The Oakland Raiders won the 2016 Free Agency period thanks to the consistent plan Reggie McKenzie established over his entire tenure.
Winning Free Agency does not guarantee any sort of Regular Season success.
It does guarantee you plenty of hype, and the Oakland Raiders are finding that out.
Across the web, insiders and outsiders label the Raiders as a team on the rise. A team ready to contend in the AFC West.
How did this happen?
How did a team that spent more than half of 2014 without a win, earn potential free agents more than a year later?
Reggie McKenzie made the process look easy in 2016. He signed four of the top free agents at their respective positions including: guard Kelechi Osemele, edge Bruce Irvin, safety Reggie Nelson and corner Sean Smith. They all signed at fair market values too.
Yet, us Raiders fans recall a drawn-out process.
Fans and media called for McKenzie’s job. Yet, McKenzie stuck with his day one plan.
It all started with those records in dead money. Remember McKenzie made a lot of opposition – including myself – after releasing popular players like Michael Huff, Stanford Routt, Tyvon Branch and many others over his four-year reign as General Manager.
That dead money cost the Raiders short-term wins and signings. However, McKenzie did his best at fielding a formidable team made entirely of young players and bargain-bin free agents.
Added, the Raiders unveiled their brand-new practice fields and facilities last season. This would improve the teams’ weekly preparation and free agency pitch. It would thrust them out of the dark ages and prevent injuries.
Not surprisingly, the team ended three consecutive seasons with four or less wins. They emerged as a competitive team in almost every game, as a manifestation of the long-term reconstruction McKenzie committed himself to when he took the job.
Build the trenches
Each and every offseason, McKenzie made the trenches a priority.
Clearly, the Raiders did not deviate from their Free Agency formula this offseason. Oakland signed offensive linemen Osemele and pass rusher Irvin, who were both the best players at their positions on the open market.
Find competition in the NFL Draft
A lot of Raiders fans grew wary as the team struggled. Oakland got passed by key free agents, including their own Lamarr Houston and Jared Veldheer. The team consistently looked over-matched during the season.
However, McKenzie did not give into pressure. He never forced anything. McKenzie never paid a king’s ransom in a trade or free agency signing. Instead, the General Manager preached building through the draft. He stuck to the formula he learned Green Bay.
McKenzie found key players like Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Gabe Jackson at great values in the 2014 class. He discovered late round competitors like Ben Heeney (2015), Sio Moore (2013), Justin Ellis (2014), T.J. Carrie (2014), Tony Bergstrom (2012), Latavius Murray (2013), Mychal Rivera (2013) and Rod Streater (2012). Although some of those players are no longer with the team, they served a role as solid contributors.
He took some chances on developmental projects like Menelik Watson (2013) and D.J. Hayden (2013). Don’t write those guys off just yet. They still got a shot at competing for some playing time, despite their injury and inconsistency woes.
Best of all, the 2016 NFL Draft approaches at the end of the month. McKenzie still has plenty more opportunities to add levels of competition into the roster.
Five of the Raiders’ nine losses in 2015, were by less than one score. On paper, Oakland faces a weaker schedule than 2014 or 2015. Hence, those top free agent signings alone put the team over top.
It is no wonder the team gets so much hype months away from the season. Factor in the Raiders success in recent drafts, and the team could head towards ending their more than a decade playoff-draught.
Not only can the team win thanks to McKenzie, but the emerging powerhouse may also be closer to finally getting a new stadium. Winning alone forces lawmakers and the NFL to find the Raiders a permanent home. It may come in Las Vegas, Oakland or Los Angeles, but either market will get a competitive team.
Raiders fans must thank McKenzie for his dedication to the long-term plan. The stage is set for the Raiders to finally win.