Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie’s effort to rebuild this franchise has not yet shown up in the win column, but at this point it doesn’t exactly have to. If this team is going to get back to being the perennial contender that its dedicated fans want it to be, the rebuild has to be done the right way, and that methodical approach takes time.
Of course, as with any situation, fans want to see improvement. Unfortunately, Raiders fans saw the opposite in McKenzie’s first full season at the helm, but placing the blame on him is beyond misguided this early on.
In fact, it is the situation that this franchise was put into over the better part of the last decade that was the root cause in the majority of its current issues.
Al Davis was, is and always will be everything that is the Raiders. He did incredible things for both this franchise and the NFL as whole in his time, but the way this team was run during his later years set them up for future failure.
In the decade following the Raiders’ Super Bowl appearance in 2003, we saw Davis’ strategy of reloading in favor of rebuilding employed in full force.
Massive contracts were given to free agents that rarely worked out, and future draft picks were sacrificed to bring in even more high-priced veterans. The organization was in constant search of a quick fix to get back to the top.
When it became a yearly event that the Raiders were well over the league salary cap, their biggest contracts were restructured to push financial commitments into the future.
Yes, there are certainly times where the salary cap can be manipulated, but doing so over and over again was bound to catch up with them at some point.
Simply put, the Raiders were in “win now mode,” but they weren’t winning. Any strategy of putting the team together paid little attention to the future of the franchise, and that is not the way to maintain success in the NFL.
Consequently, when Mark Davis hired Reggie McKenzie as his general manager, Davis was handing him as difficult of a rebuilding job as we have seen in the NFL in quite some time, and maybe ever.
Heading into his first season, McKenzie got started on the remodeling of the roster by making some subtractions. The most significant of which included choosing to cut both Stanford Routt and Kamerion Wimbley.
The roster’s talent level took a hit as a result, but the Raiders still attempted to put the most competitive team possible on the field, keeping around as many of the other highly paid players as they could.
Thanks to what would turn out to be a poor offensive system fit, some injury issues on both sides of the ball and a relatively weak roster overall, a 4-12 season coupled with a still dire salary cap situation signaled the need for a complete overhaul heading into 2013.
"Overhaul" may even be an understatement, as to this point in the current offseason McKenzie has now cut Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff, Dave Tollefson, Tommy Kelly and Rolando McClain. In addition, Carson Palmer was traded to the Cardinals, and Richard Seymour’s contract was voided.
As a result of this mass roster purging, the Raiders’ dead money total for the 2013 season is now approaching the $50 million mark. The strategy, as it seems, is to take the entirety of that hit in this upcoming season and have a relatively fresh start in the years to follow.
Given the situation that they came into, this is the best approach that the Raiders’ front office can take. Looking ahead to the 2014 season, as far off as that may be, the Raiders have just over $38 million in contract commitments.
While this number is not nearly reflective of a full roster, and the Raiders will have a number of key free agents to re-sign either during or after this season, they will still have a significant amount of cap space to work with either way.
Even though Reggie McKenzie likely brings with him a lot of the passive approach to free agency from the Ted Thompson model in Green Bay, you can bet that he will take full advantage of the significant salary cap space when given that chance.
If what we have seen thus far with the Raiders additions in the 2013 offseason is any indication, McKenzie and his staff have the ability to find great value in the free agent market despite what little salary cap space they had.
Players like Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiava, Tracy Porter, Vance Walker and Pat Sims all have the potential to contribute in big ways this season and came at what can be considered very affordable costs.
Of course, the trade for Matt Flynn will continue to get the most attention, but even that comes with little risk. Flynn is someone who McKenzie knows well from their days together in Green Bay, and the Raiders gave up very little in draft-pick compensation to get him from Seattle.
McKenzie’s lone draft class to this point was one in which a pick was not made until the compensatory portion of the third round, so its evaluation is still pending. At the same time, additions like that of undrafted free agent Rod Streater speak well toward the eye for talent that McKenzie has long been credited for possessing.
Overall, Reggie McKenzie’s performance as the general manager of the Oakland Raiders has been everything that it could have been to this point.
Certainly there have been mistakes, as we can all criticize the hiring of Greg Knapp and the horrendous fit that his offensive system was for this team.
At the same time, you can bet that both the front office and coaching staff have learned the importance of fitting your schemes to the strengths of your players moving forward. Changes already made in that regard this offseason, mostly surrounding the hiring of Greg Olson as offensive coordinator, very much speak toward that notion.
While owner Mark Davis publicly voiced his displeasure with the “regression” that the Raiders experienced in 2012, it is in the best interest of this franchise to stick with Reggie McKenzie and his regime no matter what the team’s final record is in 2013.
With a roster purge of this magnitude and the salary cap restrictions still lingering for one more year, it is entirely possible that the Raiders finish this season with a record fairly close to the 4-12 mark set in 2012.
The hope would, of course, be that the aforementioned free-agent signings and the soon-to-be-made draft picks can have an immediate impact in addressing this roster’s many holes, but it may not be enough just yet.
Should that prove to be the case, and the Raiders see little if any improvement in the win column this season, that still should not yet reflect poorly on McKenzie, his front office and even his coaching staff.
In the NFL, and in all professional sports for that matter, one must not rely solely upon the win-loss record to determine whether or not a franchise is headed in the right direction.
The Raiders, with the work of Reggie McKenzie as GM, are headed in that right direction. Now just over one year in his position, McKenzie has effectively torn down what was in place before and can now commence the rebuild.
Rebuilding a franchise takes time, and it is imperative that both fans and ownership alike remain patient.
Making a front office change should the Raiders finish the 2013 season at a disappointing mark would do more harm than good, essentially having the franchise start from scratch once again.
The difficulty of the situation that Reggie McKenzie inherited when taking the job as the Raiders’ GM cannot be understated. As such, he and his staff should be given well more than just two seasons to get the team back in a contending position.
Affording McKenzie the appropriate time to fully rebuild this franchise, and thus striving away from the impatience that has been its downfall for years, easily represents the Raiders’ best chance of sustained success moving forward.
All contract and salary cap information provided by Spotrac.com.
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