Retaining TE Miller won’t be so easy

Whenever the NFL owners and players reach agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it won’t be long before the focus shifts toward free agency.

The Raiders have all but moved on from three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, regarded as the prime free agent in this year’s class. However, they still have a decent shot at bringing back tight end Zach Miller.

The Raiders thought they had Miller locked up for at least 2011 when they tendered him a one-year contract in March as a restricted free agent. Not so fast.

The new CBA makes four-year veterans such as Miller unrestricted free agents. The deal also enables the league’s 31 other teams to pursue unrestricted free agents during the 72-hour window in which the player’s former team has to negotiate.

In other words, Miller will be able to field offers from any team once free agency commences. Therefore, the Raiders need to be prepared to act, and act fast. Oh, and don’t forget to open the coffers.

Miller led the Raiders in receiving each of the past three seasons, and he is regarded as one of the top receiving tight ends in the league. It’s a certainty that the line of teams in pursuit of Miller will be a long one.

What the Raiders have going for them is the fact that Miller enjoys being a Raider. The other potential wild card is the addition of offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who has a long history of favoring the tight end in his offense.

Still, money talks, especially if another team offers considerably more than the Raiders.

Along those lines, the Raiders can sit back for a day or two, give Asomugha a chance to gauge his worth and, perhaps, jump in late if they deem Asomugha’s asking price within their budget.

The Raiders learned that they have about $6.5 million more in cap room under provisions in the new CBA that allow $3.5 million for performance-based pay and $3 million to be borrowed from future years.

Asomugha has said in the past how much he enjoys playing for the Raiders. We’re about to find out just how much. Raiders managing general partner Al Davis covets cornerbacks and is hesitant to part ways with first-round picks. He also finds a way to keep the players he really wants, even if it means overpaying.

Just the same, Davis said in January that $17 million is a lot of money to pay one player, when that could be used for two or more players.

The smart money says, Asomugha struck it rich the past three years and isn’t as consumed with finding the richest contract, but a team with which he feels as if he has the best chance to reach a Super Bowl.

Don’t underestimate the Charles Woodson factor, either. Asomugha and Woodson are close friends, and they speak often. Woodson blazed the trail that Asomugha travled the past eight seasons — develop into an elite player, struggle through several losing seasons, pocket tons of cash and then move on.

Asomugha seeing Woodson win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers last season no doubt solidified Asomugha’s stance that he wants to play for a team that he thinks has a realistic shot at winning the Super Bowl. We’ll see if Asomugha thinks the Raiders fit the bill.


Steve Corkran