Eighth in a series analyzing Raiders position groups as free agency begins (on the West Coast, anyway) tonight at 9 p.m.
Starters: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Chris Johnson, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Michael Huff. Backups: CB Stanford Routt, S Mike Mitchell, S Hiram Eugene, CB Jonathan Holland, S Jerome Boyd.
Review: The Raiders were eighth in passing yardage surrendered, but part of that was because opponents were busy attacking the 29th-ranked run defense. Opposing passers compiled an 89.5 passer rating and the Raiders intercepted only eight passes. Huff had the best season of his career, Asomugha was avoided as much as possible and Johnson held up about as well as could be expected considering Asomugha was on the opposite side.
Branch, in his second year out of Connecticut, was second to Kirk Morrison in tackles with 124 _ more than any safety in the league. Depth was a problem. Routt had no interceptions, Eugene was overtaken by Huff and Holland and Boyd are projects changing positions, Holland from wide receiver, Boyd from college linebackers.
Contract status: Routt was issued the NFL’s most eye-opening tender, a first- and third-round designation that brings with it a salary of more than $3.2 million. Eugene received a second-round tender, his agent confirms. Everyone else is under contract.
What’s next: Do the Raiders have something up their sleeve with either Asomugha or Johnson in terms of a trade? Or is the mind-blowing tender to Routt simply another example of Davis seeing far more in a physical package than has manifested itself on the football field? It’s true Asomugha had a few rough years before he blossomed, but Routt has given little or no indication he is capable of doing the same.
Huff is due a $5.75 million salary that puts him with the elite at his position, and although he played much better, it’s a stretch to consider him Pro Bowl material. But at the NFL scouting combine, Cable went out of his way to say Huff had “arrived,” making it sound as if his salary is not an issue. It’s a big year for Mitchell, who showed promise toward the end of last season although Cable’s combine assertion that the second-round pick was “sensational” was a bit over the top.
It will be interesting to see what Mitchell can do if he keeps his hamstrings loose, gets in the kind of shape he wants and hits the ground running and hitting in July. Branch had some issues with angles and missed a tackle or three, but made more than his share and is the best looking young safety the Raiders have had in years _ very good for a second-year player they got in the fourth round.
Holland was on the roster primarily to return kickoffs, and the Raiders will look to replace him that area. That means he’ll have to make great strides as a defensive back to stick. Boyd will have had a full professional year under his belt as a safety, but the Raiders are more crowded at that position than they’ve ever been assuming Huff, Branch, Mitchell and Eugene are all still around.