By Ryan Leong
The Raiders have been rebuilding since the start of the season. As the team tries to end a six-game losing streak, they’re also hoping to revamp the roster, dumping expensive veterans and others not performing up to expectations.
The latest casualty is cornerback Ron Bartell. The 30-year-old broke his collarbone in the season opener, and returned just last month. He started six games before being released. Bartell signed a one-year, $3 million contract. He was let go because the team wanted to get a longer look at Phillip Adams and Chimdi Chekwa, who was promoted off the practice squad. Chekwa remains the only corner from training camp this season.
Among the other training-camp cornerbacks, Shawntae Spencer (foot) was placed on injured reserve, and Pat Lee, Bryan McCann and Demarcus Van Dyke were cut. Lee was released after starting seven games in place of Bartell. Michael Huff moved to corner from safety, and Adams was added just before the end of preseason following his release from the Seahawks. Adams will take over as a starter for Bartell and play opposite of Huff.
Fullback Owen Schmitt was also released because the recent addition of Jamize Olawale last week to backup Marcel Reece made Schmitt expendable.
Disgrunted linebacker Rolando McClain was reinstated to the 53-man roster, but not activated until he meets with head coach Dennis Allen. McClain had been suspended two games without pay on November 30 for conduct detrimental to the team after a heated exchange with Allen at practice and other transgressions. His suspension ended on Monday morning, but he has not met with nor apologized to Allen who has been away to attend the funeral of his father, Grady.
A team press release says, “At some point after his return, coach Allen will meet with McClain to discuss the linebacker’s role.”
McClain was demoted from the nickel defense earlier this season, retaining his starting position in the 4-3 base defense. But in passing situations, the team elected to use Phillip Wheeler taking over play-calling and rookie Miles Burris as the second linebacker on the field. McClain, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft, is unlikely to return next season, when he is due $4 million in salary with a cap number of $6.675 million.
Another question mark is the future of seven-time Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler. The 36-year-old Lechler is in the final year of a four-year, 16-million contract that made him the highest paid punter in NFL history. Next year, he will be an unrestricted free agent. He is ranked 10th in gross average at 47.3 yards per punt. With a net of 38.3, it’s the second-worst of his career.
Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are the longest-tenured players on the roster. They have each played for eight coaches dating back to Jon Gruden in 2000.
The Raiders front office gave undrafted rookie Marquette King an opportunity to audition during training camp and his potential is so great, they might allow Lechler to test free agency in the off-season. Lechler has stated a desire to return to Oakland but it’s up to general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Allen to decide how much they’d be willing to pay for a punter on a rebuilding squad under budgetary constraints.
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Ryan Leong has reported on over 2,800 games in the Bay Area since 1998, covering the Sharks, Giants, A’s, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders and the local college teams for radio networks and wire services. Having the best seat in the house to watch sports has been a thrill and Ryan still enjoys going to the games giving fans some insight and perspective on the players and coaches. His work can be found on Examiner.com.