2013 Oakland Raiders Final Evaluation: Reggie McKenzie
Elias Trejo – Jan 3, 2014
I've spent a couple of weeks reviewing the 2013 Oakland Raiders season. I'll also be reviewing the season, keeping in mind that the plan was to deconstruct the team the last two years vs try to put a team together to win games and make the playoffs. That alone makes it hard for me to justify firing anyone at the end of the season. However, I will be honest with my grading and evaluation.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie
The first goal for McKenzie was to come in and make sure we got rid of our bad contracts and got to a good financial salary cap situation. After two seasons of purging the roster and removing players that A.) had contracts that were "out of whack" and B.) no longer showed the desire or ability to help this team win games, we now head into 2014 with an opportunity to spend money and add players that can help this team win moving forward. I'd say that goal was accomplished successfully. Our 2nd goal was to make sure we improved from our 2012 season and didn't make many mistakes in letting players go or signing new players. Mistakes were made in this departement and they did hurt our ability to win games in 2013. Let's review.
Free Agency and Salary Cap Management
Let's start off with our quarterback situation. I agreed with cutting Carson Palmer before the 2013 season. We decided to take on all of the dead money now vs try to spread it out and truly be competitive right now. We are trying to rebuild, and at the time it was the right decision. Now that the season is over I can look back and say that it wasn't the right decision to make; at least it wasn't for 2013 and that is what I am evaluating. This is why it was a mistake.
Keeping Palmer would have cost the Raiders $15.3 million in 2013 when you add his base salary and prorate his signing bonus from his restructure in 2012. There won't be any dead money from Palmer in 2014. The Matt Flynn mistake, which was an embarrassment, cost the Raiders just over $6 million in 2013. They took a $2.6 million cap hit for cutting him and took on $3.87 million in dead money in 2013 from his restructure. When you add that Flynn waste to Palmer's dead money you get about $15.8 million which is more than it would have cost the Raiders in 2013 to just keep Palmer.
In 2014 the Raiders will have to pay $2.6 million in dead money against the cap for Flynn's contract. Had the Raiders cut Palmer after this season, his dead money would have counted for just over $7 million against the cap in 2014 for the Raiders. That would have made their dead money total in 2014 just over $13 million and their dead money in 2013 would have been around $42 million. Essentially, you take on $12 milion dollars less in dead money for 2013 to keep Palmer and not sign Flynn, and take on $4 million more in 2014. That's a total of $8 million in dead money that we could have avoided this season and next.
Hindsight is everything when it comes to looking at these moves. Cutting Palmer looked like the right decision when it happened, but after the season and looking back, I feel like they should have kept Palmer. The Raiders started 3 different quarterbacks in 2013, and in all reality could have been one decent starter away from playing meaningful games in December.
The only other player that Oakland really missed this year and could have used was safety Mike Mitchell. He had his best season with the Carolina Panthers in 2013 recording 4 interceptions. However, Mitchell would have only been a back up, until Tyvon Branch was injured. I think Raider Nation can forgive them for not bringing back Mitchell as Charles Woodson was signed. Woodson graded higher than Mitchell on ProFootballFocus.com and Branch will be back in 2014 to play alongside Woodson.
Most of the other players that were not brought back were replaced by more affordable players, and we received the same production or better from them compared to last year and even when you compare their production this year with their new teams. Philip Wheeler was one player Raider Nation wanted to bring back. He ranked 35th out of 35 eligible players on Pro Football Focus's final grades for 4-3 outside linebackers. Keven Burnett was ranked 24th and Sio Moore was ranked 8th.
Many will disagree, but it is somewhat impressive that the Raiders didn't actually get worse as a team in 2013. Just in case some have not noticed, the priority in the last two years was not to win many games. In 2012, the Raiders had $20 million more to use on their active roster than they did in 2013, yet they pretty much achieved the same record and their offense and defense performed about the same. The Raiders did not improve or decline significantly on either side of the ball, but looking at the roster moves made, that wasn't part of the plan. It may be hard for the Raider Nation to accept and understand, but so far Reggie has done what he was supposed to do in free agency and has achieved what he needed to do in the first two years.
Final Grade Free Agency Grade: B
McKenzie, a first time GM, takes a job that would be hard for a proven GM to fix. Heading into the 2012 season, the Raiders were $22 million over the cap with their top 51 players. Heading into the 2014 season, the Raiders have over $60 in cap space when you count their top 51 players. That takes a lot of turnover for a roster and dumping a lot of contracts to make an $80 million turnaround for a franchise in just two years. Clearly, winning wasn't the first priority, and cleaning up the cap was. I'd say Reggie has done a decent job, despite a few mistakes. Raiders are right where they wanted to be heading into the 2014 season.
McKenzie has only had one first round pick and one second round pick in his first two years. To really judge an impact of a draft it usually takes three years. The 2012 draft has really been a failure, but you can't expect too much of an impact from a draft where your first pick comes in at number 95. The success rate of finding an impact player drafted outside the 3rd round is very low. Looking at the data from 2001 to 2011, it's hard to find a major difference maker in the 3rd round or after. Only 3% of the 3rd rounders from 2001 to 2011 became major difference makers. 66% of third rounders taken failed to provide a starter worth getting excited about and those numbers get worse the later in the rounds you go. This data was found on Scout.com. Go take a look for yourself.
The 2013 draft was full of injuries, disappointments and surprises. It's really a mixed bag. McKenzie's only 1st and 2nd round picks missed OTAs with injuries and missed significant time during the season. DJ Hayden and Menelik Watson need to comeback in 2014 and show why McKenzie drafted them in the 1st and 2nd round. Meanwhile, Sio Moore and Mychal Rivera showed plenty of promise. Moore was drafted in the 3rd round and RIvera in the 6th. However, it is too early to tell whether they will be longterm impact players for the team.
Drafting Hayden at 12 was a big question mark for many in the Raider Nation. However, they would have taken him at 3 according to McKenzie. So being able to add a 2nd rounder was a good move for the Raiders. Other players to watch from the 2013 draft class will be RB Latavius Murray, DT Stac McGee and TE Nick Kasa.
Drafting Grade: C-
I can't fault McKenzie for the injuries, but I also can't give him a grade that's above average yet. I also understand that it takes time to build a team through the draft. You need picks and patience to do it right, and so far, McKenzie hasn't had many picks to work with. The injuries were unfortunate and those players will need to bounce back in 2014. If Raiders can find 3-4 good starters from this draft it will be a succes. So far, they have one, being Moore, that has been impressive in the limited amount of snaps he was given.
Overall Grade: B-
I'm giving McKenzie a B- and I think it's a fair grade. I'm doing this keeping in mind that his main priority and goal was to clean up the cap situation and winning was secondary. There have been some signings that didn't work out like he hoped. Flynn, and Mike Brisiel to name a few. He has locked up guys like Marcel Reece, Sebastian Janikowski and Jon Condo for the long term. He still needs to show he can lock up guys like Lamarr Houston and Jared Veldheer. It will be interesting to see what he does with all of the cap money in 2014, but for now he has done what was expected of him with the exception of a few moves. It will be hard for some in Raider Nation to understand the B- grade, but they need to take out their own personal opinions and try to see what the Raiders long term plan is. The Raiders are taking an approach that has never been used with the franchise under Al Davis. Mark Davis is a different type of owner, and his support of McKenzie after these last two years shows that he is.
For more Raiders news and notes follow me on Twitter: @Elias_Trejo
I'd also like to thank Joel Corry for his help with a few numbers that contributed to this article. Follow him on Twitter:@CorryJoel
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