Reggie McKenzie’s Oakland Raiders Plan Comes Into Focus


Sep 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie on the sidelines before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Coliseum. Oakland won 19-9. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie may have allowed his twin brother Raleigh to take some naps at the combine but he has not been asleep at the wheel. When McKenzie laid out his plan for the Raiders in 2012 he was met with roaring applause. Dump toxic contracts, sign quality veterans, rebuild through the draft. It was a song from the heavens for Raiders fans used to hearing about the Al Davis standard of overpaying unrefined talents and trading away every conceivable draft pick for overvalued players. The rebuild we deserved was finally upon us.

Apparently though, it wasn’t the rebuild we wanted right now. For many in the Raider Nation the process of rebuilding a team with nearly zero draft picks and an overpriced-but-underperforming roster should only take a year or so. After all, Oakland’s cross-bay rivals, San Francisco, managed to go from a 6-10 to 13-3 with just a coaching and GM shakeup. It should be the same for Oakland, right? Absolutely not, and McKenzie knew that. Without a wealth of talent and draft picks available, Oakland’s hole was much deeper and its remedy would be much more severe.

McKenzie was praised at first for dropping all the unnecessary contracts. Then 4-12 turned many fans against him. He was applauded for not wasting money chasing big name overvalued talent. Then 4-12 turned more fans against him. He was… well you get the idea. McKenzie has done exactly what he said he was going to do, and received much undeserved flack for it. For some reason, folks believe that a major restructuring was going to be able to happen while simultaneously adding numbers to the win column immediately. It was always going to get worse before it got better.

More from Las Vegas Raiders Free Agency

Luckily, the upswing has arrived. This season’s free agency stands testament to that. No, it’s not the ultra flashy free agency of $60M signings, but it’s been a major step up from last season already. The function of last year’s free agency was to get competent veterans to play as temporary stop-gaps. Matt Schaub, Justin Tuck, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and LaMarr Woodley all came in with 1-2 year contracts. Maurice Jones-Drew and James Jones joined with team friendly 3 year deals with only a small percentage guaranteed. The average age of last years class felt like it was 74.

This year has been different. In 2015, McKenzie has shifted to signing players he’d like to see as a staple role players for years to come. These are the true rebuild players. Nate Allen and Dan Williams are position upgrades with 4 year contracts. Curtis Lofton is a clear step up over Miles Burris with a 3 year contract and over 50% of his $18M guaranteed. Rodney Hudson, PFF’s 3rd ranked center in the league, is coming in on a 5 year deal. The average age of these guys is 26.

This year’s free agency class is the real first step toward building long lasting excellence on the football field. There are finally solid additions to the roster that will be able to develop and mesh as a unit over years of playing together under Head Coach Del Rio. Combine this group of players with the success in last year’s draft and the potential success of the draft in April and the core of a winning franchise begins to take shape. With Derek Carr and Khalil Mack leading a solid group of young, talented, and still growing players, the potential of this franchise is now higher than it’s been in over a decade.

Does that mean the Raiders are definitely making the playoffs this season? No, but they’re well on the right path to making it for seasons to come. McKenzie hasn’t been perfect but this franchise is back on the right track and all he’s had to do is stick to his plan.