To the casual observer 2009 was just like any other year. The days came and went, the seasons changed, and the Raiders were still terrible. However, there is hope for the future. While it didn't necessarily show up in their win-loss record, Oakland managed to be pretty competitive this season.
Their biggest move so far this off-season was using their franchise tag on Richard Seymour. He recorded four sacks and a forced fumble in his first year with the team, after the Raiders traded away their first round pick to get him. It would have been a big blow their run defense, which is already ranked near the bottom of the league, if they had lost him to free agency.
Aside from locking up Seymour for another year, most of the headlines regarding Oakland have to do with JaMarcus Russell. While it is believed that he and Bruce Gradkowski will compete for the starting job in 2010, the Raiders would do well to bring in another player to add into the mix. After all of Russell's struggles we will find out just how loyal Al Davis is to him this year. If JaMarcus doesn't improve his work ethic and his production on the field, his days in Oakland could be numbered.
Let's take a look at the Raiders free agents after the jump...
LB Jon Alston (RFA) - Alston got an opportunity to start in 2009 due to Ricky Brown's injury. He is best suited for a special-teams role.
LB Ricky Brown (RFA) - Brown is not expected to be tendered an offer, and should hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. He has the ability to play both strong-side and middle linebacker.
LS Jon Condo (RFA) - Condo served as the Raiders long snapper this season.
FS Hiram Eugene (RFA) - Eugene battled with Michael Huff at free safety. He only managed one interception.
QB Charlie Frye (RFA) - Frye was brought in as the third string quarterback but got some time as a starter at the end of the season due to Bruce Gradkowski's knee injury and JaMarcus Russell's ineffectiveness.
QB Bruce Gradkowski (RFA) - Gradkowski is expected to re-sign with Oakland and compete with JaMarcus Russell for the starting quarterback job. His stats are nothing to write home about, but the Raiders' offense improved with him under center.
LB Thomas Howard (RFA) - Howard has been solid as an outside linebacker for the Raiders, but he has not made many impact plays during his tenure.
FB Luke Lawton (RFA) - Lawton was the starting fullback in Oakland this season. He was suspended four games at the end of the year for violating the league's performance enhancing drugs policy.
C Chris Morris (RFA) - Morris provided depth for the Raiders offensive line.
LB Kirk Morrison (RFA) - Morrison is not a prototypical middle linebacker, but he has performed admirably in that role for Oakland. He compiled 123 tackles in 2009.
CB Stanford Routt (RFA) - Routt challenged for the starting left cornerback job before the season, but was eventually relegated to a backup role for the silver and black.
RB Gary Russell (ERFA) - Russell is a versatile player who spent time at fullback, tailback, and on special teams.
WR Todd Watkins (RFA) - Watkins made 12 appearances in 2009, but only managed to record 8 receptions during those games.
Nose Tackle - The Raiders' defense struggled mightily against the run this season. Finding a big nose tackle to plug up the running lanes would be a step towards improving that aspect of the team.
Tackle - Mario Henderson is serviceable at left tackle, but he is not among the league's elite at the position. If they can find a more athletic player to take over the left side of the line he could move over to the right side and solidify that position.
Right Guard - Oakland must upgrade at the right guard spot. Cooper Carlisle has proven to be ineffective as a starter, and is better suited to a backup role. Look for the Raiders to target a downhill/run-blocking type of a player for this spot.
Cornerback - While Chris Johnson just signed a contract extension before last season, by some accounts he regressed in 2009. He may be able to bounce back to his 2008 form, but Oakland should still try and add depth at this position. This will become an even bigger need if they lose Stanford Routt to free agency.
Quarterback - JaMarcus Russell has been terrible at the quarterback position and while Gradkowski is a step up, he is still better suited for a backup job. Despite their record, the Raiders were actually fairly competitive in 2009. If they can find a legit starting quarterback, Oakland could see a dramatic improvement in 2010.
Linebacker - The Raiders need to look for depth at the linebacker position to improve their run defense. If Thomas Howard leaves in free agency, they will also need to replace his production at the starting outside linebacker position. They are expected to resign Kirk Morrison so they should be fine at the middle linebacker spot.
It has been a long time coming, but the Raiders have the makings of a competitive team. Their first order of business should be upgrading their offensive line. While it is true that their quarterback play has been horrible, it is hard for any player to have success when he's constantly running for his life. It is especially important that they find a more effective player to take over for Carlisle at right guard.
Once the line is taken care of, look for Oakland to add another quarterback. Currently they have a stable of backups, but nobody on their depth chart seems capable of being even an average starting quarterback. Whether or not they decide to acquire a quarterback through free agency, the draft, or via a trade, they need to find someone who can make an immediate impact at the position.
On defense, the main concern is improving their ability to stop the run. Upgrades on the interior of their line should help alleviate their struggles. The rest of their defensive needs are mainly depth issues.
Football in the Bay Area has been excruciating to watch over the last decade. While I am no fan of the Raiders, I think it would be great if Oakland could turn their luck around next season. With some smart moves this offseason, perhaps the teams on both sides of the bay can put the area back on top of the football world where it belongs.