ALAMEDA -- The Raiders have gone out of their way to warn fans they shouldn't expect a spending spree when free agency opens.

Yet with more than $66 million under the salary cap and no activity to date, general manager Reggie McKenzie figures to be an active participant in the open market simply because he needs to fill a roster.

As of Friday, the Raiders had 17 unrestricted free agents. They declined to use the franchise tag on either of their two most coveted players, left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston.

Both players still could sign with the Raiders, as could the others -- a group that includes running backs Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden, safety Charles Woodson and Houston's three mates on the starting defensive line.

However, those players also are able to solicit offers from other teams starting Saturday; signings can begin Tuesday at 1 p.m. (PDT). Likewise, the Raiders can reach out to free agents they believe fit their system and philosophy.

"We have resources, but that doesn't mean you go out and spend irresponsibly, because then you put yourself in a bad position again," Raiders coach Dennis Allen told reporters at last month's NFL scouting combine. "The plan will always be you draft young players, raise them through your program, re-sign them, and augment your team through free agency."

Former Indianapolis Colts executive Bill Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, sees the free agency process as a potential minefield.


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"The best players are not in free agency," Polian said in a national conference call. "They're tagged or signed. By definition you're getting a guy who's not somebody's No. 1 player, and you're probably overpaying for them.

"Fans want you to go out and play fantasy football, but that's the last thing you should be doing. If you miss, that money never comes back."

Ideally, McKenzie would take a page from his former employer, the Green Bay Packers, and rely on players he had drafted and developed. The problem is, the Raiders roster has gaping holes everywhere.

"The philosophy is not to dump every dollar and cent into one or two players," McKenzie said. "That's not what I want. We're not at that point that we're able to do that, because we have more than one or two needs."

McKenzie and Allen covet a veteran quarterback, an upgraded pass rush, a stalwart left tackle, help at cornerback and are in need of a free safety.

Potential targets include:

  • Buffalo free safety Jairus Byrd. Woodson noted the Raiders played him almost exclusively as a classic free safety last season, and Byrd is one of the NFL's best in that spot. McKenzie will need to move quickly and open his checkbook, because Byrd won't be around long.

  • Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner. With starters Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter on the open market, the Raiders need a cornerback to start opposite DJ Hayden, last year's first-round draft pick who presumably will be healthy and start. Verner would fit nicely in the Allen-Jason Tarver defense.

  • Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields. McKenzie has plenty of inside information, with Shields having come aboard when he was with the Packers personnel department. His presence helped move Woodson to safety with the Packers. Only 26, Shields had four interceptions last season.

  • Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson and Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. If the Raiders were to sign either player, particularly the pocket-rushing Bennett, the decision to avoid the franchise tag with Houston would make sense.

  • Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph: Only 25, Joseph would pair nicely with second-year player Stacy McGee. Last season's starters, Vance Walker and Pat Sims, the latter a decent run-stopper, are possibilities to return.

  • Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick. Assuming the Raiders take a quarterback early in the draft, they'll need a bridge unless they plan to start a rookie. Vick, 33, has his faults but is the best option in a weak crop. Matt Cassel (Minnesota) is another potential caretaker, as is Josh Freeman (Minnesota), who had his best season in Tampa Bay with Raiders assistant Greg Olson as offensive coordinator.

  • Baltimore left tackle Eugene Monroe. If Veldheer's price is out of range, the only tackle in free agency who is of similar ability is Monroe, dealt from Jacksonville to the Ravens last season. He's likely to want as much as Veldheer, however.

  • Kansas City guards Geoff Schwartz and Joe Asamoah. Schwartz replaced Asamoah last season, but either would be a relatively young addition and provide competition for incumbents Mike Brisiel and Khalif Barnes.

    For more on the Raiders, visit the Inside the Oakland Raiders blog at ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders. Follow Jerry McDonald on Twitter at twitter.com/Jerrymcd.

    INSIDE
    49ers more focused on keeping own players than adding new ones. PAGE 5

    McKenzie
    G.M. could fill many roster holes with free agents.

    Raiders unrestricted
    free agents
    RB Rashad Jennings, RB Darren McFadden, WR Jacoby Ford, TE Jeron Mastrud, T Tony Pashos, T Jared Veldheer, C-G Andre Gurode, DE Lamarr Houston, DE Jason Hunter, DT Daniel Muir, DT Pat Sims, DT Vance Walker, CB Phillip Adams, CB Mike Jenkins, CB Tracy Porter, S Charles Woodson, S Usama Young