Sapp decision leaves gaping hole

Warren Sapp

Warren Sapp's decision to retire came as no surprise. The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle had been contemplating the move ever since training camp and increasingly realized 2007 would be his final year as the season rolled along.

But, while the Raiders might have expected the move, it still leaves the team with yet another hole to plug in what is surely to be a busy offseason for the franchise.

Warren Sapp formally announced his retirement on Thursday but he had told friends and teammates of his decision prior to Oakland's final game of the year against San Diego. Raiders' owner Al Davis met with Sapp the night before the Chargers game and tried to persuade him to stay, asking Sapp if he was sure he wanted to retire.

Sapp, pointing to his chest and his familiar jersey number, told Davis "I'm 99 percent percent sure" but agreed to think about it for a few days. But it was clear to those closest to Sapp that his mind was already made up.

Talking after the game, Sapp noted the desire to spend more time with his two young children, both of whom live in Florida. He also speculated about the prospects of entering the broadcasting field, possibly as an NFL analyst for HBO.

For the Raiders, though, life after Sapp might not be as easy. Though his numbers dropped off this season, he was still a force in the middle for the defense and routinely took on double teams, which freed up defensive ends Derrick Burgess and Chris Clemons to rush the quarterback.

Now Oakland must decide what to do to fill his void. The logical move would be to slide Tommy Kelly from defensive end to Sapp's three-technique spot, but Kelly is coming off a season-ending knee injury and is a free agent. While the Raiders would prefer to re-sign him, it's possible Kelly might not want to return without Sapp, who has been a mentor of sorts to the young defensive lineman over the past four seasons.

If Kelly doesn't re-sign, Oakland will head into the offseason having to sign at least two, if not three, defensive linemen.

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