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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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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer