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Evaluating Reggie McKenzie: 17 months in, has the Oakland Raiders GM done a good job?

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While no general manager in football has inherited a mess like the one Oakland handed Reggie McKenzie, it's time to look back on his first 17 months in office and see how he's done.


January 5, 2012 was a landmark day in the history of the Oakland Raiders franchise.

While most teams would hope a January landmark involved a key playoff victory, this date in Oakland history didn't even involve a football game at all.

That's because on this date 17 months ago, the Oakland Raiders hired their first general manager (other than Al Davis) since 1966.

While much has been written about the ups and downs of the Al Davis tenure in Oakland, it's not a topic we'll use this space to debate today.

For now, all eyes are on McKenzie - the general manager entering his second full season at the helm of one of the league's most storied franchises.

One season into his first job as a GM, McKenzie endured a rocky start to what he knew would be a long process.

At 4-12, Oakland remained one of the worst teams in the league under McKenzie and his new head coach, Dennis Allen.

The problem was that Allen and McKenzie inherited a team that was coming off an 8-8 season - the team's best since 2002.

Of course, McKenzie and Allen will tell you that reconstructing the franchise for long-term success will bring about some short-term difficulties - an idea I completely agree with - but the Raiders fan base isn't one that's prepared for a few more disastrous seasons.

So the question today, as McKenzie wraps up his second off-season as the team's GM, is how well he has done.

It's obviously difficult to evaluate a GM with just 17 months on the job, however, this isn't a business that allows for years and years of losing.

So what we'll do is breakdown some of the major moves McKenzie has made and let you decide where he belongs in the minds of Raider nation.

1) Fires Hue Jackson, hires Dennis Allen (2012) - While Jackson supporters will point to his 8-8 record, they'll quickly overlook the hole he put the franchise in with his decision to trade for Carson Palmer. Now, I don't see the move as indefensible as some, but looking back, it was clearly the wrong choice and that decision alone was a fireable offense. The real question here is how well Allen pans out in the long run.

Believed by many to be a rising star, Allen was on his path to a head coaching job, the question was only where and when it would come. Unfortunately for Allen, year one in charge wasn't a positive experience.

Atop the list of mistakes was his decision to bring in Greg Knapp as offensive coordinator, who had already failed once in Oakland.

While the Raiders were much improved in penalties, their statistics seemed to dip most other places as McKenzie completed his roster makeover.

Whether it's fair or not, year No. 2 for Allen will be a major influence on how long he sticks around. If the team can show some progress and win 6-7 games I think he gets a third year in town.

2) Signs Shawntae Spencer, Ronald Bartell, Phillip Wheeler, Mike Brisiel and Pat Lee (2012) - if there's a major blemish on the record of McKenzie, it's covered in these five names. And fortunately for the future in Oakland, McKenzie knows it.

The gambles taken on Spencer and Bartell couldn't have gone worse as the two corners played in a total of eight games for Oakland. While some might say that's bad luck, when you sign two guys with serious injury histories and they get injured, it's more than just bad luck - it was a bad bet that didn't work out.

Then there's Mike Brisiel, the guard brought in as an expert in the zone-blocking scheme they were installing. Whelp, that didn't really work out.

The team's blocking was among the league's worst - ranking 28th in rushing yards - and was the reason that Knapp was fired after just one season. Adding insult to injury, Brisiel was the only guy signed to a multi-year deal, signing a five year, $20 million deal with $3.4 million in bonuses.

Finally that brings us to Phillip Wheeler - the crown jewel of the free agency class.

Sort of.

Wheeler had a fantastic season with Oakland and far out-performed the contract McKenzie signed him to., but the bad news was that McKenzie had mistakenly signed him to just a one-year deal.

While Wheeler played great, he also performed so well that they couldn't afford to match Miami's five year, $26 million deal. So while it's nice that he nailed this addition, the fact that he's gone so soon leaves him with part of the blame.

3) Released/cut/waived Kevin Boss, Stanford Routt and Kamerion Wimbley (2012) - If there's one major defense for McKenzie (and by major, I mean "the greatest ever"), it's the atrocious salary cap situation he inherited. With major contracts everywhere, Oakland was left with bad players owed lots of guaranteed money and little cap space to sign capable replacements.

As a result, guys like Boss, Routt and Wimbley were the first of the casualties.

The good news is that none of the three turned out to be disastrous losses.

Boss was easily replaced by Brandon Myers, who actually turned out to be an upgrade (before eventually leaving himself).

Routt played in just seven games for the Chiefs last season, recording just two interceptions and 19 tackles before moving on to the Houston Texans.

Wimbley, however, was the most productive of the three, playing in all 16 games with six sacks from the outside linebacker position in Tennessee.

Ultimately, all three moves worked out okay for McKenzie.

4) Drafted/signed Tony Bergstrom, Miles Burris, Jack Crawford, Juron Criner, Christo Bilukidi, Nathan Stupar and Rod Streater (2012) - Once again hamstrung by the past, McKenzie was left with just a few picks, none of which came before the end of the third round.

The results of this class are obviously far from being decided, but it's safe to say it was fairly successful compared to recent Raiders history.

Bergstrom, the team's first pick, failed to crack the offensive line rotation as a rookie, but has a chance to do so in his second year this fall.

The highlights of the class are Burris, Criner and Streater - three players who all played big roles as rookies.

Burris was a starter at outside linebacker almost the entire season, recording 96 tackles as one of the team's most consistent tacklers.

Criner and Streater were both thrust into a young group of receivers and both flashed some serious potential throughout the season.

5) Released/cut/waived Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff, Tommy Kelley, Rolando McClain and Richard Seymour (2013) - Talk about some name power to be found next to the word "released".

Once again, though, this was a painful yet necessary action for McKenzie to take if this team is ever going to become a perennial contender.

Kelly, McClain and Seymour were all no-brainers given their massive contracts and diminishing contributions, but DHB and Huff are harder pills to swallow.

DHB had shown some serious improvement and there was hope that the team might be able to restructure his contract to keep him in town, but unfortunately that never came to fruition.

Huff, on the other hand, never lived up to expectations in Oakland and his huge contract left him on the outside looking in.

Given great financial flexibility and it's hard to imagine letting go of DHB and Huff, but that simply wasn't the situation McKenzie found himself in.

6) Signed Kevin Burnett, Vance Walker, Nick Roach, Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, Andre Carter, Rashad Jennings and Charles Woodson (2013) - Obviously it's a bit premature to start analyzing this group, but on the surface there's a lot to like here.

First, Jenkins and Porter fill a desperate need in the defensive backfield and seem far more likely to fill that hole than the signings from a year ago did.

Secondly, there's Woodson.

Whether he helps the team win or not, the hope he represents of being able to sign the guys they want and bring in big-named guys is worth every penny he was signed for.

I think the steal of this class will be Roach, a guy heavily praised out of Chicago, who is expected to be the team's starting middle linebacker come Week 1. What's better, though, is that McKenzie learned from the Wheeler mistake and inked Roach to a four year, $13 million deal.

7) Traded for Matt Flynn, traded Carson Palmer (2013) - As the final move in seriously ridding themselves of all memory from the pre-McKenzie era, the trading of Carson Palmer has huge implications for the future of this franchise.

Between the two deals, Oakland sent a 2014 fifth-round pick to Seattle and a 2013 seventh-round pick to Arizona, while they received a 2013 sixth-round pick and a 2014 seventh-round pick from Arizona. What McKenzie cared more about, however, was the fact that the team saved some serious money in the deal.

Again, it's hard to evaluate this move from any perspective other than a financial one, but in that case, it was a major win for McKenzie.

If Flynn can prove to be an NFL starter, this will look brilliant in hindsight, but even if he flames out, McKenzie unloaded Palmer and his ridiculous contract for very little cost.

8) Drafted DJ Hayden, Menelik Watson, Sio Moore, Tyler Wilson, Nick Kasa, Latavius Murray, Mychal Rivera, Stacy McGee, Brice Butler and David Bass (2013) - There's a lot of promise in this group, especially at the top, but ultimately we're a long way from knowing the results of this draft.

At the very least, the team filled a lot of needs - picking up a high-level defensive back, a big offensive lineman, a speed rusher, a young quarterback and a pair of potential tight ends.

So there it is, 17 months in and eight major moves made by McKenzie.

From my point of view, the guy has this team 100-percent on the right track (they're estimated to have upwards of $50 million in cap space next season) through shedding bad contracts, searching for bargains and drafting well.

Of course, unless the team starts winning, none of that will matter in the long run.

What do you think?