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Breaking news: Raiders restructure Branch’s contract

The Raiders freed up $5 million or so in salary cap room by restructuring the contract of starting strong safety Tyvon Branch on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Raiders reduced Branch’s base salary from $6 million to $715,000 for 2013. In exchange, the Raiders tacked on two seasons to the four-year contract Branch signed last season.
Branch still is in line to earn $6 million in 2013, in large part because of a $3.5 million roster bonus the Raiders honored. The saving comes in the form of reducing Branch’s cap figure from $10.9 million to approximately $6 million.
Branch’s salaries for 2014 and 2015 remain unchanged. However, he now is slated to earn $6.5 million in 2016 and ’17.
Branch was the Raiders franchise-tag player last season. The long-term contract he ultimately signed superseded the franchise-tag designation and ensured the Raiders keeping Branch in the fold for the next several seasons.
The Raiders now are more than $6 million under the cap, giving them some much-needed ammunition to re-sign some of their own prospective free agents, as well as some from other teams that are about to hit the open market Tuesday.
Earlier this week, the Raiders freed up more than $2 million by restructuring the contract of right guard Mike Brisiel.
Several other players are being targeted for restructured deals, as well, including quarterback Carson Palmer, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, free safety Michael Huff and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.

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Raiders don’t use franchise-tag designation

The Raiders opted against using the franchise tag on any of their prospective unrestricted free agents before the window closed Monday afternoon.

Last season, the Raiders placed the franchise-tag designation on strong safety Tyvon Branch as a means of protecting themselves from losing one of their key starters.

Ultimately, Branch signed a long-term contract that superseded the one-year tender as the Raiders franchise player. Players who are franchise-tagged are guaranteed the average salary of the five-highest-paid players at their position from the previous season.

Not applying the franchise tag on any of their 17 prospective unrestricted free agents doesn’t mean the Raiders aren’t interested in bringing back some or all of those players.

They have until March 12 to hammer out contracts with key players such as linebacker Philip Wheeler, tight end Brandon Myers and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant before other teams are allowed to make offers.

Also, the Raiders were only $1.45 million under the salary cap limit as of Monday morning, while still needing to account for the salaries of five more players before free agency starts Mar. 12.

Using the franchise tag would have made reaching cap compliance even more difficult. The Raiders can use up less cap room for 2013 by signing some or all of the aforementioned players to long-term deals.

Several top-notch players such as wide receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib, free safety Dashon Goldson and tight end Jared Cook also weren’t franchise-tagged by their respective teams.

Players such as those are intriguing prospects for the Raiders to consider if those players remain unsigned once free agency starts.

For now, though, the Raiders primary focus is freeing up enough money so that they can re-sign some of their own players before they are eligible for free agency.

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