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The Oakland Raiders tight end Zack Miller tries to make a juggling catch against the Cleveland Browns at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Sunday, September 24, 2007. The Raiders got their first victory of the season 26-24. (Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times)

In giving defensive lineman Richard Seymour big money in February, the Raiders could say he earned it.

In throwing millions at cornerback Stanford Routt a week later, they effectively said, with little supportive evidence, he will earn it.

By lavishing the biggest megadeal of all on pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley this week, Raiders boss Al Davis is saying he believes Wimbley will be a game-changing star.

In waving goodbye to Zach Miller, whom the Raiders probably thought wouldn't leave, there isn't much the franchise can say -- except ouch.

Miller's free-agent defection to Seattle on Tuesday left the Raiders doubled over and gasping for air. While they were clearing salary-cap space, presumably in an effort to find money to pay him, Miller was recruited away by former Raiders coach Tom Cable, now coaching the offensive line for the Seahawks.

The loss of the 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end sucks considerable life from an Oakland offense that only last season regained a pulse.

The Raiders won't publicly express the depth of the loss, and that's OK. It's not acceptable in their culture, or that of the NFL, to moan about players no longer on the roster. It's Next Man Up, as coach Hue Jackson is getting into the habit of saying.


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They will know, however, that losing Miller hurts. Oakland had made clear its desire to keep Miller in Silver and Black. Jackson said it repeatedly.

The coach didn't have to point to Miller's statistics or the fact that last season Zach became Oakland's first offensive skill position player to wear a Pro Bowl jersey in eight seasons, since Rich Gannon and Jerry Rice in 2002.

Wanting Miller to return was an easy call, a no-brainer insofar as he was the team's best and most consistent offensive player. He blocked and caught and hustled, game after game since being drafted in the second round in 2007. He somehow managed to flourish despite the handicap of a numbing succession of undistinguished quarterbacks, from the generic Bruce Gradkowski, to the abysmal JaMarcus Russell through the inconsistent Jason Campbell.

In the middle of consistently hideous offenses before 2010, Miller represented the one consistently reliable component.

So, yes, this is a deep wound, particularly so for a team that usually finds a way to keep the homegrown free agents they want. But Miller became a free agent in a blink, gaining that status as a result of the collective bargaining agreement reached last week.

It hurts all the more because Miller's 2011 replacement likely is not on the roster, can't be expected to provide similar production and almost certainly won't be as consistent. It's not as if the Raiders can pursue the best tight end on the market, because that was Miller.

Understand, the Raiders fully anticipated losing some talent. They expected cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the league's premier free agent, to leave, and they practically invited Robert Gallery, who has become a serviceable guard, to move on.

Miller's departure, though, provides stinging punctuation to a week during which Oakland already had lost the league's best cornerback (Asomugha) and the team's best lineman (Gallery). And now, its best receiver packs up.

Individually, these are aches. Collectively, this can be devastating.

It was in February that some credited the Raiders with showing some foresight as the specter of the lockout loomed. Noted agent Drew Rosenhaus remarked during the NFL Combine that month that he'd like to see more teams take Oakland's approach, telling reporters the Raiders "have been aggressive in getting deals done."

That was a reference to deals handed to Seymour (two years, $30 million, $22.5 mil guaranteed) and Routt (three years, $31.5 mil, $20 mil).

Less than six months later, the Raiders look sleepy, ponderous and slow to react.

They extended Wimbley (five years, $48 mil, $29 mil guaranteed), who couldn't leave. Maybe they'll wake up and keep running back Michael Bush, a restricted free agent.

But the Raiders lost a player they wanted and needed. Their best seasons usually include a productive tight end.

Miller, whose five-year deal reportedly is worth $34 million, half of which is guaranteed, can't be blamed. He landed softly, with a team that won a playoff game last season. He's set for life.

The Raiders are searching for a tight end. And they're struggling to set a roster for training camp, much less the season.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.