While Raiders Nation celebrates the signings of "name" players, commentators and analysts from around the country have been steadfast in their disapproval, questioning the direction of the team, questioning the very signings that have lifted the spirits of Raiders Nation. These pundits want to know why Houston and Veldheer were not retained and who on the team represents the core around which Mckenzie intends to build, because clearly none of these "name" players signed in free agency represents the future of the Raiders, they are stop-gaps, at best (with the 2-year contracts to prove it). These pundits look at McKenzie's work and scratch their collective heads. Privately, they wonder 'what the fuck is he doing'?
Let's take a look at what he may, indeed, be doing...
While I think Houston was vastly overrated (and flawed), the loss of Veldheer, too, was guaranteed to raise the ire of NFL sportswriters and commentators, and more than a few fans, too. It didn't matter if McKenzie and Co. didn't rate these players high enough to warrant a long term commitment, because these two players were the perceived best of the Raiders young "core". Think about that - even if McKenzie had good reasons he was bound to take serious flack for letting them go. Sure enough, right away, the decision not to pursue either player caused a disconnect between McKenzie and his growing legion of detractors in the media and everywhere else.
Where is McKenzie's young core around which he is to build they ask over and over?
Let's be honest about this core: it is represented by his 2 previous drafts (including the UDFAs that he has acquired for the team); and it is soon-to-be represented by the 2014 draft class and very likely the 2015 draft class, as well (along with whatever UDFAs can make the team between now and then). So, clearly, the core is presently incomplete. Why then would Mckenzie jettison Veldheer and Houston to the scrapheap of Raiders history when his young core group was already depleted? In McKenzie's grand scheme of things I think it actually makes sense. First, these weren't his players and he felt no bond towards either of them.
Maybe neither player fit the overall plan? That plan, as best as I can tell, is two-fold: Culture shift; these free agents represent the teaching tools that McKenzie wants his coming core to rely upon; when you look at these men they appear to be as close to player-coaches as one could get in this league. They are all - to a man - high character players, and that includes the CB who was signed off the 49ers. Of course, Mckenzie wants these guys to play at a high level, also, but it goes much deeper than that - these are his appointed leaders, and maybe - just maybe - Houston might have bucked at the idea of ceding anything to these newbies so McKenzie let him walk. Makes sense. Even if that is only partly true, clearly Mckenzie didn't covet Houston as a player, so it's no great loss from his point of view and it makes the transition to this new leadership group all the more smooth, at least defensively. Don't forget that Houston was mentored by Seymore and Co. Every time I saw Houston jump off-sides on a hard count last season or get a roughing penalty or whatever I was reminded of his mentors (not fondly reminded).
As free agency moves forward I think it's clear that McKenzie is targeting specific types of players who will mentor his younger growing core over the next two seasons. The whole key to McKenzie's "plan" therefore is the success of his coming draft classes with special emphasis upon the 2014 and 2015 draft classes, along with the development of 2013's top picks, Hayden, Watson, and Moore this season.
Do the signings of Woodley, Tuck, and Smith indicate that Mckenzie is targeting a defensive line "type" of player (including OLB in 3-4 alignment), such as Clowney or Mack? Don't be surprised if it does. It may, also, mean that he's targeting multiple DL players with a trade down from the #5 pick since we know there are several good such players available in the first 40 or so picks. You hear names like Donald and Barr being tossed around, any of whom may well be in-play.
Now! If McKenzie were planning to target Clowney he has pre-assembled as strong a group of mentors as one could possibly hope, in fact it will look like genius given the sort of character concerns that have been levied at Clowney's doorstep.
These free agency moves, therefore, can be seen as the first salvo in a cultural shift on the Raiders. In that context, I can't see how McKenzie could have achieved more? Look at whom he acquired....he got the highest character players in free agency, who are equally capable of still playing at an all-pro or high level (older players, but not over-the-hill) - these are the Raiders' new mentors, the new "cultural" advisers for McKenzie's growing youth movement.
The final hurdle for McKenzie will be hitting the next two drafts (hitting them big) and filling this team with enough good young players to reach the tipping point. In that same period the team has to identify a starting QB who can take the reigns. At the very worst, McGloin represents a solid #2.
As best I can tell this is McKenzie's plan.