We have just hours to go now before the start of one of the more maddening, yet exciting times of the NFL offseason — the start of free agency. Once the windows open, we can expect to see a dizzying flurry of moves with more money than most of us can even begin to comprehend flying around. A plethora of free agents are expecting to rake in staggering piles of cash for their services, and NFL general managers, desperate to upgrade the talent on their team, will be more than happy to show them the money. And for the first time in a very long time, the Oakland Raiders — armed with a nearly $65 million war-chest — figure to be major players on the market.
Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie has already earned the wrath of the Raider Nation for failing to lock up OT Jared Veldheer or DE Lamarr Houston – two players believed to be keys to the Raiders’ future — to long-term deals. McKenzie earned another heaping of it when he declined to use either the franchise or transition tag on either player. With both Veldheer and Houston set to hit the free agent market tomorrow, Raider fans are left wondering what McKenzie is doing, whether or not he actually has a plan or if he’s just sort of winging it.
Of course, we won’t have a definitive answer to any of those questions for a little while yet, but Raider fans simply need to take a deep, cleansing breath and then say, “In Reggie We Trust.”
Given that McKenzie earned his front office stripes with the Green Bay Packers, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anybody that when it comes to matters of money and personnel, he takes a careful, cautious and conservative approach. The Packers have never been known for lavishing outrageous contracts on players — Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews both make a boatload of money per season, but beyond those two, the Packers’ roster is filled out with moderate and manageable contracts. And Green Bay has been a very good team for a number of years. The Packers’ front office has excelled at finding very solid talent at reasonable prices, and in this post-Al Davis era, Raider fans could do a lot worse than having their front office modeled after the one in Green Bay.
By not dropping the franchise tag on Houston or Veldheer, McKenzie opted to not commit the team to more than $10 million for the season to each of them. That would have been a huge cap hit, not to mention weaken the team’s position when it comes to negotiating a long-term deal. Yes, the downside is that one or both of them could walk away when the windows open on Tuesday. But it’s a risk McKenzie felt comfortable taking in that he didn’t commit an enormous amount of money to just two players.
Let’s face facts folks; the Raiders have MANY areas of need. $64 million and change sounds like a lot of money, but when you throw out multiple $10+ million contracts, it will go very quickly. Losing Veldheer and/or Houston will hurt, but neither player is so elite that McKenzie won’t be able to find effective, more cost-friendly alternatives.
McKenzie was dealt a horrible hand the moment he sat down at the table. This year, between a ton of cap room and a full deck of draft picks, he finally has some decent cards to play with. Rather than trash him for making — or not making moves — that we may not like, let’s let him play this hand out. We all want to see a winner on the field, but we need to be patient. Rome was not built in a day, and unfortunately this new Raider organization won’t be either. For now, we should let McKenzie play the cards he’s holding. Raider fans should at least give him a chance to see what he can do and what sort of organization he can build now that he has all the tools at his disposal.
If this season the Raiders don’t show a marked improvement from their consecutive 4-12 campaigns, okay then, feel free to call for McKenzie’s head and by all means burn him in effigy. Until then, though, take a deep breath and say In Reggie We Trust.