The Raiders freed up more than $5 million 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 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 when the new NFL year begins.
Seventeen Raiders players scheduled for unrestricted free agency will begin to get an idea of their worth on the open market beginning Friday night. Agents can begin contract talks with prospective teams starting at 9 p.m. Friday on the West Coast.
Teams can't talk to players from other teams, schedule visits or strike deals until Tuesday, but the window provides both sides a head start on the process.
Among the most notable Raiders open to the highest bidder include strong side linebacker Philip Wheeler, tight end Brandon Myers, defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant and punter Shane Lechler.
Others include right tackle Khalif Barnes, left guard Cooper Carlisle, defensive end Andre Carter, middle linebacker Omar Gaither, free safety Matt Giordano, running back Mike Goodson, wide receiver Derek Hagan, cornerback Joselio Hanson, quarterback Matt Leinart, safety Mike Mitchell, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and cornerback Shawntae Spencer.
The seventeen free agents started a combined 100 games for the Raiders in 2012.
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 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 The long-term contract he ultimately signed superseded the franchise-tag designation and ensured the Raiders keeping Branch in the fold for the next several seasons.
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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