Why Reggie McKenzie and Oakland Raiders are Quietly Having a Strong Offseason

Elias Trejo – Apr 1, 2013

Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders are having a pretty solid offseason considering their circumstances. Let's be clear for a moment before I continue. In McKenzie's first year as a GM, he was 4-12 and arguably fielded a much less talented team than Oakland had in 2011. McKenzie's plan is to compete long term, and for him to do that he had to do a lot of work with the roster and salary cap the first two years. This meant getting rid of players with "out of whack" contracts and finding value players in the free agency market. 

To understand what the Raiders are doing, you have to first understand McKenzie's approach and his philosophy. He is not the type of GM that is going to come in and overspend in free agency. He believes a team must build through the draft and develop their players. McKenzie will not build his team via free agency and he's not going to spend millions on other people's players. That is something the Raider Nation is not used to, which explains why there is so much frustration from part of the Raider Nation. They want to win now, and they're used to seeing Al Davis spend millions in free agency in an attempt to "win now." Unfortunately that sort of business philosophy is what got the Raiders into the mess they're in. A decade of bad free agent moves, trades,  terrible drafting and salary cap management left Oakland with no choice but to rebuild. This of course meant having to take a step back, to take several steps forward.

In a time where fan bases everywhere seek instant gratification, this approach that McKenzie is taking has left several Oakland fans in dissaray. They saw progress with 8-8 and a pretty solid offense in 2011 under Hue Jackson. To a fanbase that hasn't had a winning season since 2002, and has lost 11 games or more in eight out of the last 10 seasons, 8-8 was acceptable and provided hope. What most fans don't realize is that salary cap issues would have eventually forced Oakland to lose talent and would have made it hard to sustain long term success. Fans see the product on the field, but don't always see how the salary cap and drafting can affect that product on the field. Only one first round pick from 2002 to 2012 will still be on the Raiders roster when the 2013 NFL season start. That sort of track record will derail any team in the league. You just can't miss that many times in the draft, especially in the first round and still be a competitive franchise.

The draft is the most important part of a team's success along with good coaching. It's too early to tell whether McKenzie made the right hire with Allen, as Oakland went 4-12 in his first season as head coach, but they have the same long term philosophy and need time to play it out. It's important for the team to show progression in 2013 or this could very well be the last year for Allen, or would at least put him in a win or go home type of season in 2014. Keeping players you draft and keeping head coaches you hire is an important part of making a franchise work.

Losing a coordinator is not as big of a deal as losing a head coach. Coordinators come and go as some get hired by other teams or some get fired by their current teams. The biggest key is keeping the continuity of the head coach and keeping a certain mantra and consistency that the coach brings every year. Giving Allen at least three years is going to be key for Oakland if they want this to work out. McKenzie knows this and so does Mark Davis. Does that mean they'll accept a 2-14 season or 6-10 season? No, especially if the team looks a lot worse than 2012. They all want to see progression and they want to compete. Seeing a very bad decline in play and coaching will get anyone fired, but a decline is hard to do when you look at last year's stats and performance.

So what makes McKenzie's and the Raiders offseason so good? Not only was Oakland able to remove players who were highly paid and didn't have production that matched their paycheck, but they were also able to bring in good players at a low cost, who could provide a high reward. Value players that are signed doesn't mean that their play will be low quality, just like high priced players doesn't mean they're going to be immediate Pro Bowlers. Fans were upset because Philip Wheeler left and Desmond Bryant left, but they don't realize that those guys were value signings by the Raiders.

Guys like LB Nick Roach, LB Kevin Burnett and DT Vance Walker are all very impressive signings by the Raiders. These guys should all win a starting spot on the defense and should make an impact for the Raiders on the field. Those three alone will help improve a defense that was very bad last year. Oakland also added guys like LB Kaluka Maiava, DT Pat Sims, and OT Alex Barron. These guys were brought in to compete for a job and to help add depth to the roster. Competition breeds success, and that is what Oakland is trying to do. 

Oakland also recently traded for quarterback Matt Flynn, who will come in to compete for the starting job. Oakland gave up a 2014 pick and a 2015 conditional pick, which could end up being nothing if Flynn flames out like Palmer did. There is nothing wrong with a team trading away late round picks for a young quarterback with NFL experience. Forget how many games he's started for a minute. McKenzie saw Flynn in Green Bay and knows what he brings to the table. He is familiar with him and that is why he is now a Raider. That's the same thing Hue Jackson did when he traded for Palmer. Only differences is, Hue mortgaged the Raiders future for a quarterback that went 8-16 in 24 games. Sure Palmer had some nice stats, but wins matter most. For those of you that are making excuses for Palmer, like "he didn't have the right players, system and coaches around him," you can literally say that about any quarterback ever. You can't make excuses for one guy, then point the finger at other people. It's a team game, and everyone has a job to do. 

There are also reports that Palmer is about to be traded to the Arizona Cardinals, which would actually be a victory for the Raiders as they were planning on releasing him. It appears that the compensation for Palmer is a condtional 7th round pick. That means Oakland has addressed several holes on their team so far and still have the draft to look forward too. More importantly they didn't give up a draft pick in 2013 which they couldn't afford to do because they didn't have many. Even better for Oakland it looks as if they'll be receiving one for Palmer. So you dump a lot of contracts, sign quality players, and you add a draft pick in a draft that you desperately need more picks in? Overall, I'd say the offseason has been solid for the Raiders. Now they must show progress on the field because that's what the Raider Nation really wants to see. 

For more Raiders news and notes follow me on Twitter: @elias_trejo

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