When Reggie McKenzie took over as general manager of the Oakland Raiders in January of 2012, he inherited one hot mess of a roster, a team overflowing with bloated contracts and blown draft choices.
Since then, McKenzie has taken a chainsaw to the team, and while the improvements he's made may not appear to even be improvements at first glance, that doesn't change the fact that he has the Raiders very much headed in the right direction where the franchise's long-term future is concerned.
The biggest problem that McKenzie has faced, of course, is the steaming pile of‚ um, talent that was the Oakland Raiders' 53-man roster when he took the reins.
Over the last several years of Al Davis' life, the Oakland roster was managed with Millen-esque ineptitude. Huge contracts were handed out like candy to players who didn't merit them.
The Raiders became a running joke where the NFL draft was concerned. Pundits and fans stifled giggles as they waited to see which head-scratching pick Davis would make each season.
Take a look at the Raiders' last five first-round picks under Davis.
Expected to be Released
Released in 2013
Remains with Raiders
Released in 2010
Released in 2013
Now factor in that in the last two NFL drafts the Raiders haven't even had a first-round pick thanks to disastrous trades that brought defensive lineman Richard Seymour and quarterback Carson Palmer to Oakland.
Neither of those players is still on the Raiders' roster either.
Even players such as Huff, linebacker Philip Wheeler and tight end Brandon Myers, who the Raiders might otherwise have kept, were either released or allowed to depart in free agency as McKenzie hacked away at the tangled nightmare that was the Oakland salary cap situation.
McKenzie recently admitted to Monte Poole of the San Jose Mercury News that the rebuilding effort in Oakland was more extensive than he'd originally believed:
"It's a little more of a makeover than we thought," McKenzie recently told me, "but that's fine. I'm seeing progress now. We're getting the salary cap right, because we don't want that to stunt the growth of what we're trying to do. That's necessary to maintain continuity with our players."
With that said, there's a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for Oakland fans, as all those cuts are finally starting to have a real impact.
According to Bill Williamson of ESPN, the Raiders could find themselves in a much more advantageous position in relation to the salary cap a year from now:
ESPN’s John Clayton has a strong grasp on the salary cap and figures that Oakland will have about $69 million in cap space for 2014. That number will likely change based on several things, but it is clear that Oakland will have an abundance of cap room next year as it continues to rebuild its roster. For the first time since Reggie McKenzie took over as general manager in 2012, Oakland will not have to cut players to get under the cap.
However, fans expecting that surplus of cap space to turn into a spending spree are probably setting themselves up to be disappointed. McKenzie is a disciple of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson. Thompson's philosophy eschews making big splashes in free agency over smart drafting and holding back enough cap space to keep those drafted players in the fold.
If you hit on those draft picks, as Thompson has with regularity during his tenure in Titletown, then it can be a very successful strategy.
This isn't to say that McKenzie will forgo free agency altogether, just that he'll take a measured approach similar to this season.
The team spent some low draft picks on quarterback Matt Flynn, who was then inked to what is essentially a one-year, prove-it contract as a potential replacement for Palmer.
Linebacker Nick Roach was an inexpensive signing as a replacement for McClain, who has been a disaster for the Raiders on and off the field at middle linebacker.
Those are the sort of signings you'll see for the most part from McKenzie. Steak over sizzle.
The second problem McKenzie faces is that while his plan may have the best long-term interests of the team at heart, in the short term, it's going to mean more of the same for the Raiders.
Some fans (especially casual ones) don't want to hear that. They don't care about the franchise's viability in 2015. They want to turn on their TV on Sundays this fall and see the Raiders win some football games.
Simply put, they can't see the forest for the trees.
That's a mindset that needs to change—or ownership at least needs to ignore their clamoring. The desire for instant gratification is what got the Raiders into this mess to begin with.
Reggie McKenzie is on the right track, and the Raiders need to be patient and let him do the job they paid him to do.
After all, Rome wasn't built in a day.
And the Romans didn't have to dig out of the hole that McKenzie does in Oakland.