It wasn’t that long ago that Raiders fans and many in the media were calling for general manager Reggie McKenzie to be fired.
One Bay Area radio host in October of 2014 urged team owner Mark Davis to fire McKenzie, saying, “I wouldn’t let Reggie McKenzie park his car at the coliseum, much less come in and make another decision.”
After the Raiders finished 8-8 in 2011, McKenzie took over and cleaned house. High-priced players were cut loose and the team flopped around in the NFL basement. McKenzie’s hand-picked head coach, Dennis Allen, went 4-12 his first two seasons and then was fired in his third. The Raiders went 11-37 from 2012-2014.
Yet McKenzie’s plan was to methodically rebuild the roster without getting lured by the urge to deviate from his long-term plan with short-term fixes.
“You have to roll up your sleeves and say, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ However long it takes,” he told the Buffalo News this past August. “Don’t believe in a quick fix. You have to do it right way, and that was building through the draft No. 1. And you have to manage the (salary) cap, manage your money.”
Now, as McKenzie and the Raiders approach another free-agent shopping season and the draft, his long-term plan is bearing fruit.
He hired a head coach in Jack Del Rio who has seemed to add the solid leadership the franchise has needed, while his drafts and free-agent acquisitions have – for the most part – paid off. The Raiders improved from 3-13 to 7-9 and now appear on the verge of being a playoff team.
Former longtime NFL executive and Hall of Famer Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, has been watching McKenzie operate in Oakland and says McKenzie has laid a terrific foundation for long-term success.
“I don’t think you can criticize anything Reggie has done,” Polian said in a radio interview in the days leading up to Super Bowl 50. “Fans don’t realize that when you make a move and you’re building a franchise, it takes time. Everybody wants instant success and it doesn’t happen that way. It takes time. He’s done all the right things.”
Polian pointed to the Raiders having the three key elements they need on offense – a quarterback, running back and No. 1 wide receiver – as well as an elite pass rusher in Khalil Mack.
“They’re headed in the right direction,” said Polian.
Plus, McKenzie has managed the salary cap so well that Oakland has about $68 million available, the second highest total in the NFL (behind Jacksonville). That money can be used to retain quality players and lure free agents.
Now, as McKenzie prepares for his fifth Raiders draft, he can focus on adding to the success he’s had in his last three drafts, which have produced four Pro Bowl players: Derek Carr, Mack, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray.
With the 14th overall choice, he’s certainly positioned to select another impact player..