Oakland Raiders: McKenzie Deserves Credit For Revival, Should Be Extended

Feb 2, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie speaks during the Microsoft future of football press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 2, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie speaks during the Microsoft future of football press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders are being talked about as a legitimate playoff team again, yet the man behind the curtain, Reggie McKenzie, still doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

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It seems like it’s been a century since somebody was able to mention the Oakland Raiders and the word “playoffs” in the same sentence without it being the punchline of a joke. But after dwelling in abject misery for a little more than a decade now, the Raiders are a team on the rise and a team being talked about as legitimate contenders in the AFC West once again.

And yet, mention GM Reggie McKenzie‘s name – you know, the guy whose had a big hand in leading this Raiders renaissance and there are plenty of fans who continue to curse his name and call for his head.

It’s incredible, really. Judging by the reactions from some corners, you would think that the collection of elite athletes in Silver and Black just spontaneously appeared. To hear some of McKenzie’s detractors speak (or rather, type very loudly on Twitter), you would think that the Raiders’ roster – one of the most talented they’ve had in more than a decade – just sort of happened by cosmic happenstance.

To hear the logic put forth by some of McKenzie’s critics, you would think that the Raiders are kind of like the NFL equivalent of the Big Bang that created the universe we live in.

In all fairness, there have been some speed bumps and potholes along the road back to relevance. Who can forget (though we’d like to) the Dennis Allen era? The Matt Flynn debacle? Free agent busts like LaMarr Woodley and Matt Schaub? McKenzie has had plenty of missteps in his role at the top of Oakland’s organizational food chain, there is no question.

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But you know what? So has every other general manager in the NFL. There is not one single GM in the league who hasn’t had a draft bust, a bad free agent signing, or made some other boneheaded blunder over their tenure.

And that is because these guys are not clairvoyant and they’re not perfect. They are simply making the most informed decisions they can with all of the available data.

Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. Because football, like life, is not an exact science.

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McKenzie deserves credit though. He had a vision and a plan when he was hired. Coming out of Green Bay, he saw first hand how to build and run an organization. He learned that you don’t mortgage the future for the right now – not if you want your organization to enjoy an extended period of success.

The growing pains have been difficult, to be sure. As some of his critics fall all over themselves to point out, the Raiders have a less than terrific 18-46 record over the course of his tenure. It’s an incredibly simplistic and an argument without any nuance or genuine understanding of how the world works, but it’s one they continue to make.

And if you are one of those who really thought that this rebuild wasn’t going to take some time and patience, if you really thought there wouldn’t be growing pains, you were badly deluding yourself.

The problem is not with McKenzie, but with the expectations some folks placed on him, coupled with their impatience.

When McKenzie took over after Al Davis’ passing, the organization was an absolute mess. He inherited a team that had zero cap room, a roster full of bloated contracts for players who frankly, based on their play, didn’t deserve a fraction of what they were “earning,” and thanks to poor management of the team’s draft picks, very little room to maneuver or restock the roster with young talent.

And it wouldn’t be unfair to acknowledge that in those early days, McKenzie’s own inexperience in the GM’s chair was on full display.

In the 2013 Draft – his first with a full slate of picks – McKenzie essentially threw away his first round pick (12th overall) on D.J. Hayden, who can’t really be called anything but a bust at this point. McKenzie rolled the dice on Hayden’s potential and crapped out.

Oakland Raiders
Dec 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) reacts to a penalty against the Raiders during action against the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but it seems especially glaring when you stop to think that he could have had players like Sheldon Richardson, DeAndre Hopkins, or Keenan Allen instead of Hayden – but as they say, it is what it is.

Despite some early bumps in the road, McKenzie has grown and evolved in his role. And it’s no coincidence that as he’s gotten better at his job, so has the team. He deftly navigated the Raiders out of salary cap hell and got them in a position where they have had just about the most money to spend in free agency the last couple of seasons.

He’s been smart with his free agent acquisitions so as to not mortgage the future – and still acquire top flight free agent talent like Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, and Reggie Nelson. It’s pretty amazing to think that given the state of the franchise over the past decade plus, the Raiders are once again a desirable free agent destination.

And of course, McKenzie’s past two draft classes have been among the best in the league as he’s taken foundation pieces like Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Gabe Jackson, and Clive Walford.

This is a team with a savvy combination of veteran playmakers and dynamic young talent – and a team that is very well positioned to have sustained success. Unlike the elder Davis, McKenzie hasn’t thrown money at players on the downside of their careers in a desperate gambit for another season of glory.

McKenzie has built this team from the ground up and more importantly, he’s built it the right way – by drafting developing young talent at key positions and adding productive, still dynamic veterans to augment the roster. And he’s been able to do it in a very financially responsible, even team friendly, way that will allow him to re-sign his key players.

As the team prepares for a 2016 season in which there are heightened expectations and legitimate playoff aspirations, you cannot look at this team and this organization and not see McKenzie’s fingerprints all over it. This is a team trending upward and one poised for success not just in the short term, but for the long haul.

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Mark Davis showed patience and wisdom in hanging on to McKenzie for this long. And now that McKenzie’s vision is beginning to bear fruit and he has the Raiders positioned to be a major player in the league once more, he should do the smart thing and lock him up with an extension.

Though some fans seem to think that this upward trajectory the Raiders are on somehow materialized out of thin air, the fact of the matter is that McKenzie, the man behind the scenes – and the man many of them excoriate over social media on a daily basis – has a lot to do with the team’s revival. And it’s mind boggling that he doesn’t get the respect he deserves for the job he’s done.