Reggie McKenzie is no Al Davis. Take that any way you want but it is fact. McKenzie will never be Al Davis. Mr. Davis was a once in a lifetime human being, the likes of which will never been seen again in professional football.
All that is just fine by McKenzie, it only makes his job easier. There is no pressure to reproduce what Davis has done because it can never be done again, at least not from a career perspective. From a franchise perspective McKenzie has all the pressure to prove he can build a Super Bowl winner. That process is already underway and thus far McKenzie has gone about his business in a much different fashion than Davis.
This time of year is when marginal players employed by the Oakland Raiders begin licking their chops knowing they could be weeks away from breaking the bank. This time that won’t happen.
McKenzie is already in the purging process so if anything players will be given the choice of taking a pay cut or an offer to clean out their lockers.
One device Davis used freely was the franchise tag. In recent years Nnamdi Asomugha, Richard Seymour and Kamerion Wimbley were all given the tag only to later be rewarded with lucrative deals. Generally the rules of the tag are that the player who receives it also gets a one-year deal equal to the average salary of the top five paid players at his respective position. Depending on the position, that one-year salary can be a nice pay day for the player.
However most every NFL player, like the rest of us, is looking for consistency in a check. So even if that franchise number is a nice one, it still doesn’t guarantee anything should an unfortunate injury occur.
This offseason the Raiders are pitted with some tough choices to be made with players currently under contract and those they’d like to retain. The two biggest names on the retain list are Michael Bush and Tyvon Branch.
Now, I won’t pretend to know what is going through the mind of McKenzie but I’m willing to bet he’d like to avoid tagging anyone currently within reach of the Raider franchise. By no means does that reflect a negative view on Bush or Branch. My thinking is that McKenzie would rather work towards a long-term deal instead of a one-year stopgap.
Al Davis was such a proponent of the franchise tag that he felt the league should institute the ability for teams to have two tags per season. McKenzie is definitely not this type.
Eventually, if he sticks around long enough as a GM, McKenzie will have to slap a tag on somebody. He’ll have some hot NFL commodity that the team desperately needs yet is unable to come to terms with on a contract. However, this season is not the year that will happen.
If McKenzie gives Bush the tag then he’ll be paying top dollar for a running back that might not be worth the price. Bush has talent, we know this. Problem is his value is tied to the health of Darren McFadden. Yes, it makes sense to keep Bush around because the odds of McFadden playing a full 16 games are long. From a business perspective it just doesn’t make much sense to have big dollar amounts tied up with two running back.
Let’s also not forget that given extended playing time, Bush tired down the stretch. To be fair he was being force-fed the rock but so too was Justin Fargas once upon a time. Fargas was the only weapon the Raiders had back then and he was asked to carry the ball 25+ times a game, going full speed ahead into a brick wall. We didn’t nearly see the same falloff from Fargas back then as we did from Bush last year and Bush had much better weapons around him.
In short it might be more likely McKenzie will try to talk contract with Bush instead of giving him a hefty one-year raise. If some other team is willing to break the bank for Bush then that is just how the cookie will crumble. He’s been a valuable asset to Oakland but if Al Davis wasn’t willing to even try to talk contract with Bush last season then that has to say something. Never forget Bush was one of Davis’ projects that actually paid real dividends. Of course I’m sure Davis was also banking on McFadden to shake the injury bug thus making Bush’s contract a non-talking point.
On the other hand the Raiders don’t have any other option readily available to replace Tyvon Branch. In his instance the franchise tag could become a real possibility but that seems likely only if a deal cannot be reached.
On occasion Davis would use the tag as a means to keep a player around while a deal is worked on. This happened with Wimbley last year. The irony is that Wimbley’s deal could be what ultimate allows the Raiders to sign Branch. By that I mean McKenzie doing to Wimbley’s contract what he did to Stanford Routt’s. Never forget the Raiders are currently reported to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $11-million over the cap.
Oakland’s defense was not a strong suit so there is plenty of house cleaning to be done. No matter what happens to others currently on the roster one man that cannot be lumped in with the rest of the underachieving bunch is Branch. If the Raiders had more men on defense that played with the same commitment as Tyvon there is no way this team would have been watching the playoffs from home again.
Branch’s value is greater than that of Bush’s because he has no equal counterpart on the roster. McKenzie can simply roll out highlights of McFadden when Bush’s agent plays the value card. No matter McFadden’s injury woes and Bush’s skill, when Run DMC is healthy this is his team. Somehow I don’t think McKenzie can play the Michael Huff or Matt Giordano card to keep the price down on Branch.
Starting Monday teams can begin the franchise tag sweepstakes. I would be shocked if we see McKenzie use that card early in the process if at all. If anything, he’ll do the un-Davis thing and will instead sit on that tag, happy to not unnecessarily commit millions.