Raiders general manager wants everyone to know it was Jared Veldheer's decision to leave the Raiders. He has said it several times now, most recently in an interview with Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Losing Veldheer was a blow to me," said McKenzie. "He didn't want to come back. It wasn't about finances. The kid didn't want to play for the Raiders anymore, and I struggled with that."
Just the day before, in the league meetings he said the Raiders offered Veldheer "whatever the market was" to remain with the team, adding "I really wanted to keep him. Really did. But it was his decision to go."
The problem with his continued insistence on such things is there is far too much evidence that suggests that isn't quite how things went down. So, let's break it down.
There is some obvious truth here. McKenzie did want Veldheer back. He also regrets very much that Veldheer left. That at very least removes any thoughts of the Raiders ushering Veldheer out the door because they simply didn't want him or because they somehow knew something everyone else didn't. Veldheer is a top young talent at left tackle in this league and it would be unwise to dispute that.
From here, it gets muddy to say the least. For starters, Veldheer very much did want to come back to the Raiders. He said so on numerous occasions. And in case you wondered if that was lip service because a mic was shoved in his face, he even called into Bay Area radio station, 95.7 The Game back on February 3, to say publicly just how much he wanted to be with the Raiders long term and how frustrated at what he saw as a lack of urgency from the Raiders.
"I'm hoping that some kind of deal happens here soon," said Veldheer. "I've expressed many times that I want to stay here. I really love the team, I love my teammates, the coaches, and I really feel like this is the place for me. It would be good to kinda have some urgency in this and move this along so it doesn't creep up to that date where maybe something has to happen that's not in the long term.
"This is a place I want to be at for the rest of my career if I could."
Does that sound like a guy who didn't want to be with the Raiders?
Veldheer had said he would prefer not to get the franchise tag because he wanted a long term deal. But applying the franchise tag would have at very least bought the Raiders time to reach a deal. Not only did they not use the franchise tag but near the close of the franchise tag window, there were reports that there was still no communications with Veldheer.
From there, Veldheer as well as his representation had grown frustrated and felt like the Raiders didn't want him. They began preparing for the very real possibility of having to sign elsewhere.
What about the claim of offering him market value?
Just after Veldheer signed with the Cardinals, Jared's mother, Mary Veldheer, tweeted that the Raiders absolutely did not offer her son a "fair offer", going on to say that the offer was nowhere close to the deal the Raiders offered Rodger Saffold (5-year, $42.5 million).
It was then revealed on the first day of free agency, after Veldheer had been signed to a very reasonable 5-year, $35 million contract ($17 million guaranteed) with the Cardinals that the Raiders had offered him a 5-year, $30 million deal with $10 million guaranteed according to information gathered by CSN Bay Area's Fallon Smith. That is well below anything resembling fair market value for a top tier left tackle just entering the prime of his career.
Might the Raiders have come back late in the game and tried to up their initial offer to make it somewhat less insulting and closer to Veldheer's actual market value? Sure. It's possible. But they waited too long. By then the damage had already been done. They strung him along, communication lines broke down, and he eventually moved on.
The other major free agent the Raiders lost was Lamarr Houston, who McKenzie said made his decision to sign with the Bears to join a team with a better quarterback situation and better chance of winning. That has never been disputed. McKenzie added that wasn't the case with Veldheer.
Veldheer's camp has no reason to make up stories or false claims about why he left for the Cardinals. It doesn't benefit them or Veldheer in the slightest. McKenzie, on the other hand, has every reason to try and push the onus onto Veldheer for leaving.
This off-season is one which McKenzie has been preparing for two years. He's been gutting the team of huge salaries and as a result has fielded a squad sorely lacking in talent; all with 2014 as the light at the end of the tunnel.
Then after all the preaching of patience the big day was here, and with a record $66 million in cap space, the light at the end of that tunnel turns out to be a freight train.
As if fumbling your own young phenom left tackle wasn't bad enough, in his scrambling to recover he nearly blew a huge wad of money on an injury prone replacement - who was not surprisingly injured and couldn't pass his physical -- and in the process missed out on every other top free agent left tackle on the market. Donald Penn only came available after one of those top tackles - Anthony Collins - was signed to replace him and he was cut.
His own top free agents gone, top free agent target a wash, top free agents on the market gone, and all that cash still burning a hole in his pocket. At that point the mere suggestion McKenzie could have botched re-signing the single most important free agent on the team would be devastating.
Are the Raiders better now than they were before March 11? It would appear that way. That's what happens when you come off a season where nearly half your salary is tied up in dead money and suddenly have $66 million in spending money.
They spent a large portion of that on the offensive line with the signing of Penn, Austin Howard, Kevin Boothe, and the re-signing of Khalif Barnes. Of those players, only Howard (27) has yet to see his 30th birthday and can be considered a possible long term solution. Veldheer is just 26-years-old.
McKenzie recognizes his biggest mistake. The one he continues to insist wasn't his doing. The one that instantly made his seat very warm. The one that, should this team falter, will be pointed to as the seed. That's the one he would very much like you to believe was completely out of his hands.