What is Reggie McKenzie Doing with the Oakland Raiders?

Elias Trejo – Mar 14, 2014

It was January 10th, 2012 when the Raiders had their Reggie McKenzie introduction press conference. McKenzie calmly watched Mark Davis as Davis introduced him to the media. During his introduction McKenzie said, "From this day forward there would be one common unified goal, from the accountants to the head coach, everyone will have a place and everyone will have a piece of this organization. It is my part and my job to manage this transistion to identify what works and what needs to be done differently so that we can play the kind of football that our owners and our fans so much deserve. "

Two years ago I thought it was strange that he would first mention the team's accountants. Flash forward to 2014 and it makes perfect sense now. Looking at all of his moves and the ways the Raiders went about their business, it was obvious the Raiders accountants and financial advisors were hard at work. They went from being $22 million dollar over the cap before 2012 with several bad contracts, to a complete roster overhaul and over $60 million in cap space heading into 2014. This financial overhaul wasn't easy for the team or the Raider Nation, as they operated with 40% less money than most every team in the NFL. It's hard to compete in this league when other teams are almost doubling your financial resources. 

Of course, this is the path they chose to take. They could of continued to do what the Raiders had done the last 10 years or what Dallas Cowboys are doing now. Keep restructuring deals and every now and then be forced to cut one of your best players when they refuse to take a pay cut. The reality is that type of plan is what got the Raiders in trouble in the first place along with terrible drafting. Now in 2014 the Raiders have reached their two year goal of putting themselves in a financially strong position, but even then there are still many doubters in McKenzie.

McKenzie's first big signing of 2014 ended in nightmare. The Raiders announced a five year deal for Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold. It was worth $42 million and had $21 million in guarantees. Immediately people in the national media criticized the signing and said it was too much. To make things worse, when Saffold took his physical with the Raiders he failed it and it voided the contract. Everyone jumped all over the Raiders for that as well, saying it was an embarrasing day for the organization and that McKenzie would be lucky to make it to draft day as he likely would be fired. 

If you watch the tape on Saffold you can see why the Raiders liked him. He can play right tackle, left tackle and left guard pretty well. He's versatile, young and while he did have an injury history he played well when healthy. Members of the media acted like McKenzie was supposed conduct the physical himself while he watched his film, but that's why team's have their own doctors and trainers. Before anyone officially signs a contract a physical must be done or the contract is void. You can agree to a contract, but if you don't pass the physical that agreement doesn't matter. So the Raiders were able to get out of a "bad contract" and were still being hammered for it? That really makes a lot of sense doesn't it?

The Raiders have signed a few players so far in 2014. They are bringing back Darren McFadden with a very cap friendly contract. They have signed right tackle Austin Howard who could be one the best young tackles in the league. They have also added veterans Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley to the defense. They've done all of this and still have around $40 million in cap space to sign more players and the draft is still two months away. 

Now I'm not here to proclaim McKenzie a savior or claiming he just created a playoff team, but I am seeing him continuing to execute his plan. The first part of his plan is done. The Raiders finally are in a good cap situation. The second part of his plan is to put together a quality team using close to 90% of the NFL salary cap vs 60%. When you do that, you are able to pay for more quality players and the quality of the entire roster improves greatly. Last year the Raiders signed defensive linemen Vance Walker and Jason Hunter and they were both starters. This year they have added Tuck and Woodley, that should show the quality getting better. Signing Howard to play right tackle over Alex Barron last year? Again, the quality of the players is improving now that they have money to spend. 

The trick is to field a competitive team in 2014. That doesn't mean McKenzie is going to go buy the top big names on the market, that's not how he works. He still intends to build through the draft. The problem is Reggie has only had one real draft to work with and now he has a full draft in 2014 minus a 5th round pick. So he has to sign a few veteran guys to short term deals to help lead in the locker room and on the field. You'll notice the difference in contracts from Howard and even the Staffold deal compared to the Tuck and Woodley deals. The younger players are signed for the long term and the veterans are only here for a couple of years. 

In 2014 the Raiders will have an opportunity to get their top two picks from 2013 healthy and on the field. Essentially this year they'll have two first rounders and two second rounds playing their first full seasons with the team. That will be a boost for Oakland. When you add late round picks and rookie free agents like Rod Streater, Sio Moore, Stacy McGee, Miles Burris, Mychal Rivera, Nick Kasa and whoever else they add in the late rounds in 2014, you start to see this team's nucleus forming with young drafted players.

McKenzie will groom his draft picks and develop them into solid players even if they have to sit for a few years until they are ready. Because this is a roster that needed to replace over 80% of the players from 2012 they had to keep the best ones and cut the ones that weren't good enough, even if they were draft picks or free agents acquired. There's no room or time to keep guys that just didn't pan out. You have to move on from them because letting them go and keeping a better player instead is the only way this team will get better. I understand the want and need to want to hit on every pick or free agent, but that just doesn't happen, even to the best teams. The only difference is the good teams already had the talent to make up for those missed picks or signings. The Raiders did not.

As the team moves forward the Raider Nation should see a big difference in players and the team's performance in games. I expect McKenzie to be here for years to come and Dennis Allen to be the head coach for at least two more seasons. This is the season we've been working towards, but remember that the games are played during the regular season not in March or May. When the season starts it's time for the Raiders to Just Win Baby. 

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


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