Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie prefers to draft, develop and eventually reward homegrown players. After dismantling a disjointed roster, getting right with the salary cap and drafting quality, he's finally able to do that.
McKenzie didn't wade into new waters. He jumped right in, with a cannonball. McKenzie allocated up to $181 million on two guys in a week's time, unafraid to spend big on players he knows and trusts. It was the first phase of a master a master plan designed to keep a talented young core together.
McKenzie gave franchise quarterback Derek Carr a five-year, $125 million contract extension, a massive market-value sum for that position. Gabe Jackson signed a five-year deal worth $56 million seven days later.
The Raiders hope to extend Khalil Mack next offseason, and Amari Cooper a year after that. The team wants them appropriately spaced to optimize cash flow and mix elite deals with middle class contracts, a delicate balance required to remain competitive.
The Raiders wanted Carr and Jackson done right away, to prevent valued talent from entering contract years. The Raiders asked Carr to defer some payments to help keep the Raiders on schedule. The 26-year old complied.
"The bottom line is we're able to continue to move forward with it, keep all the players that we need to keep in the correct timing," McKenzie said after Carr signed his contract. "This affords us to do that. We're going to start on that ASAP."
McKenzie wasn't kidding. He went right to work on Gabe Jackson, and locked his right guard down posthaste.
The master plan won't always operate at that pace, even with Mack eligible for an extension despite receiving a fifth-year option that puts his contract two years away from expiration. As McKenzie said, it's all about "correct timing."
Carr gave the Raiders financial flexibility to also get Jackson done now. They had $33 million in salary cap space before the Carr deal, and roughly $18 million apple after. It remains uncertain how much of a bite Jackson took, and some will go to yet unsigned draft picks Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu and Eddie Vanderdoes.
The Raiders have more financial flexibility next offseason, when Khalil Mack's massive extension will take center stage. Mario Edwards Jr. might play himself into extension-worth graces if he can produce and stay healthy. Amari Cooper could command big dollars a season later.
Mack would be the third member of the 2014 draft class to get extended. That group helped turn the franchise around after a rough start, a fact that binds the group together.
"Sometimes during the season we'll reflect on our rookie year, when we were 0-10 and really struggling," Jackson said. "There's a real appreciation for where we are. We know what it's like to lose, and now we know how good it feels to win. It's great, and we want to keep this good thing going."
That isn't all on players and coaches. The front office obviously plays a huge part. They can't let top homegrown talent walk, and must continue drafting well when tighter budgets prevent McKenzie from keeping everyone.
He will pay big for his own guys, which is a message received by the Raiders locker room.
"I always say that if you live good and live clean outside of football, if you work your butt off and take care of business, people around here appreciate it," Jackson said. "They may not say it all the time, but people pay attention to how you carry yourself and how you work on the field. That doesn't go unrecognized."