Despite Some Whiffs, McKenzie Deserves Applause

Raiders GM has rid the roster of long-term, expensive contracts to give Oakland the room to make big moves next week

Reggie McKenzie has had an interesting ride as general manager of the Raiders since being hired in January of 2012.

Though he’s had some successes – drafting the likes of Kahlil Mack, Derek Carr, Latavius Murray and Gabe Jackson – he’s had some embarrassing whiffs. Bringing in quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub proved to be major mistakes. Hiring Dennis Allen as head coach didn’t work out. And spending money on aging free agents such as Maurice Jones-Drew and Lamarr Woodley proved to be unwise.

Plus, the Raiders' record during McKenzie’s reign has been abysmal. Since McKenzie took over, Oakland is 11-37 – much worse than the 21-27 mark in the three years prior.

Yet as the Raiders get set to dive into a deep free-agent pool next week, the franchise is in the best position it’s been in a long while in terms of salary-cap space.

This offseason, the Raiders won’t be patrolling the bargain bins, looking for castoffs. This time, the Raiders are expected to be major players, in the hunt for Ndamukong Suh, the defensive lineman who ranks No. 1 among all free agents, a wide receiver such as Randall Cobb or a tight end as good as Julius Thomas.

The price tag for Suh may seem too much, perhaps $100 million or more, with a big chunk of it guaranteed.

But because of the work McKenzie has done over the past three years, trimming salary and not tying the Raiders into overpriced, long-term deal, the Raiders are in position to spend and –  in conjunction with another strong draft – turn 2015 into a turnaround season for the franchise.

Columnist Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group wrote this week that signing Suh, though expensive, is worth the risk, because of what he could mean to that turnaround, and he says McKenzie deserves “major kudos” for his work to put Oakland in this position.

“It wasn’t that long ago their cap situation was an utter disaster,” Thompson wrote. “Now they’re in position to scoop up two major salaries this offseason.”

When McKenzie took over the Raiders, they were a bit better on the field – finishing 8-8 in the two previous seasons – but hamstrung by salary. Almost immediately, McKenzie had to make tough choices, ejecting productive but overpriced players such as Richard Seymour, Michael Huff, Kamerion Wimbley, Tommy Kelly, Carson Palmer and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

“We’ve got some contracts that are kind of out of whack,” said McKenzie, soon after he was hired. “But in my discussions and viewing the cap situation, we should be fine.”

Of course, the Raiders haven’t been fine in those three seasons. On the field, they’ve often been pitiful.

But finally, the Raiders are in position to make a move. And, as Thompson noted, McKenzie deserves much of the credit.

The money he begins spending next week, however, will have to result in real progress in 2015. Otherwise, this could be McKenzie’s last year at the helm.

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