The Oakland Raiders made headlines the first week of Free Agency, so the organization is no longer the joke of the NFL.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie joined the Oakland Raiders in 2012, and his vision is finally coming to fruition with the latest Free Agency haul.
McKenzie took the Raiders job knowing it would not be easy. Outdated operations, no long-term stadium, salary cap strapped roster filled with veterans and the most misunderstood fan base turned developing a winner into a long-term proposition.
However, Reggie came from the Green Bay Packers. What do the Raiders and Packers have in common?
Besides rich histories and passionate fan bases, both teams play in smaller markets and blue-collar cities. It is clear that McKenzie is building this team in that image. The Raiders roster is centered around equal parts competition, talent and hard work.
I’ll admit I had my own reservations about McKenzie. It was hard to keep the long-term in mind when our squad lost developing players like Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston. It was hard celebrating the additions of guys like Matt Flynn, Matt Schaub, Ron Bartell and many other past-prime veterans.
This year is a completely different story. The Raiders already signed three of the top-20 free agents in Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin and Kelechi Osemele. These are guys who brig versatility, experience and hard work to Oakland. Best of all, McKenzie signs them to fair market value deals.
But why is McKenzie suddenly hitting on marquee free agents after many strike-outs?
Mckenzie’s patience in the draft helped lure these marquee names. The Raiders young talent and experienced coaching staff attracted these key players, as they said in their opening press conferences. Rising stars like Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack and Derek Carr could attract more quality players, as the team still has $34 mill. in cap space.
Yet McKenzie is not the only one getting the last laugh.
Remember when owner Mark Davis looked like a lost puppy dog after he withdrew his bid for Los Angeles? Remember when the Raiders were the awkward step-child at Super Bowl 50?
Even before then, I listened as sports radio bashed Davis for not knowing what he was doing. I listened as Rams fans argued that they had the better team for Los Angeles. I listened as 49ers fans said they were the superior team in the bay.
Who is laughing now?
This is not the same Raiders team of a few-years-ago, and free agency proved that.
The Rams and 49ers wished they had franchise cornerstones at receiver, pass rusher and quarterback like the Raiders. Plus, Oakland brings quality pieces around the entire roster. Meanwhile, the Rams and 49ers struggle even keeping their key players from 2015 in Free Agency.
Although success in Free Agency does not translate to wins, the Raiders seem poised for real success in 2016. No one wants to jinx the team before the draft even happens, but Davis is deferring to a winning formula with McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio.
Together the three can place a winner on the field. Davis is not loaded in the pockets, but he is smart enough to delegate player personal decisions to McKenzie and Del Rio.
This formula should lead to Davis getting his franchise the stadium they need. Oakland can not lose another perennial playoff team, especially if they lose the Warriors to San Francisco. Hence, Davis may walk-away laughing too.
Together the Raiders organization and fans will all have the last laugh. The Raiders will finally rise as winners once again, and no one will laugh, disrespect or hate on any of us.
2016 Free Agency…What a time to be a Raider!