The Pain Was Worth the Pleasure for Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders
Elias Trejo – Nov 7, 2016
The Oakland Raiders are sitting at 7-2 and in first place in the AFC West heading into their bye week. The Raiders didn't just escape the Broncos on Sunday Night. They completely manhandled the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Raiders were led by a dominant offensive line and their stable of young stars that they have drafted over the last four years. For at least one week, the Raiders and the Raider Nation can feel like they are on top of the world. However, it wasn't always this easy under General Manager, Reggie McKenzie.
When McKenzie took over he made it clear that he was going to fix the "out of whack contracts" and build through the draft. Back then many people didn't realize what that meant, but Hue Jackson gave everyone a hint on his way out the door as he told CSN's Bay Area Henry Wofford that McKenzie was going to "Gut this place."
Gut the place he did as McKenzie and the Raiders immediately started taking on dead money by cutting some of these players who had contracts that didn't make business or football sense. No team in the history of the NFL has ever taken on as much dead money in consecutive seasons as the Raiders did during the 2012 and 2013 season. As painful as those seasons were for the Raiders and their fanbase, it was necessary so they can be in the position they are today.
The Raiders roster is full of star players that are 30 and under and the cornerstones of this franchise are 25 and under. Derek Carr is considered the best young quarterback in the NFL by many, Amari Cooper is one of the best wide receivers in the league at 22 years old, and Khalil Mack, at 25, is considered one of the most dominant defensive players in the league. The list could go on as the Raiders youth and talent has them as one of the best teams in the league today, but they also have a bright future as a franchise.
McKenzie chose the a path that was smart but it was also hard. In his first three years as GM for the Raiders his team went 11-37. After coming off two consecutive 8-8 years, the Raiders took a few steps back, but those steps back helped them get into the position they are in today. Those seasons of letting over paid players go and bringing in one year players allowed Oakland to position themselves to draft the leaders of today's team.
Without those seasons there would be no Carr, Mack, Cooper, Gabe Jackson, Latavis Murray and others. There wouldn't be the kind of money available to sign players like Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Donald Penn, Bruce Irvin or David Amerson. McKenzie and owner, Mark Davis, knew they had a long road ahead of them and McKenzie's recent contract extension confirms that he is doing what was expected of him.
This whole roster is showcasing McKenzie's talent and expertise. It's not just his draft picks and veteran free agent signings that are making a difference. His ability to find undrafted free agents that make an impact on the team is among the best in the league. Guys like Seth Roberts, Jalen Richard, and Darius Latham are making plays for the Raiders this year. McKenzie is also great at finding players other teams don't want anymore and they turn into contributors. Amerson, Jamize Olawale, Andre Holmes and Perry Riley are examples of this. Their roles on the team have helped make this roster one of the best rosters the Raiders have had in over a decade.
For the first four years of the McKenzie era you would hear some say, "Trust the process." At times that was very difficult to watch as the Raiders suffered through difficult seasons, but then again, it's been a rough last two decades. During the McKenzie era we saw a few rosters put together with duct tape, a shoe lace and bubble gum. Then we started seeing a resurgence of young players who were just too inexperienced to win and compete.
Today however, everything is starting to come together. The vision that many of us saw is starting to come to fruition and even those that have refused to give McKenzie and Davis credit are starting to enjoy this. The reality is, it doesn't matter whether you like or agree with McKenzie and Davis because you still like the fact that the Raiders whooped some Bronco ass this Sunday Night.
What makes this team even more exciting is that there is still plenty of room to improve. The defense is starting to look better and they have two key pieces returning in the second half of the year as Mario Edwards and possibly Aldon Smith join the Raiders for their playoff push. The offensive line is starting to get healthy and should only get stronger and now the Raiders showed they aren't just a pass happy team. They ran over the Broncos and put up 30 points against a team that hasn't given up 30 since December of last year.
The Raiders are 7-2. Enjoy the moment Raider Nation. It's been a long time since we've been here.
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