In order for the Raiders to have a good 2014 season, Reggie McKenzie will need to have a great offseason.
For McKenzie, January is like the opening kickoff to his season as general manager.
And, while he’s had some successes over the past two years, the spotlight is now in full force on McKenzie’s moves now that a “deconstruction” period is over and owner Mark Davis is expecting to see some progress once games begin again in September.
If there was a grace period, it’s certainly over now. It’s time to produce.
Over the next few months, McKenzie has $70 million of salary-cap flexibility to retain the Raiders’ own free agents or players available from other teams, plus the draft, to restock. And in the draft, Oakland will have the fifth overall pick, a high-enough choice to pull in one of the best quarterback prospects available.
McKenzie didn’t get much out of the 2013 draft – so far. Top picks D.J. Hayden at cornerback and offensive tackle Menelik Watson missed too much time with injuries to progress as quickly as hoped. This time around, McKenzie will need to get more sudden impact from his top picks, especially from the first three rounds.
One thing McKenzie did do well, however, was recruit what he calls “good effort” veterans to the Raiders. Linebackers such as Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett, defensive liemen Pat Sims, Vance Walker and Jason Hunter and defensive backs Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, Charles Woodson and Usama Young all made solid contributions. So did running back Rashad Jennings.
“We got some smart guys who knew how to play the game and had something to prove,” McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Now, he can use their success to help sell the Raiders to other free agents. With Dennis Allen and McKenzie retained, those players looking for jobs will be able to see the Raiders as a franchise with more continuity than in the past, which should make Oakland a more attractive destination. Many of the players signed to one-year deals last offseason have told McKenzie they want to return for 2014.
“The key is we want these guys to be around and get a feel for these coaches and what we’re trying to do,” McKenzie said. “What it’s like being a Raider. I think that’s a selling point, especially when you’re heading in the right direction and feel good about it.”
This past week has been an important one for the Raiders, with Davis making it official that Allen will return for the third year of his four-year contract, and then having a sit-down with Allen and McKenzie to hash out strategy for this offseason.
As Bay Area News Group columnist Tim Kawakami wrote this week, Davis – by keeping McKenzie and Allen in place – has gone “all in” with the duo in hopes that a third year of continuity will start to show positive results.
“It all comes down to one season now,” Kawakami wrote. “All the chips are on the table in 2014, there’s nothing left to bet on, except each other’s reputations, and everybody knows. This ought to be entertaining.”
For McKenzie, it’s time to have a high-scoring offseason.