There are two ways to look at the Oakland Raiders’ offseason and the moves made by new GM Reggie McKenzie.
The first is to say it was awful. There were no high draft choice to re-stock the cupboard with fresh talent, and the salary cap situation was a mess, forcing the release of talented players while leaving very little money to pursue high-profile free agents.
Among the departed are running back Michael Bush, defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, tight end Kevin Boss and center Samson Satele.
The other way to see it is the Raiders – who finished 8-8 and again missed a playoff spot yet again – needed to blow up the roster and start from scratch and did the best they could with the limited resources at their disposal.
Which way is correct? Probably both.
When Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. recently gave out offseason grades for every team in the NFL, he gave the Raiders a “D.”
As he wrote for ESPN: “If you just judge what the Raiders did to get better versus what the rest of the league did to improve through free agency and the draft, Oakland’s grade would be among the league’s worst.”
Depleted of draft picks from past deals, the Raiders had no selections in the first or second rounds, a painful thing for a team in need of fresh talent. When Oakland finally got the chance to make its picks, it had to select players for potential rather than pedigree – a fact of life for a team with only mid- to low-round picks.
Oakland took offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom of Utah in Round 3, San Diego State linebacker Miles Burris in Round 4 and two players in Round 5, defensive end Jack Crawford of Penn State and Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner. In Rounds 6 and 7 the Raiders picked up Georgia State defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi and linebacker Nathan Stupar of Penn State.
Meanwhile, while players such as Wimbley, Bush and Boss were leaving, Oakland brought in free agents with little public cache, such as cornerback Ron Bartell, guard Mike Brisiel, cornerback Shawntae Spencer and defensive end Dave Tollefson.
On the surface, hardly a fair trade.
But the fact is, McKenzie’s hands were tied by tight purse strings and a roster filled with high-salaried players seemingly overvalued by owner Al Davis, who died during the 2011 season.
When McKenzie took the job as general manager, he said he needed to remake the team and rebuild the organization from the ground up.
To that end, the “D” grade is a bit misleading. Also, it doesn’t take into account a change in coaching staffs and schemes, and a possible upgrade in more disciplined play – a focus of McKenzie and new head coach Dennis Allen. More modern schemes and more disciplined players under coaches who won’t stand for a team that leads the league in penalties while also finishing 29th in the league defensively might make more of a difference than retaining a couple of talented players, such as Wimbley or Satele, for instance.
Williamson says Oakland actually did as well as it could with what it had. The problem was, it was in no position to go out and get flashy, more proven talent. McKenzie had to try to be smarter, look for players with strong character and perhaps overlooked strengths. In a way, the Raiders were playing Athletics-style “Moneyball” this offseason.
“Oakland got fine value in every one of its key additions,” wrote Williamson. “Each of these players except (backup quarterback Matt) Leinart should contribute in some way immediately. …
“In the big picture, the right steps were taken for the Raiders to position themselves to improve going forward, but this could be a rough season for the silver and black.”
So the "D" stands, but an "I" for incomplete might make more sense. It will take a couple of seasons to see how McKenzie's strategy works.