COMMENTARY | In his first year as general manager of the Oakland Raiders, Reggie McKenzie was forced to deal with the financial disaster left behind by late owner, Al Davis.
McKenzie had to part ways with Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley, Jason Campbell and Michael Bush in order to save some serious money before the 2012 season started.
As McKenzie mulls over his payroll, he'll have to decide out of Oakland's 17 unrestricted free agents which ones he's going to re-sign and which ones he's going to let walk.
After a disappointing 2012 season in which they finished 4-12 after back-to-back eight-win seasons, the Raiders will still be strapped financially as they await the NFL draft in April.
Saying the team disappointed in 2012 is nothing short of an understatement.
The Raiders were horrible, and for the 10th-straight year failed to make the postseason while regressing from their two previous seasons.
Although Oakland was a mess both on and off the field, there were a select few players who earned their keep.
Here are three free agents the Raiders need to re-sign in the offseason:
Philip Wheeler, LB
After spending four seasons in Indianapolis, linebacker Philip Wheeler found a nice home in Oakland. Wheeler was the best defensive player for the Raiders in 2012 while his untamed dreadlocks and physical play gave him that "Raider image."
Wheeler recorded a team-high 109 tackles with three sacks and two forced fumbles.
With a weak free agent class of linebackers in 2013, Wheeler remains a hot commodity on the market.
He only made $700,000 in 2012 and is sure to get looks from several teams after such an impressive season. Wheeler and rookie linebacker Miles Burris finished as the top-two tacklers on the team amd were the only reasons the Raiders' defense didn't completely embarrass themselves every week.
He will come at a price, but McKenzie would be wise to re-sign his best defensive player.
Brandon Myers, TE
Under Greg Knapp's zone-blocking scheme, the Raiders failed to establish any sort of running game. At the same time, their defense allowed the fifth-most points in the NFL and their offense constantly had to play from behind.
Carson Palmer found a security blanket in tight end Brandon Myers, and he quickly became one of the most reliable tight ends in the league.
Myers finished fourth in the NFL with 806 yards and was targeted at least 10 times in four different games.
As wide receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey continued to drop passes, Myers was always there to pick up the slack.
The tight end has evolved into a different role over the last decade and has become one of the most important positions on the field.
The Raiders must hold on to Myers next season.
Desmond Bryant, DTWhen Richard Seymour went down with a hamstring injury in Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it gave Desmond Bryant the opportunity to show the silver and black what he could do as a starter.
Bryant recorded three sacks in his final four games and helped provide the spark that Oakland's defensive line had been missing all season long.
Seymour and Tommy Kelly were virtually non-existent the entire year by combining for less than five sacks, so naturally Bryant couldn't possibly do any worse.
If the Raiders are able to re-sign him, it would give them a younger and more explosive look on the defensive line.
Assuming Oakland drafts a defensive end with the No. 3 pick in this year's draft, Bryant would be paired up with Kelly on the interior, with Lamarr Houston and an exciting new pass rusher coming off the end.
Steven Slivka is a Featured Columnist for the Oakland Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter @stevenslivka
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