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Reggie McKenzie: Architect of a Raider rebuild?

Posted by Brad On June - 12 - 2013
"Reggie McKenzie"

Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

If one could be dealt a worse hand, I’d like to see it. Reggie McKenzie has been the subject of much dismay with a sect of Raiders fans – for no good reason. With last week’s firing of public relations director, Zak Gilbert the common belief was this could be a warning shot to McKenzie by owner Mark Davis.

I don’t live in either the camp that believes McKenzie has gutted the team and left them for dead or that the Gilbert firing is a shot across the bow at McKenzie. Maybe it’s my naive nature to believe that Mark Davis is capable of seeing this thing out with McKenzie at the helm. My belief is that it would be a catastrophic mistake to jump ship on a guy that has made all the right moves in what was the bleakest of situations.

THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION

Matt Flynn isn’t the answer but comes cheaper and can give them similar production until Tyler Wilson can take the reigns.

McKenzie was hamstrung in cap hell with over $47 million in dead cap, future drafts were victimized by the Carson Palmer trade, and his roster was filled with underachieving high draft picks.

Many Raider fans will point to the fact that McKenzie didn’t reach out to punter Shane Lechler for a contract extension. That’s right punter Shane Lechler. Look, I know that Lechler was very good but if the cornerstone of your franchise is a punter, it’s time to reevaluate.

Let’s recap this offseason. Gone are Richard Seymour, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff, Tommy Kelly, Phillip Wheeler, Desmond Bryant, Rolando McClain, and Lechler. Sure the Raiders would have liked to bring back Wheeler and Bryant but at $33 million and $35 million respectively, it wasn’t in the best interest of an abysmal cap situation to make those moves. Maybe the biggest decision of McKenzie’s offseason was to trade Carson Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals for a couple of late-round draft picks and deal for Seattle backup Matt Flynn.

Palmer was never going to be happy in Oakland, nor was he the answer to their problems. Matt Flynn isn’t the answer but comes cheaper and can give them similar production until Tyler Wilson or Terrelle Pryor can take the reigns.

MORE: NFL’s Future – Could history repeat itself for Matt Flynn?

THE DRAFT

"Tyler Wilson"

Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 NFL Draft would have McKenzie locked and loaded with a whopping two picks. The Raiders were dealt three additional compensatory picks and would ultimately make six selections. That said, McKenzie’s first draft selection in his tenure as Raiders GM would be at No. 95. Not exactly a recipe for success in today’s ‘build through the draft’ world.

Five of the Raiders 2012 selections are still on the roster and the the sixth (Nathan Stupar) is with the San Francisco 49ers. All five figure into the team’s two-deep including a starting LG in Tony Bergstrom. Given the circumstances, year one for McKenzie has to be considered a win.

As the days neared the 2013 NFL Draft it became apparent that McKenzie was targeting Houston CB D.J. Hayden. Hayden suffered a life-threatening injury in 2012 but was cleared by NFL team doctors. Maybe McKenzie’s finest masterpiece of the 2013 offseason was overhauling an atrocious secondary and finding a building block like Hayden is of notable significance. After Hayden, McKenzie struck gold with the selections of Sio Moore and Tyler Wilson and bronze with the Menelik Watson selection. McKenzie continued to find value in the later rounds with a couple of steals in TE Nick Kasa, RB Latavius Murray, TE Mychal Rivera, and DE David Bass.

As much as one can surmise from players that have little to no NFL game experience, McKenzie has hit a homerun in his first two drafts.

MORE: NFL’s Future – Oakland Raiders 2013 NFL Draft Recap

FUTURE FLEXIBILITY

Outside of $6 million in dead money on Michael Huff, McKenzie has freed the Raiders from ‘cap hell.’ The Raiders will have 34 players under contract heading into the 2014 offseason with the most (by far) cap space. With nearly $46 million tied up in 34 players plus Huff’s $6.2 million in dead money, the Raiders have slightly over $52 million wrapped up in total salary – before contracts on Hayden, Moore, Wilson, and Watson have been doled out.

With what could be nearly $80 million dollars in cap space, the Raiders can re-tool a roster that is younger, more talented, and fiscally responsible than the one McKenzie inherited. I wouldn’t expect McKenzie to blow his cap wad in 2014 but with a handful of nice pieces expected to hit the open market, the Raiders could throw their hat into the ring on a quicker than expected rebuild.

BUILDING A WINNER?

McKenzie’s inheritance was one of the worst in the league. It’s the expectation around the league that the 2013 Raiders will be an AFC West cellar dweller and could challenge for one of the worst teams in the league. There was no promise when McKenzie took over that there was a quick fix, nor will it be that.

There’s not a GM in the league that could have done any better than what McKenzie has done. While it won’t be a quick rebuild, the process could start taking shape as early as the 2014 season.

It’s hard to see the forest through the trees.

It’s hard to find a position group on the 2013 Raiders roster that isn’t improved from the 2012 team. That’s a remarkable feat for a GM that was handcuffed with cap issues, few draft picks, and headaches in the locker room. It will be interesting to see what McKenzie can do with cap space, a full deck of draft picks, and hopefully the support from atop the organization. The time for optimism is now for Raider Nation and it’s time to start believing in your GM.

  • HighTops

    Typical spewing of garbage. Mckenzie is a bum and anyone with any sense sees that. He’s got the best job in the world – cut some players, win 4 games, and collect a paycheck. Don’t make him out to be a hero.

    • bradc11

      I wasn’t aware that it was typical for me to spew garbage. The point of the article was to point out that you can’t find a position group on this roster that isn’t better off than what it was when he took over — that has to be worth something.

      • Tim Owens

        It’s EASY to cut no-good players, it’s hard and takes STRONG leadership skills to get average players to play, and develop, like natural all pro’s…Mck is not that leader.

        • bradc11

          The art in it comes when you’re able to cut high-priced names for the likes of Pat Sims, Jason Hunter, et al. and get more production at a fraction of the cost. I’m betting they will get more out of guys like Sims than they did with T. Kelly or R. Seymour. Being fiscally responsible is something the Raiders haven’t been successful at and they are getting to that point and should be in the near future.

          In order to complete the rebuild, he’ll have to prove he’s capable of stockpiling enough talent in 2014 (at the right cost) to get this team to .500 and hit a couple of homeruns in the draft. Good news is that they should be drafting high next year and could score a Clowney, Bridgewater type to be the cornerstone.

          • Tim Owens

            No matter how you slice it, we’re looking at another 10 years…5 to get to .500 (maybe) and hope that the West gets weaker in that interval and another 5 to be considered not-bad. No, Alex Smith made the right call, but did he HAVE to come into the AFC West?! ARG! The Football Fates hate the Raiders…Al pissed’em off too many times.

    • Tim Owens

      Mck IS a bum and was NOT the answer for the Raiders who needed awesome leadership, not a bumbling excuse maker who will need another decade to get back up to .500 ball.

  • Tim Owens

    In all the too MANY years of my being a Raider fan, I have never, ever, seen an article pronounce the Raiders as having the worst starters than any other NFL franchise and this article simply reinforces that…yet ANOTHER pointless season of futility, so much for my having any interest in Raider fortunes…again. I’m SICK OF IT!

    Yeah, Mckenzie has a mess to deal with, BUT not getting Alex Smith and now, with Smith and Manning in the West to hand the Raiders FOUR stone-cold, guaranteed humiliating losses, this is killing. Mckenzie fired a head coach that WAS making progress set the Raiders even farther back…AGAIN! Quit blaming the past, produce with what you have and quit whining about “a GM in the league that could have done any better than what McKenzie has done.” BS! It’s a POOR craftsman who blames his tools for his shoddy work. McKenzie is asking for ANOTHER LOST DECADE to right the ship. NO!!! Sorry. Just Find a D*MN Way to Win, Baby or, GTFO!

    • bradc11

      Here’s my question to all those that fault him for not trading for Alex Smith. First, it cost a second this year and a pick in 2014. What was Alex Smith going to do with this team that Palmer or Flynn or Wilson or Pryor can’t do? 2013 is a wash for the Raiders…they will be lucky to win 2-3 games.

      McKenzie knew they couldn’t head down the same path and led the ship in a different direction by gutting the dead weight and starting a rebuild. With Hue and that roster – this team was destined to be a 6-8 win team at best. That’s futility.

      Dumping high priced, overrated, over-aged players and adding draft picks is a pretty solid recipe to win for the future.

      • Tim Owens

        It would have been nice if the Raiders had at least tried to get Alex Smith…his cost may have been prohibitive or, impractical, but it would have been a good sign that the organization’s thinking was going in the right direction. I disagree, Hue MAY have gone 6-8, but his trend was UPWARD…ditching him upset the stability that was finally taking root…deliberately initiating yet another round of coaching uncertainty/instability was patently stupid and McK keeps proving my point. Another 10 years of mediocrity delivered.

    • DCV

      I for one LOVE what Reggie is doing! He got rid of a number of below average players taking up a ton of cap space setting us up for a lot of wiggle room next year. This includes jettisoning that bum “Pick 6″ Palmer. He gets us back the second round pick that we lost to get him and we end up with a QB who can arguably produce similar numbers. To get us back to where we belong, he had to tear the roster down. He’s making smart decisions that, although don’t seem great short term, will have very positive results long term. I have a lot of optimism for the coming years and that’s something I haven’t been able to say about this team in a long time.

      • Tim Owens

        How many more years is “long term” before the Raiders are competitive?

        • bradc11

          Rebuilding in the NFL isn’t a year or two process. It’s proven that the great, sustainable organizations have built the core through the draft and added a few pieces here and there in free agency. That’s a process and it starts with making solid selections in the draft. While we can’t foresee into the future, I’ve liked both of his drafts. Sio Moore is going to be a starter in year one along with Hayden. Watson is a guy to stash for a year or two but has long-term LT ability. Wilson could challenge to be your starter and he found quality depth in the late rounds. If I said, you’d win a SB in five years, you wouldn’t be on board with that? You would rather scrap this guy and find someone that is going to mortgage the future for a chance to win now? Isn’t that already what has been done? Time for a change and it starts with McKenzie.

          • Tim Owens

            Okay, for the record, *exactly* how many seasons will it take for McKenzie to prove-out his genius moves? 1-2 years? 3- 5 years? 10? No matter, I fully stand by my 5 years before they begin to show that they are competent competitors…division winners…not by then…wildcards, maaaybe.

  • Joe InMaryland

    Next year, QB, WR, TE, then a glaring issue at DT and DE. How many comp picks will the Raiders get next year?

    • bradc11

      Joe,

      I think they have to think they will go with a DE or QB…assuming they are picking high – as most believe they will. Could be in the mix for Clowney or Bridgewater at which case I can’t imagine they would pass on either.

      As for comp picks, I didn’t do the math but they lost quite a bit but also signed quite a few. It’s a formula based on quality of what was lost vs. what was gained.The formula for determining quality is based on salary, playing time, and postseason honors. Given that the loss of Des Bryant and Wheeler could be valuable as they stick out as big salaries, projected to start, and who knows on postseason honors.

  • Reggie

    Brad,
    I really symphonize with McKensie….reminds me a lot of Mayhew’s situation when he took over Detroit. He has done a good job getting the salary cap back in order and doing some decent bargain shopping. That said I think his decision to take 2 risky selections on DJ Hayden and Menelik Watson might come back to bite him. Obtaining Star Lotulelei and someone like Johnathan Banks might have been a safer way to go. I like Tyler Wilson. I think McFadden is a solid player and some interesting young players in the receiver core. OL is solid. DL is horrible, LB core could be a strength in time and a mediocre secondary. I say give him a third year and then judge him on that.

    • bradc11

      To add some emphasis…his situation was almost twice as worst as Mayhew’s and Mayhew did (most) it to himself. McKenzie inherited this garbage and I think he’s done as good as one possibly could. They will no doubt be looking hard at that DL next offseason. I’m a fan of the Hayden pick – he’s worth the risk. I wasn’t as high on Watson as others but he’s a guy they can stash away this year and could develop into a starting LT down the road. I can’t blame him for taking a couple risks in the draft.

  • Josh Corrington

    I want to know how all of you fortune tellers are so sure that this will eventually work out? we STILL don’t have a franchise QB, (PRYOR IS NOT A FRANCHISE QB, HE IS AN ATHLETE THAT MAKES LOSING GAMES ENTERTAINING FOR US). The backbone of any and every successful team in history is a franchise QB, So one could argue we haven’t even begun rebuilding… there’s no O-line, so even if we get a QB with the last name Manning it wouldn’t matter.. he had plenty of draft picks to get this forever pathetic O-line back in shape, And he drafts a div II CB who almost died on the field last year.. And I’m not even going into the non existant Defense.. IT’s gonna take much more than even 60 million in cap money to fix this shitstorm..

  • Raiderwin1

    This is a very bias article protecting Reggie’s incompetence as a GM

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