How Reggie McKenzie is Solving the Raiders Biggest Issues of the Last Decade
Elias Trejo – Mar 20, 2015
Reggie McKenzie took over the Raiders in 2012 and success wouldn't be the word many people would use to describe his first three years as General Manager. His team has never won more than four games in a season and Jack Del Rio will be the third head coach for the team in McKenzie's short tenure.
The national media has ridiculed him along with Mark Davis and the Raiders franchise for their failures since taking over. Perhaps more importantly the fans are split on what McKenzie has been doing with the team. Maybe it's been his lack of success in free agency. He's been unable to attract the big free agents and hasn't been able to keep the team's top talent when they become free agents.
Perhaps it's Reggie's drafting that has fans worried. McKenzie's first draft didn't yield too much success although the Raiders didn't have their first pick until late in the 3rd round. The 2013 draft still has many questions as the top two picks have yet to play a full season and produce like they should. The 2014 draft could go down as one of the greatest Raiders drafts in history if they build on their success from their rookie seasons.
So how can a GM that has a losing record, questionable free agent success and drafting that has yet to yield wins on the field be solving issues for the Raiders? The answer is simple yet complicated. The losing that the Raiders franchise has seen the last 20 years hasn't been the issue, but the losing is a result of the Raiders biggest issues.
That's right. Losing is not the issue, but a result of the issues. The Raiders biggest issues the last 20 years have been poor cap management and free agency investing, poor drafting, and lack of continuity with players and coaches. The great teams today can overcome failing on one of those aspects, but no team in the NFL can overcome all of them.
Lack continuity has been a big issue. The Raiders from 1999-2013 started 17 different quarterbacks according to Deadspin and in that same time frame the Raiders have had 10 head coaches. Those are two of the most important leadership positions for an NFL franchise that need to be consistent and they haven't been.
It's no secret that the Raiders drafting has been one of the worst in the NFL since 2000. The Raiders most successful first round draft that has given Oakland the biggest return has been kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Think about that for a minute. A kicker was not only taken in the first round but he has been the most successful first round pick for the franchise and that happened in 2000.
After Janikowski was drafted the following players were taken in the first round since 2000: Derrick Gibson, Phillip Buchanon, Napoleon Harris, Nnamdi Asomugha, Tyler Brayton, Robert Gallery, Fabian Washington, Michael Huff, JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rolando McClain, DJ Hayden and Khalil Mack. This alone should explain a lot.
Another aspect of some successful franchises is their ability to aquire talent from other teams. The Raiders failed miserably at this as well. Not only were they not able to draft their own talent but the talent they brought in from other teams yielded even worst results than their drafting did at times.
Guys like Kerry Collins, Warren Sapp, Randy Moss, Aaaron Brooks, Javon Walker, Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub will be some of the names that Raiders fans will have nightmares about. They were players that were brought in to help win games and they failed to do so. The good teams use free agency and trades to supplement their drafting and the Raiders failed at all of those aspects.
Enter Reggie McKenzie who was about to take over a team that hadn't had a winning record since 2002. A team that wasn't going to have a draft pick until pick number 95 because the first three picks were used to trade for other players. Since the day he came in McKenzie has stuck to his approach and has not changed his course because of losing.
The moves he made in his first two years were not focused on winning, but they were focused on fixing the issues that led to losing. He purged the roster and got rid of "out of whack" contracts. He could have used some creative cap management to add players or keep players, but he chose to take on dead money to fix the Raiders salary cap issues. It wouldn't lead to wins today, but it would solve an issue that was leading to losses.
His draft philosophy is very different than what Al Davis used. His scouting team is larger, he values football players over speed and size. His board dictates his drafting not the need of the team. His focus is on developing draft picks and keeping his own vs trying to find outside players to win games. He came from the Packers franchise where free agency to them is not a time to build championships.
Free agency has been a point of frustration for many fans, inlcuding myself, because we want the big names and the top talent. For the first two years we did not have the money to go after those players and the two years that we did we did not get them. In the end that may prove to be beneficial but as far as the immediate perception it is troubling to the fan base.
I, myself, wanted them to spend big money on guys like Ndamukong Suh and Randall Cobb. The reality is we would have had to offer more money than they were worth. At some point you have to starting thinking about your return on your investment. Would making Suh the highest paid player in NFL History be enough to make us Super Bowl contenders or even a playoff team? Is a defensive tackle worth top quarterback money? Do they control the outcome of a game as much as a quarterback?
I think everyone gets caught up in the excitement of free agency, but that doesn't mean it's the best approach.
Coaching and quarterbacks is something that McKenzie has struggled with until maybe recently. Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn, Matt Schaub, and Matt McGloin are all coaches and quarterbacks that will be forever tied to McKenzie. Now Jack Del Rio and Derek Carr will go into their first year together and could be the guys for the next several years. If that is the case McKenzie will be around for a while.
Carr will be McKenzie's first quarterback to start on opening day for two seasons in a row. Carr was McKenzie's highest drafted quarterback since he took over as GM. Del Rio is a guy that has coaching experience and has ties to the local area. He has had success in the past, but doesn't have a ring or consistent success as a head coach. However, the experience as a coach and a coordinator could prove valuable for him and the Raiders franchise moving forward.
The approach of building through the draft is a slow approach and it's shown to be painful for the Raider Nation. The majority of free agent acquisitions have been short term signings that are described as "low risk, high reward" signings. The majority of them how yielded very low to no reward for the Raiders.
The idea behind those signings is to get those players in and out while we replace them with draft picks. The ones that stay become a part of the team's foundation along with the young players drafted. Drafting is a major part of this and this year could show everyone how good McKenzie really is. Not only will he add another draft class but the 2013 and 2014 classes will show who they really are.
McKenzie has drafted a total of 24 players and 18 of them are still with the team. Oakland should be able to add another seven players in this years draft. The number of draft picks by McKenzie will still make up less than 50% of the players on the roster. This is far from a complete product and if Mark Davis wants to do what's best for the team, he will give McKenzie an extension after this season if improvement is shown.
The issues that lead to losing are being corrected and that will eventually lead to more wins. The roster still has a ways to go and if the Raiders take the right approach it won't be long until many of those McKenzie doubters change their tune. In this league and in this era of social media and hot takes it's going to take production on the field to change many people's minds. Unfortunately, while we correct the issues that lead to losing on the field, production might be the last thing we see improve, but it's happening.
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