The Oakland Raiders‘ front office has pointed to this offseason as the turning point for the franchise. After more than a decade of being the laughingstock of the NFL – okay, probably second only to the Cleveland Browns – and a miserable failure of a team, 2014 was supposed to give the Raiders a new lease on life.
GM Reggie McKenzie promised a new era in Oakland, and to return the Raiders to glory. With a truckload of money to spend, and a lengthy list of marquee names and impact players on the market, everything to be lining up perfectly for McKenzie and the Raiders. The 2014 offseason was going to be the first step toward climbing back to respectability, if not prominence in the league.
But the dream that was supposed to become reality has quickly devolved into a nightmare of epic proportions.
When the free agency windows opened, we all expected the Raiders, armed with all that money, to make a splash quickly. They didn’t. The big signing of the day was OT Rodger Saffold of the St. Louis Rams, which was followed by the completely baffling re-signing of noted Raider bust Darren McFadden. Needless to say, Raider fans were underwhelmed.
But having let Jared Veldheer walk as a free agent, it could be argued that Saffold was a suitable replacement – we still wanted to give McKenzie the benefit of the doubt. The team had a need on the offensive line, and McKenzie addressed it. Fine.
The McFadden re-signing most definitely raised some eyebrows, but given the low base pay, it seemed like a relatively low-risk, potentially high-reward deal — if McFadden can return to his 2010 form. Again, not overwhelming, but fine.
McKenzie rounded out the day by snagging OT Austin Howard from the New York Jets to a five-year, $30 million deal, giving him $15 million in guaranteed money. Howard is a solid lineman and will be a good add for the team, so okay, fine. Good.
Day 2 of the free agency period is where the wheels seem to have completely fallen off. Yes, the Raiders reportedly had visits from high profile players like Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley, but there was absolutely no movement otherwise. Well, unless you count the fact that the Raiders’ “big” free agent signing to this point, Saffold, failed his physical and had his contract voided by the team. Saffold is now returning to the Rams — at considerably less money than the Raiders were set to give him.
On one hand, it’s good. They overpaid for Saffold to begin with, and now they’re not on the hook for that contract any more. On the other hand, it means that here we are, three days into the free agent frenzy with marquee names flying off the board, and the Raiders, despite having more money than most to play with, have Howard and McFadden to show for their efforts.
To say that the free agency period for the Raiders has been a debacle so far, would be an understatement.
We knew going in that McKenzie was going to take a cautious approach to free agency. We knew that he wouldn’t make the mistakes that Al Davis did by handing out grossly overpriced contracts. But there comes a point where one can be too cautious and too conservative. Playing it too safe is hampering the team’s ability to rebuild, and makes McKenzie look absolutely clueless — like he doesn’t even have a plan in place.
Having to sit and watch the other teams in the league stuffing themselves silly at the free agent buffet table is disheartening. As Raider fans watch these other teams gorging while McKenzie seems to be sitting on his hands, we’re all left feeling like the Little Matchstick Girl, left out in the cold, with nothing but matches to keep us warm and visions of a sumptuous free agent feast to fill our otherwise empty bellies.
We want to believe in McKenzie. We want to believe he has a plan. But after watching him these last few days, it’s getting harder and harder to hang on to that hope.