Oakland Raiders: Retaining McKenzie Not Close to Offseason’s Riskiest Move


And here we go again.

Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie must constantly be bloodied and bruised from all of the slings, arrows, and kicking he absorbs on a near daily basis. Yeah, sometimes he deserves a good smack upside the head, but by and large, the criticism of McKenzie is as unfair and unwarranted as it is mind-boggling.

Unless of course, you happen to be a fan of teams that are completely rudderless, leaderless, trapped in salary cap hell, and have no hope for any brighter days ahead.

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The latest salvo in the war on McKenzie was fired by Bleacher Report’s Alessandro Miglio, who in a recent article stated that retaining their GM was Oakland’s “riskiest move” of the offseason.

Really? Keeping McKenzie on the job is Oakland’s riskiest move this offseason? Some of us thought the “riskiest” move is letting young, unproven players take the lead in Oakland’s secondary, but okay.

Given the way the offseason has been playing out for the Raiders to this point though, the only assumption that can be made is that either Miglio hasn’t really kept up with Oakland’s offseason activities over the last couple of seasons or doesn’t quite see the bigger picture McKenzie is working on.

The first lines of Miglio’s piece read:

"“When will the Oakland Raiders cease to be doormats of the AFC West? Perhaps when general manager Reggie McKenzie is gone.”"

Not to state the obvious, but the Raiders were the “doormats of the AFC West” long before McKenzie arrived, and he has played a big role in getting them to the point they’re out now — which is building a team that will compete in the AFC West. But McKenzie seems to be the easiest target and biggest punching bag for anybody and everybody who wants to take a shot the Raiders – because it’s always easiest to kick somebody while they’re down, perhaps?

Said Miglio:

"“But the fact remains the Raiders haven’t been able to put together a quality roster, which has led to 11 combined wins since McKenzie arrived.”"

It seems that the meat of Miglio’s beef with McKenzie – and why retaining him was such a “risky move” – is that since he assumed the role of GM in 2012, Oakland has gone 4-12, 4-12, and 3-13. And while a record of 11-37 in his first three years is pretty dubious, to place the blame solely at McKenzie’s feet is utterly ridiculous.

To blame McKenzie for all of Oakland’s shortcomings these last three seasons lacks all logic and nuance of thought.

When McKenzie stepped into the GM’s role in 2012, he walked into an absolutely colossal mess. Years of cap – and draft pick – mismanagement by the late Al Davis trapped the Raiders in salary cap hell. As Al chased one last ring, he handed out fat, bloated contracts to stars who were well past their prime and seemed content to collect a check while they played out the string of their careers.

With no money, limited draft picks, and a roster bereft of talent and impact players, it’s not surprising that Oakland went 4-12 in 2012. In 2013, McKenzie began purging some of the grossly overinflated contracts that Al had stuck him with to begin the process of clearing cap space. The problem with that though, was the fact that in so doing, it created a ton of dead money that counted against the cap.

According to overthecap.com, the Raiders had a staggering $32.9 million in dead money sitting on their books – an overwhelming 26.7 percent of their total salary cap. Given the player contracts already in place ($77.8 million), along with Oakland’s dead money ($32.9 million), the Raiders had very little money to spend on improving their roster.

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  • And knowing all of that, it’s not surprising that Oakland finished 4-12. Again.

    In McKenzie’s first two years on the job, because of problems with ridiculous contracts, having no space beneath the cap, and a limited number of draft picks, Oakland couldn’t field a roster that neither Joe Montana nor Tom Brady could win with – not even if Brady were allowed to cheat.

    2014 was the first year of McKenzie’s tenure that he actually had money to spend – and thanks to his deft navigation of the salary cap – the Raiders had the most money to spend in the NFL last season.

    Now, you can argue that McKenzie’s free agent class in 2014 was terrible, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Signing veterans like Maurice Jones-Drew, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and Antonio Smith, among others, proved to be fairly disastrous. Of McKenzie’s 2014 free agent class, only Justin Tuck proved to be effective. And while not dominant, Tuck was still pretty well above average.

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    But let’s be honest, Oakland wasn’t going anywhere last season. They simply didn’t have enough talent on the roster yet. The Raiders weren’t going to win in 2014, not even with the talent like QB Derek Carr and LB Khalil Mack on the roster.

    Knowing that it was going to be another long season for the Silver and Black, McKenzie did the smart thing and signed these aging stars to very team friendly deals who didn’t take up much space and should they be cut, would not accrue dead money against the cap.

    All of McKenzie’s planning, and his big picture, long term thinking for the franchise, has been leading them to this point. Heading into this offseason after a 3-13 campaign, McKenzie got right to work. And rather than aging stars, he’s been snatching up very solid, younger players to bulk up the roster. Players like Dan Williams, Malcolm Smith, Curtis Lofton, Rodney Hudson, Lee Smith, and Nate Allen, just to name a few, were brought to Oakland to add some teeth and some muscle. And while they may not be the biggest names out there, they’re all very solid players who who will step up and contribute right away.

    The free agents McKenzie has signed this offseason make the Raiders a more complete team. They make Oakland a far more competitive, dangerous, and better team overall.

    In an attempt to prove what a hack McKenzie is though, some cry and bemoan the lack of marquee free agents signing with the team. They blame McKenzie for not being able to reel in the Ndamukong Suh‘s, Randall Cobb‘s, or even the Jeremy Maclin‘s of this year’s free agent class. McKenzie tried to make a play for some of this year’s marquee names only to come up empty – which, in the minds of some, is reason enough to have him drawn and quartered.

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  • But another reality that Raider fans are going to need to accept is the fact that Oakland is not a big free agent destination. The uncertainty with the stadium situation – and the possibility of the Raiders returning to LA next year – coupled with a losing streak that has stretched to more than a decade now, is a guaranteed turn off to some free agents.

    The bottom line is that until Oakland’s stadium situation is settled, and the Raiders find a way to right the ship and get back to winning again, the league’s marquee names won’t be flocking to the East Bay – or LA, as the case may be.

    Coming from Green Bay – where he cut his teeth in the organization’s front office – McKenzie has had two things ingrained into him: 1) You build through the draft. 2) You don’t overpay for free agents and put your team in a financial bind.

    As to number one, McKenzie has acquired a ton of young talent. He’s drafted a number of foundational pieces the organization can build around in Carr, Mack, Amari Cooper, Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis, and Travis Carrie, among others. It has literally been years since the Raiders have had this much solid, explosive, playmaking talent filling its roster.

    And as to number two, McKenzie has constructed player contracts to be very organization friendly, and will not leave them cash strapped or with a lot of dead money on the books. McKenzie has managed the financial portion of Oakland’s roster very smartly, very deftly, and with an eye to the future.

    For what McKenzie has done – and it’s something that his critics like Miglio don’t seem to grasp – is to set the Raiders up to have sustained success. He’s not building a roster full of quick fixes and rental players who can win this year. He’s building a roster that has the ability to win now, and win for some years to come. He’s following the exact same blueprint that Green Bay does – build through the draft, add a few savvy, high value/low dollar veterans – and set yourself up to be relevant for years to come.

    Yes, he’s had some missteps along the way. Yes, he’s made some terrible blunders. But if you are truly paying attention, you can see that McKenzie is absolutely growing into the position. If you look closely, you can also see the bigger picture he’s painting – and the bigger picture promises to be a good one for the Raider Nation.

    If you thought it was going to be a quick fix, after years of mismanagement, you weren’t being overly realistic or are being intellectually dishonest. The Raiders have had to go through hell to get to this point, where there is light at the end of the tunnel. While McKenzie has been far from perfect, and has made his share of mistakes, the team is in a far better position now than it was when he assumed his post.

    But, some people continue to go after McKenzie because he’s an easy target to shoot at. But if you actually break things down, look at the facts, apply a little logic, and a little nuance of thought, you would likely conclude that the riskier move would be to not bring McKenzie back this season to see this through. Because make no mistake, the Raiders are a team on the rise and one that’s very close to turning it all around.

    Or, you know, you can go on blaming McKenzie for everything from Oakland’s long losing streak to the Lincoln assassination, whichever suits you.

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