Leading up to and following the death of Al Davis I had considered what I would want for the direction of the team without his presence. Following the end of the 2011 season Mark put into motion exactly what I would have wanted short of John Madden himself returning to run the team. Mark, John, and Ron Wolf brought in Reggie (they didn't interview anyone else). Mark professed that he "didn't know football" and wanted to give someone full control of football operations. I had never heard of Reggie McKenzie but if those two guys said this was our guy than I was on board.
First Reggie dismissed Hue. Hue was pampas and had just committed the "greatest trade in football history" so most of us thought that it was right move. And it was, if the new man was going to do his work. He then hired Dennis Allen as his head coach and rebuilding partner. Some thought that it was a little odd that even though he had been in the NFL since 1985 and had likely met tons of potential candidates that he would like to work with, he hired a man he just met. D.A. was on the hot list and nobody balked at the hire.
This seemed to me to be a tough road to hoe. A First time GM paired with a first time head coach who had never met. This in an organization that has more of its identity tied to one man than any pro sports team ever. Oh, and also they had sucked for a decade after a super bowl beat down at the hands of our beloved ex head coach. Admittedly Raider fans are a little unstable to begin with but this was a fan base on the edge.
Patience was asked for and for the most part given. However, after one season some questions started to arise about the moves being made. I understood that winning wasn't likely, but I wanted to guage the initial moves made by McKenzie (and Allen). First there was Greg Knapp and the zone blocking scheme. Knapp was known to all as a re-tread. After proceeding to spend the teams highest draft pick on Tony Bergstrom, the best zone blocking guard in the draft (not so much). They dumped Knapp and the zone blocking scheme. They elected to go with a power scheme to suit their "best player" DMC. Which is in itself is questionable. The merits of zone scheme vs the power scheme are not really the point. If DA or RM felt like schematically that was the offense we should move forward with then we should not go changing it for one player a year later. Especially a player who is a false superstar. This could be spun, as I did, as "these guys aren't afraid to admit a mistake and compound it by forcing something that doesn't work".
The next move to scrutinize was the Matt Flynn/ Carson Palmer trades. Reg had history with Flynn and after Palmer refused to restructure his deal, a decision was made to part ways. The transactions themselves seemed to be reasonable. Late picks exchanged for both guys. The problem was in the idea that both QB's were equal and that we were just exchanging one guy who didn't want to be here for a guy who did. As it turns out Flynn was barely an NFL caliber back-up. You have to wonder how Reg could spend time in the same organization with Flynn and not see what apparently most other GM's saw when in the prior year Flynn garnered almost no free agent interest. Even Joe Philbin his former OC didn't seem to want any part of him. The converse argument is that Flynn had shown big potential in limited game exposure and that if he was given a chance to own a team he would excel. The other part is that keeping Palmer was not an option in that his refusal to restructure had less to do with money and more to do with wanting out. He had a history as a quitter. See Cincinnati. Reg had rid us of another huge money low production malcontent and Flynn was only ever a very temporary stop gap.
The 2013 draft was a very exciting prospect for Raider fans. We would finally have a first round pick and we were only missing a second. I like many Raider fans was in favor of trading down. With so many holes to fill and seemingly no difference maker to be had at #4 it made sense. We all rejoiced when Reg did just that. Then came word that what we received in return did not pencil out on the widely recognized Jimmy Johnson draft value calculator. Couple that with picking a guy at #12 with serious health concerns and adding a guy with that additional pick that had very little football experience. I was underwhelmed. Their first seasons did very little to turn that opinion. We all know shit happens and these guys could turn out to be stars or at least contributors to a winning team, but the early returns aren't good. He did pick up Sio Moore who in my opinion is the only draft pick he has made that has made any significant contribution.
As Reg's success is closely tied to DA it seems prudent to call the 2013 season on the field a failure of his as well. A team that was obviously bereft of talent started out promising and ended with a thud. This occurred in individual games and the season as a whole. Is that a coaching staff who can't make adjustments or a staff that has good game plans but a roster that gets exposed as time goes on. From an off the field perspective 2013 was always going to be painful as we cleared the books for a salary cap reset with record amounts of dead money. All of the moves were stop gap moves. The season did't go well but maybe we shouldn't judge the on field results in such a unusual year. I don't know, but I would have much rather had a 4-12 season that ended with an uptick with guys getting better and buying in than on a six game losing streak.
This all led up to the start of free agency this year. We had all swallowed hard and suffered through the pulling of the Band-Aid that the previous two seasons had been and we were poised to finally begin the rebuild. I have always heard that successful team retain their own free agents so it seemed logical that with all this record cap space we would keep Houston and Veldheer. When their deals didn't get done before free agency and no "tags" were used I had a bad feeling. In first hours of free agency I nearly lost it when they both left and the Saffold deal was announced along with the story McFadden would be back. My family can attest that this was not received well. I for the first time had more than questions about Reggie I was ready for his head.
In the next couple weeks the plan began to take shape. The Raiders were in a position this off season that no team has ever been in. The record amount of cap space was going to define the financial future and cap strategy for this organization. It dawned on me that Reg did have a plan. The plan is not has some have said to win now to save his job. If that was the case he would have signed Jairus Byrd, Eric Decker, Talib and any other huge splash high financial risk players. His plan most notably involves keeping his financial options open for years to come. At the same time bringing in known commodities (albeit a little past their prime). There should be no argument that this team will be better in 2014. It's likely that half of the guys he has brought in will fail to meet expectations and when that happens we'll have the freedom to cut them and the cap room to supplement. This is actually a measured patient approach, not one of desperation to save his job.
There is no question that poor decisions and mistakes have been made. Veldheer, Briesel, Flynn, Tyler Wilson. Are these just a few bumps in the road that are part of a first time GM finding his way? Maybe. The plan has been revealed and I can see the path but it all stems on draft success. This plan is contingent on getting your building blocks through the draft and retaining them. As much as I like the direction we have gone in free agency you can't build a sustainable franchise with two year contracts for aging players. Those guys should be supplements.
The biggest remaining questions are...Can Reg identify talent in the draft and execute sound drafting strategies in terms of value and is DA a guy capable of leading men to greatness. These are clearly still up for debate. Hayden and Watson's performance this year will go a long way towards answering one question along with the guys acquired in this years draft. If there is not a significant jump in the contributions made by his draftees this year all of the free agency traction made will be for naught. And if DA can't make the talent on the roster this year competitive and relevant than Reg's first decision as GM may end up being his undoing.