Finally having some money to spend, a full slate of draft picks and most importantly the freedom to operate, GM Reggie McKenzie can now begin rebuilding the Oakland Raiders and putting his own stamp on the franchise. After a rough couple of days of free agency, McKenzie came back strong and despite what some of the talking heads are saying put together one of the better free agent classes in the NFL this offseason. He may not have made the flashiest of moves like bringing in a Darrelle Revis or Alterraun Verner, but he strayed true to his agenda, brought in a number of key pieces, filled some glaring holes and has put the team in a position for immediate as well as long-term success.
Ever since the debacle that was Oakland’s Super Bowl XXXVI appearance, the franchise has fallen apart at the seams. Consecutive 4-12 seasons have capped off a run that saw the team post an overall record of 53-123. Just to put that number in a little perspective, the Cleveland Browns have posted a better overall record over the last eleven seasons (56-120) than the Raiders have. Those numbers can’t sit well with any Raiders fan. To say the once proud Raider organization has fallen upon hard times would be a vast understatement. Losing has become endemic in Oakland and has become an ingrained part of the Raiders’ culture. Let’s be honest here; the Raiders’ slogan, “Commitment to Excellence,” has been little more than an empty platitude for a long, long time.
McKenzie has taken fire from the media, as well as the fans, for bringing in free agents some have said are “too old,” are on “the downside of their careers” and aren’t significant upgrades to the team. And he’s been excoriated for letting free agents Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston walk away. Certainly, McKenzie hasn’t been flawless in his free agent dealings — the Rodger Saffold debacle comes to mind — but if you look at the construction of the current roster compared to the one he was saddled with when he assumed control, you would have to be absolutely nuts to believe that the Raiders aren’t in a better position to win today than they have been in a good, long while.
With a number of very savvy moves, McKenzie has brought in players who fit his mold of what this new era of Raiders football will look like — tough, blue collar types, who are known for their passion, work ethic and team-first attitude. Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Tarell Brown, Antonio Smith, Matt Schaub, James Jones, Charles Woodson and Maurice Jones-Drew will step in and contribute immediately. Players like those make the team better right now as well as lay a foundation for success later on. And the best part about it is that he hasn’t had to break the bank or hamstring the club financially now, or in the future, to do it.
McKenzie assumed a Herculean task when he took over the GM’s position. He not only had to make the team better on the field, he was also tasked with changing the entire culture of the organization. The veteran players he’s brought in know how to win and will pass on that drive and work ethic to younger players like DJ Hayden, Menelik Watson, Latavius Murray and Rod Streater among others. To have success in the league, you must have a good blend of youth as well as veteran leadership. With their free agent signings and a full slate of draft picks, the Raiders will have both. And that is a recipe for success.
Make no mistake about it; McKenzie is not just overhauling the roster, he’s overhauling the culture of the Raiders. Losing is no longer acceptable nor an option. The Raiders need to learn how to win again, and the players he’s brought in as free agents know how to impress that mentality upon the younger guys. Success breeds success and winning is contagious. McKenzie knows this and has carefully dotted the Raiders’ roster with players who know it as well. Oakland is in a far better position to win than they have been in quite a long time, and McKenzie is well on his way to making the words “Commitment to Excellence” mean something once again.