On January 10th, 2012, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis conducted a press conference to officially announce the hiring of Reggie McKenzie as the team’s new General Manager. In a plan that marked a distinct departure from the manner in which Davis’ father had conducted business, McKenzie was supplied with complete authority to execute decisions regarding the roster, and his new head coach Dennis Allen was allowed to assemble his own coaching staff. Despite two consecutive 4-12 seasons, Davis has opted for continuity, which will enable McKenzie and Allen to enter the 2014 regular season with their collective employment intact. Each will be provided with a third year to justify the confidence that Davis has placed in their abilities, and it is critical that the product that they are responsible for exhibit dramatic improvement this season.
The first two years of their tenure have been underwhelming, and that is putting it kindly.
McKenzie’s ongoing efforts to all but eviscerate the roster that he inherited have been well chronicled. He successfully maneuvered Oakland from a situation in which the franchise was well beyond the salary cap, into a sizably more favorable position. However, he has struggled significantly to rebuild the Raiders into a competitive team in the aftermath of his various personnel decisions. While some observers and fans continue to defend McKenzie’s actions, the undeniable fact is that the combined 8-24 record of the two teams that were constructed on his watch clearly demonstrates the severe lack of talent that has taken the field donning Silver and Black since McKenzie’s arrival.
His greatest consistency has been the complete inability to obtain difference makers on either side of the ball. Some of his free agent acquisitions have performed adequately during the past two seasons, while others have been massively ineffective. But none of the free agents who have joined the team since McKenzie’s arrival have performed exceptionally. And while it is premature to label the members of his first two draft classes as "busts", he has failed to receive major contributions from any of them. Of the two consecutive 4-12 records within the McKenzie era, the paltry results in 2012 were more understandable, although disappointing nevertheless.
McKenzie's forays into free agency failed to yield impactful players during his initial year at the helm, with the possible exception of Philip Wheeler. And his draft was equally anemic. Personnel decisions that preceded him stripped the team of draft picks in the first two rounds, which certainly affected the process. However, he still failed to locate any playmakers with his remaining choices. That group was headed by third round selection Tony Bergstrom, who has failed to impress along the offensive line. Only Miles Burris has made any impact whatsoever from among McKenzie’s initial draft, in what was the first of his failures to add significant talent to the organization.
McKenzie's second roster also did demonstrate any progress, resulting in the second consecutive 4-12 ledger in 2013. This despite the fact that one year ago, McKenzie made a concerted effort to improve a defense that had ranked 18th in 2012 while allowing 354.5 YPG and 27.7 PPG. But after the addition of nine new starters, the 2013 defense actually dropped to 22nd, yielded even more yardage (363.7) and surrendered even more points (28.3). Not only did his second collection of free agents produce less desirable results, but McKenzie once again failed to garner any difference makers during the 2013 NFL draft, despite the benefit of having the third overall selection. He bypassed the opportunity to secure impactful defenders such as Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotuleiei, and Ziggy Ansah, and opted to trade down to the 12th overall slot. McKenzie secured CB DJ Hayden with that pick, in what can be charitably be labeled as a reach. Hayden struggled significantly throughout his initial campaign, both in coverage and as a tackler. He only managed to contribute as a nickel back, before hernia surgery concluded his rookie campaign after just eight games. He must perform far more effectively this year. Otherwise, McKenzie's decision will have set the franchise back even further. That also applies to second round choice Menelik Watson. McKenzie selected him with the additional pick that he garnered from trading down in Round 1, but Watson only managed to play in five contests due to a myriad of injuries. The rookie from the 2013 class who displayed the most promise was third-round selection Sio Moore. Yet, even though he performed with some effectiveness at OLB, that is tempered with the realization that McKenzie bypassed the opportunity to draft Keenan Allen, Tyrann Mathieu and Jordan Reed in Round 3 when he opted for Moore. Also, fourth-round selection Tyler Wilson is now a Titan, which further cements concern regarding McKenzie’s decisions during that particular draft.
Fortunately for McKenzie, he will now have nearly $70 million in cap space available, to be supplemented with nearly a full complement of draft picks during the NFL Draft. Although he already traded a fifth-round selection during his ill-fated decision to secure Matt Flynn. He should now be completely out of excuses, should his inability to build what he tore down thoroughly continues for a third straight year. He must draft well (for the first time ever) and he must bring in high quality free agents (again, for the first time ever). Meanwhile, Allen possesses sizable growth areas in his own right. While he has been victimized by rosters of insufficient talent, he has opened himself up to legitimate criticism due to his inability to make halftime adjustments, and the questionable manner in which he utilized QBs Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin in 2013. Also, the quality of his team's performance declined sizably as the 2013 season progressed. The Raiders were far more formidable at the onset of the season than they were in December. That is yet another alarming development which leads to further questions regarding the direction of the franchise.
Still, Raider fans should be far more concerned about McKenzie's track record in evaluating talent than with Allen’s shortcomings during the first two years of his tenure. For two consecutive seasons, McKenzie has constructed an indefensible mess of a roster, even though he has somehow managed to escape universal accountability for doing so. While the ongoing assembly of poor talent evaluations have gradually eroded McKenzie's support from within the fan base, there are still supporters who choose not to hold him accountable for his poor track record, and instead prefer to cast blame toward Al Davis, under the auspices that McKenzie inherited a less than desirable situation. But the unfortunate reality for Raider fans is that the AFC West currently consists of three playoff teams, while Oakland has fallen well behind their division rivals during McKenzie’s watch. It is incumbent upon both McKenzie to produce far better results in the areas that have been discussed, or he is at extreme risk of being excused from his responsibilities when the 2014 regular season concludes. If not earlier.
At this point, McKenzie has given no indication that he has the ability to rebuild what the franchise that he thoroughly tore down, yet he must now accomplish exactly that. Blame can no longer be cast elsewhere, as there should be no legitimate excuse for continued failures to properly evaluate talent. Particularly at the QB position. If he is capable of succeeding, the time is now. The clock is ticking, as an anxious Raider Nation watches closely.