Oakland Raiders: Reggie McKenzie was architect of his own demise

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images /

The Oakland Raiders are reportedly moving on from longtime GM Reggie McKenzie following the season, in a move that shocks almost nobody.

Dry your eyes, Oakland Raiders fans. We may be losing Reggie McKenzie after the season, but we may be – will hopefully be – getting somebody who can actually evaluate NFL talent and build a competent roster.

With reports that McKenzie is gone once the season concludes, there have been a lot of interesting reactions, to say the least. Most of the theories center around head coach Jon Gruden – Mark Davis’ eternal mancrush and $100 million dollar man – drop kicking McKenzie out the door.

And while there may be a kernel of truth in that, there is one far more radical (and probably accurate) theory most aren’t stopping to consider: McKenzie’s demise has come around as a result of nothing more than McKenzie himself.

There is this strange phenomenon in our culture that seems to persist – when somebody passes away, they suddenly become a saint. There is obviously the decorum most observe to not speak ill of the dead at play, of course, but do they need to be lionized?

It’s an extreme comparison, of course. McKenzie is losing his job and nothing more. Yet, the phenomenon remains the same. All over the internet in the wake of the announcement that McKenzie is out, are pieces bemoaning McKenzie’s fate, calling it anything from a “slap in the face,” to the machinations and madness of King Gruden.

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The narrative being pushed from a lot of different corners is that McKenzie is somehow getting a raw deal in all of this and is nothing more than a hapless victim of Gruden’s megalomania. In this narrative, the 2016 playoff team was the solid groundwork needed to ensure long-term success for the franchise and the promise of better days to come.

In this narrative, Saint McKenzie apparently took a floundering franchise and built a perennial contender, before having this gold standard of excellence dismantled and burned to the ground by that scallywag of a usurper, Gruden.

Yeah, okay.

What those of us in the reality-based community saw though, was a roster filled with more holes than a pasta strainer, a startling lack of depth, and stunning dearth of actual talent coming in. In point of fact, that 2016 playoff team was the outlier in McKenzie’s tenure as Oakland’s GM.

That 2016 squad that went 12-4 played some good football, especially Derek Carr. But, let’s be real here – it was a team built on a lot of smoke and mirrors. It was a team that benefited from a soft schedule. Above all, it was a team that overachieved in almost every way.

It was also a team that depended upon Carr’s seven fourth-quarter comeback wins. If even half of those fourth-quarter dramatics went the other way, that 2016 team would have been little better than any other squad McKenzie has overseen during his tenure.

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The fundamental problem is that when as a talent evaluator, the brothers McKenzie – both Reggie and Raleigh – have about as much acumen as, say, your average sea sponge. And as a result, they stocked the Raiders roster, year after year, with players who, more times than not, turned out to be nothing more than wasted draft capital.

McKenzie had a very solid 2014 draft, we can’t take that away from him. The planets all aligned just right and Reggie must have performed some kind of magic drafting ritual. That can really be the only explanation for having Carr, Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson, and Justin Ellis all fall into his lap in the same class.

That was McKenzie’s signature draft class, the one the 2016 playoff team was built on, and the one whose backs he won the 2016 Executive of the Year award on. The same one he’s been dining out on for years — and good on him for it.

Other than that 2014 class though, who has McKenzie drafted that’s done much of anything?

That 2014 class was the exception to the rule. Most of McKenzie’s tenure was filled with draft picks (aka wasted draft capital), like Jihad Ward, D.J. Hayden, Max Valles, and Sio Moore. Truly, one thing McKenzie has proven throughout his tenure is that he is not capable of evaluating NFL caliber talent. The current state of Oakland’s roster is actual, tangible evidence of that.

So, seriously, stop with the, “but that 2016 team was the foundation of greatness,” because you’re deluding and embarrassing yourself. No, it wasn’t. It had some nice pieces, it played well, and it overachieved, but it was not the foundation for anything.

It was a team that still had a startling lack of depth and talent – and that falls squarely on McKenzie’s shoulders.

Gruden is taking a lot of heat for shipping out a lot of McKenzie’s picks and overhauling the roster from the ground up. People are absolutely crucifying him for it and are already calling for his head – one year into his decade-long pact.

Sure, it sucks, but it was necessary. Trading away Mack and Cooper was unfortunately necessary. To build this roster the right way and fill all of the glaring holes McKenzie is leaving behind, Gruden has no choice but to start from square one.

When Mark Davis took over, he had a plan in mind for the deconstruction and rebuilding of the franchise. And that plan included a solid strategy for the rebuilding part.

"Mark Davis said a team should be able to get five players, three from the draft and two in free agency, every year that would serve as foundation pieces going forward."

It’s a sound plan and one that McKenzie utterly failed at year, after year, after year. The simple fact that a decent number of his draft picks – not to mention more than a few free agents – didn’t last with the team for more than a cup of coffee should tell you just how completely he failed at implementing that strategy.

With such a talent deficiency and so many glaring holes on the roster that must be addressed, Gruden had no choice but to burn it all down. As a fan, it sucks to have to suffer through yet another long, miserable, losing season. However, if he can start plugging the holes and actually laying a solid foundation rather than the house of cards McKenzie constructed, he’ll put this franchise on good footing to have success moving forward.

Now, this isn’t meant to disparage McKenzie. This is simply meant to keep some perspective and keep things very real.

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And in that vein, it wouldn’t be right to not acknowledge the good things he did do in his role as the team GM. It was McKenzie who navigated this organization through salary cap hell in the wake of Al Davis’ passing. It was McKenzie who made the tough decisions and culled the roster and handed out responsible contracts to incoming free agents.

It was McKenzie who helped get the team back on solid footing, financially speaking, after years of horrible mismanagement. McKenzie did a lot of terrific things for this organization and for that, he should absolutely be thanked and commended.

The truth of the matter though, is that in speaking of the roster itself, he’s leaving the shelves about as bare of talent as Al did before he passed. McKenzie is fantastic at cap management, but pretty horrible when it comes to matters of talent evaluation and roster building.

Perhaps some may see it as a violation of decorum, but it’s really not “speaking ill of the dead,” to acknowledge the fact that McKenzie did some things that were less than stellar.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that he is not the unwitting victim of some nefarious plot to overthrow him by a dictatorial head coach who’s drunk on power. The NFL, as they say, is a results-based business. McKenzie (let’s again note his 38-70 marks as a GM) did not produce optimal results.

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In fact, that .352 winning percentage is pretty damn suboptimal.

So dry your eyes for Reggie McKenzie. He had a good run and did some good things, but was ultimately the architect of his own demise.