other than one last great year out of Rod Woodson in 2002, safety play has been a problem for the Raiders since they came back to Oakland in 1995. One of their more remarkable accomplisments was making it all the way to the AFC championship game in 2000 with Marquez Pope and Anthony Dorsett manning the last line of defense.

Stuart Schweigert was displaced by Hiram Eugene as the starter last season, and it wasn’t much of an upgrade. Eugene missed tackles at roughly the same rate as Schweigert. Michael Huff has one interception in 32 games at strong safety.

At the season-ending press conference, Lane Kiffin hinted that Huff, slightly built for a strong safety and more of a form tackler than a big hitter, might be on the move to free safety. Since then, it remains to be seen just how much input Kiffin will have with regard to Huff or anyone else, and two league sources said during the week that it is no secret in league circles that Huff is available by trade.

I’m skeptical about pulling that off, because the Raiders, the justifiable Randy Moss giveaway aside, usually ask for way more than teams are willing to give and Huff, while decent in coverage against tight ends, has not been a playmaker or much of a help in the box stopping the run.

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418

Waiting for the tag

As franchise tags pile up, still no word from the Raiders regarding Nnamdi Asomugha, who is expected to receive that designation by Thursday’s deadline.

Among those players who have been designated so far or have been told by their teams they will be tagged:

– Chiefs defensive end Jarred Allen. With his history of alcohol abuse problems, you could forgive the Chiefs for simply tagging him every year and paying him a hefty salary ($8.8 million this year) rather than break the bank with a signing bonus. Allen won’t be happy about it, however.

“If I play under the franchise tag, this will be my last year with the Chiefs,” Allen told NFL.com at the Pro Bowl.

– Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs figures to be disgruntled as well. He was expecting the $8.8 million defensive end tender, and instead will get the $8 million tender of an outside linebacker. Seems foolish for the Ravens to get one of their best players upset over $800,000.

– Bengals offensive lineman Stacy Andrews ($7.5 million). A mild surprise, in that Justin Smith, last year’s franchise player, is now on the open market. Smith is coming off a two-sack season, but could make out in free agency since Allen and Suggs will both require two first-round draft picks to sign. Might be too rich for the Raiders blood.

– Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby. No impact for the Raiders, who have relatively inexpensive active linebackers in Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard.

– Eagles TE L.J. Smith. Colts tight end Dallas Clark could also get a one-year, $4.5 million tender. Zach Miller looked good enough that he may one day himself get a franchise tag.

– Panthers RT Jordan Gross. The Raiders need long-term solutions at both tackles, unless they’re convinced Paul McQuistan is the answer on the right side. Had Gross not been franchised, they probably would have at least placed a call.

– Tennessee DT Albert Haynesworth. Robert Gallery had an encouraging year as a left guard, but could do nothing with Haynesworth. Risky for the longterm because he produced in a contract year.

Green Bay hasn’t tipped its hand yet regarding defensive tackle Corey Williams, who would break the bank in light of Haynesworth’s tag.

Kiper call
For what it’s worth, longtime draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. was available by conference call Tuesday through ESPN and had a few thoughts regarding the Raiders.

Whether you like Kiper or not, his recall regarding virtually any prospect, no matter how anonymous, is remarkable. On his Web page, Kiper had the Raiders taking Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, but conceded the landscape may have changed with the signing of Justin Fargas.

“That’s the question. Fargas is a good back. You’ve got other guys in the mix as well,” Kiper said. “So you’ve got a lot of guys, the question is do you have a lot of average guys? Fargas proved to be better than average. I don’t think you necessarily have to take McFadden, and he could be gone anyway, depending on how the coin flip goes.”

Kiper said he rates Glenn Dorsey as the top defensive tackle in the draft, but said there are people who like USC’s Sedrick Ellis better.

“I could see Sedrick Ellis as a Raider,” Kiper said.

Kiper said McFadden’s problems with fumbling are an issue, but likes his overall skills set even if he is not the runner Adrian Peterson was last year.

Not everyone shares Kiper’s feeling about McFadden. The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois as his top back.

Kiper said the Raiders’ 19-61 record over the past five years may have its roots in the draft.

“I think it’s had a lot to do with it. You look back at it and say, `OK, how many of those guys actually became quality starters?,’ ” Kiper said. “I think you can always look at your football team, and if they’re lacking, they’re lacking because of the draft not being as beneficial as it should be.”

Aging wideouts available
If the Raiders wanted to go retro to the days when Jerry Rice and Tim Brown were on their last legs, Keyshawn Johnson wants to make a comeback and Muhsin Muhammad was released by the Chicago Bears.

With Jerry Porter scheduled to become a free agent, the Raiders are extraordinarily thin at wide receiver with Ronald Curry, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jonathan Holland, Todd Watkins, Drisan James and Will Buchanon under contract.

While no wide receiver attending the NFL scouting combine is thought to be a No. 3 or 4 selection, there are a few targets worth considering if the Raiders did what they never do and move back in the draft.

Cal’s DeSean Jackson is the most explosive and a dangerous punt return specialist Larger targets include Oklahoma’s Malcolm Kelly (6-4, 218 pounds) and Indiana’s James Hardy (6-6, 220). Michigan’s Mario Manningham is also considered a potential first-round pick. All are underclassmen, so none were scouted during the college all-star circuit.

Kiper thinks Kelly could be the first receiver taken by the time the draft comes around, and also said he thinks Cal’s LaValle Hawkins could be an early second-round pick or even sneak into the first round.

Will be headed to the combine Wednesday and will file daily blogs from Indianapolis . . .

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559

Pre-combine notebook

Surveying the landscape as the offseason begins to heat up with the NFL scouting combine followed by the start of free agency:

– The Raiders did the right thing in bringing back Justin Fargas at a reasonable price (three years, $6 million guaranteed, with the possibility of earning between $12 and $14 million over the life of the contract).

He may be limited as a receiver and there’s always the threat of injury, but it’s not a deal that would cripple the Raiders if Fargas got hurt. Plus it’s good business to bring back loyal, hard-working employees. Fargas embraced the Art Shell regime as easily as he did Lane Kiffin’s and produced for both.

In that way, Fargas reminds me of Steve Wisniewski, who was a favorite of every head coach from Mike Shanahan thourgh Jon Gruden and was adored by all his line coaches.

Have a hard time envisioning Fargas being a non-producer after being kept from the free agent market the way Terdell Sands was last season.

– In terms of straight salary, Fargas wil make $605,000 this season, $2.5 million in 2009 and $1.5 in 2010.

– Fargas’ signing underscores something Tim Brown told me a long time ago regarding free agency _ no team loses a player it truly wants to keep.

– LaMont Jordan and his $4.7 million salary will be gone soon, but about Dominic Rhodes? The Raiders won’t pay a $3 million and a $2 million roster bonus, so Rhodes will likely be faced with the same decision Jordan was last season _ take less or be cut. The guess here is Rhodes will take the latter.

Rhodes would have Fargas in front of him and understands Michael Bush will be given every opportunity to work his way into the rotation. And that doesn’t even include the possibility of a rookie. You’ll notice in the item below a lot of mock drafts have the Raiders taking Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, although many of had that forecast before Fargas re-signed.

– Thursday’s deadline for declaring franchise players will include the names Nnamdi Asomugha, Albert Haynesworth, Jared Allen, and possibly Green Bay’s Corey Williams. If the Raiders, who will get to spend time with LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and USC’s Sedrick Ellis in the coming days, are thinking defensive tackle with the top pick, then Haynesworth and Williams probably weren’t in the mix anyway.

Getting Allen would make for a great piece of Raiders-Chiefs history, but Carl Peterson will never let it happen. The good thing from the Raiders vantage point is the Chiefs are notoriously cheap, and Allen could end up being disgruntled all season playing under the franchise tag rather than getting a longterm contract with a multi-million dollar guarantee.

– A defensive end to watch is Cincinnati’s Justin Smith, who had a subpar season under the franchise tag in 2007 and could be allowed to hit the market this year. In his seventh season out of Missouri, Smith had only two sacks _ the lowest total of a career in which he has 43.5. The Dolphins could franchise Smith again, but are also considering using the tag on offensive lineman Stacy Andrews.

– Based on the way he defended the run last season, getting a bigger end such as Smith could enable the Raiders to reduce the snaps of Derrick Burgess and get his pass rushing ability back on track. Burgess rallied to finish with eight sacks, but at least two of those were “no-gain” sacks when quarterbacks escaped trouble and reached the line of scrimmage, with Burgess making the tackle.

– If Zach Thomas was shown the door in Miami, can defensive end Jason Taylor be far behind? Of course, the Raiders went the aging ex-Dolphin route once before with Trace Armstrong, who tore an Achilles’ and was never the same. Taylor is 34.

– Something else to consider when paying big money to free agents _ according to calculations by Mike Sando of ESPN.com, the three highest-paid players at each position last season played on teams that were 219-309, a winning percentage of .415.

– Todd Watkins, the wide receiver claimed off waivers from Atlanta, has the class Raiders “athlete” bio. He became the first athlete in 25 years to letter in football, volleyball, soccer and track at Helix High, where his teammates included 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and Saints running back Reggie Bush.

Watkins showed flashes of being a dep threat when he caught 52 passes for 1,042 yards as a junior, but slumped as a senior, with a propensity for dropped passes and fumbles.

Drafted in the seventh round by Arizona, Watkins couldn’t hold on to a roster spot there or in Atlanta.

– How various mock drafts around the Internet have the Raiders using their first pick (No. 3 or 4 overall, based on a coin flip with Atlanta):

Todd McShay, ESPN.com–DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU

Mel Kiper Jr.–RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

Don Banks, CNN-SI–DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU

Pete Prisco, CBS Sportsline.com–RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

Scout.com–RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

War Room (Sporting News)–DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU

Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange–DE Chris Long, Virginia

Fantasy Football Toobox–DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU

Football’s Future–OT Jake Long, Michigan

NFL Draft Dog–RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

The Football Expert–DT Sedrick Ellis, USC

NFL Draft Site–RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

Draft Ace–DE Chris Long, Virginia

Draft Wisdom.com–DT Sedrick Ellis, USC

NFL Daily–DE Chris Long, Virginia

The Sports Outlaw–DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU

Fantasy Football Extreme–DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU

New Era Scouting–WR Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma

Draft.com–RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

Sports Projections.com–RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

My NFL Draft.com–DE Chris Long, Virginia

– If you really want to get ahead of yourself, nfldraftdog.com forecasts the Raiders will take offensive tackle Michael Oher of Ole Miss with the top pick of the 2009 draft.

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1,596

Tagging Nnamdi a no-brainer

Using the franchise tag on an elite cornerback turned out to be a mistake where Charles Woodson was concerned, but is the common-sense move for the Raiders with Nnamdi Asomugha.

The Raiders made no announcements today _ the first day players can be tagged _ but one can be anticipated at some point in the next couple of weeks.

The only way it won’t happen is if the Raiders first sign Asomugha to a multi-year contract, but chances are they’ll first deal with free agents who have actual freedom to leave starting Feb. 29, knowing a deal with their star cornerback can be reached at any time.

Last year’s prize free agent corner, Nate Clements, has a seven-year, $64 million contract with the 49ers (this year’s playing time voided what would have been an eighth year). Considering how long it took the Raiders to come to an agreement on that kind of money with JaMarcus Russell, don’t hold your breath on a deal with Asomugha.

This year’s cornerback prize is New England’s Asante Samuel because he agreed to a deal last season which guaranteed he would not be franchised this year. Both Asomugha and Seattle’s Marcus Trufant, the other top tier corners, are likely to be franchised.

Asomugha is the only one of the three who has played most often in a man-to-man defense.

The franchise number for cornerbacks this season is $9.465 million, which is guaranteed upon signing. Asomugha could still visit other teams for a longterm deal, which the Raiders could either match or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

The other option is to make Asomugha an “exclusive” franchise player, meaning no other teams could negotiate with him. Asomugha’s salary would then be recalculated in April to average the top five salaries of cornerbacks across the league, which could conceivably go up from $9.465 million.

Still, the Asomugha situation is much more comfortable than the one that existed with Woodson, who pocketed $19.3 million in two seasons, designated “exclusive” in 2004 and as a straight franchise player in 2005.

For one thing, the cap is much higher _ $122 million _ and the Raiders have plenty of room to accomodate Asomugha without a ripple effect.

More important, the only thing Asomugha and Woodson have in common is that they play the same position.

The Raiders, whether they admit it or not, had to regret giving up so much money to a player who was prone to injury and snoozing during meetings. They gambled and lost on the second franchise designation, hoping to swing a deal for Woodson only to be stunned when he actually signed the tender guaranteeing him $10.5 million.

When agent Carl Poston presented the signed tender to the club at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the Raiders were so flummoxed they issued a press release which said “The actions of agent Carl Poston and Charles Woodson tell us that they must have reached a long-term deal with a team, and we expect a trade very soon.”

It will be much smoother sailing with Asomugha.

For one thing, Asomugha is durable, having missed three games in five seasons. Woodson played in just 19 games for his $19.3 million in his two franchise years.

While Woodson came in with a Heisman Trophy and as the No. 4 overall pick, Asomugha lasted until the 31st selection of the 2003 draft. Even then, the pick drew blank stares and there were scouts from other teams which claimed Asomugha wasn’t anywhere in their first three rounds.

Score this one as a victory for the Raiders scouting department.

While Woodson started off playing at a near-Pro Bowl level, Asomugha, shuttled between corner and safety, struggled. He didn’t have an interception over his first three seasons, in part because his hands were about as soft as frying pans.

So Asomugha worked, and then worked some more. He can still be found staying after practice working on his game. He broke out with eight interceptions last season, and had just one in 2007 because teams wisely avoided throwing in his direction.

While Asomugha has never said publicly he wanted to move on, he could be forgiven for feeling overdue in terms of contributing to a winning team. In four seasons at Cal and five seasons with the Raiders, Asomugha’s teams are a combined 30-95 with exactly one winning season _ a 7-5 mark with the Bears in 2002, Jeff Tedford’s first year in Berkeley.

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268

Hall of a dilemma

Here is my problem with electing Ray Guy to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

How can you vote to enshrine to send arguably the greatest punter of all-time to Canton, Ohio when Ken Stabler isn’t there?

Or Cliff Branch.

Or Lester Hayes.

Or Jim Plunkett.

See where I’m going with this?

It’s not that punters aren’t football players. They are, or they wouldn’t be in uniform every Sunday. It’s just that the way the voting is set up, it makes it virtually impossible to vote for a punter when position players are backlogged and waiting to get in.

You don’t have to sell me on Guy’s skills as a punter. Back in the early 1970s, my dad got the opportunity to buy two Raiders season tickets when they were tough to get. On Sept. 23, 1973, with the A’s in the postseason, the Raiders played at Cal against the Miami Dolphins, who entered with an 18-game winning streak and were coming off an unbeaten season.

The Raiders won 12-7 on four George Blanda field goals, but what I remember most of all was sitting near the top rim of Memorial Stadium and seeing punts higher than eye level.

I don’t remember what Guy’s stats were that day and it doesn’t much matter. Stats are misleading where Guy is concerned anyway. The Raiders were an elite team, so it’s not as if Guy was always punting from deep in his own territory. That his career average was 42.4 is remarkable considering the quality of teams he played on.

Colleague Bill Soliday, who saw every game Guy ever played, is famous for breaking out the stopwatch and clocking hang time. Guy still has the most hang-time of anyone he has ever clocked _ 5.3 seconds.

I talked to the late Hank Stram once for a story on Guy and while he was complimentary, he made it clear he thought his own punter, Kansas City’s Jerrell Wilson, was equal or superior.

Soliday tells me they were close, but Guy was better. I defer to Bill on all punting issues.

But let’s face it, as good as Guy was, the Raiders weren’t a great team because of their punter. To say he won them two games a year is probably excessive.

Take Guy out of the picture and Stabler goes a few yards more to pull out the game. What Guy did that day against Miami at Cal was light years behind I saw Stabler do the following season in the “Sea of Hands” game against the Dolphins in the playoffs.

(Best choice I ever made. Going into the playoffs, my dad told me I could pick which playoff game to attend, and my sister would get the other one. I took Miami, of course, because the Dolphins were the defending champions and reasoning that if the Raiders lost, I’d go to one game and she wouldn’t get any. As it turned out, I went to one of the best playoff games ever and she watched the Raiders get slammed by the Steelers the following week).

Davis made one of his most brilliant draft picks when he took Guy in the first round of the 1972 draft, because the Raiders were so loaded with talent in those days a punter was just about all they needed.

But if you asked John Madden before most any game, “You can have Stabler or Guy,” or, “Art Shell or Guy,” or “Branch or Guy,” and you know what his answer would have been.

As much as I like Stabler, Davis does more stumping for Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls as opposed to one for Stabler.

The selection process simply makes it impossible to reconcile putting a punter in over either Stabler or Plunkett.

Kicker Jan Stenerud made the Hall of Fame, but it’s going to be difficult for any other specialist to sneak in. What the Hall needs is a separate process for selecting a specialist. Maybe you don’t do it every year, to keep it as exclusive as possible. Or you pick no more than one and make the mandatory percentage so high that in some years there aren’t any.

As painful as it is for Raiders fans, the specialists wing ought to have an endless loop of Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal field goal in a snowstorm.

They’ve got areas in the Hall of Fame for announcers, and, God forbid, sports writers. And a punter can’t make it?

It isn’t that Guy isn’t worthy. It’s that the system is flawed.

More Hall of Fame snap judgements:

– It’s only going to get tougher for Guy in coming years. Next year alone, Rod Woodson and Bruce Smith are virtually slam-dunk selections, and it’s hard to imagine Cris Carter not getting in.

– If Carter doesn’t make it on the first ballot, I’d be surprised if Tim Brown did when his turn comes up. There’s a feeling out there that Brown was like a high scoring guard on a bad basketball team. Somebody is going to score points, and going for 25 in a one-sided loss doesn’t make you an all-time great.

My own feeling? Brown’s early success as a return specialist will help him and he’ll be in the conversation. But if Branch isn’t in, I have hard time seeing Brown in Canton.

– Don’t even get me started on Lynn Swann, who wasn’t in Branch’s league but made it courtesy of NFL Films and his juggling mid-field Super Bowl catch against Dallas.

But it is exactly that sort of play which Brown doesn’t have on his resume _ a signature moment or game which separated him from everyone else. I’ve heard the argument from a selector or two that he is a package of statistics who never did anything truly extraordinary.

– Woodson was already going to be a Hall of Famer before he ever got to Oakland, but I’ve got no problem with featuring him in the media guide as a Raider in the Hall of Fame because he might have been the second-most important player behind Rich Gannon to the club’s last AFC championship.

Woodson’s 97-yard interception return against Denver on Gannon’s near-perfect Monday night turned the entire season around.

– Leave it to Woodson, to one of the classier guys you’ll ever meet, to add a dose of perspective to the life-and-death NFL Network coverage of the Hall selection. It’s as if those who didn’t make it were scarred forever.

“As a player, you have to take this with a grain of salt,” Woodson said. “There are worse things than not making the Hall of Fame. At the end of the day, if you have your health and your family, that’s all that matters.”

– If former Vikings guard Randall McDaniel is still hanging around with 12 Pro Bowl selections, and Miami’s Bob Kuchenberg is still waiting, don’t look for Steve Wisniewski to get much run when eligible.

As selectors are fond of saying, Wiz would fall into the category of the “Hall of Very Good,” but not necessarily the Hall of Fame.

On a Roll

Brian Roll takes over as the Raiders strength and conditioning coach for Jeff Fish, who accepted a job with the Atlanta Falcons.

His resume looks impressive enough, but can he throw a pass? Fish was threw one of the nicest balls on the team and often worked with defensive backs during training camp drills.

The Chad campaign

Disgruntled wide receiver Chad Johnson, according to Pro Football Talk.com, made a pitch on Jim Rome’s ESPN television show to be dealt to the Raiders.

Heck of a talent, but do the Raiders want to go down this road so soon after Randy Moss?

Johnson is under contract through 2010 and is scheduled to make $3 million this season, $4.5 million in 2008, $6 million through 2009 and $5 million in 2010.

Is it just me, or can’t you just see Johnson looking for bigger money before that deal is up?

Haggling with Davis in public over money is never a good idea.

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