Reggie McKenzie: Architect of a Raider rebuild?
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.
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.
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.
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.