It’s been a week since Reggie McKenzie opted to end his tenure as General Manager instead of waiting for the inevitable to come at the season’s end. We know why McKenzie received his walking papers.
Outside of the 2018 draft, only nine players drafted by him were still on the roster. The other 40-plus were a mixed bag of solid starters, colossal busts, journeymen and two Pro Bowlers. That was enough for McKenzie to lose the power struggle over personnel to Jon Gruden
Factor in the trades of Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack, McKenzie’s two brightest first round picks, and the writing was on the wall.What the Raiders received in those trades served as the nail in McKenzie’s coffin for owner Mark Davis. The timing of the whole Reggie’s removal was weird since the Raiders were off the biggest win of the season.However, maybe this was Davis’ plan all along?
When Jon Gruden was hired, it was reported that Davis and McKenzie had always wanted to hire Gruden. The pair passed notes about that as early as McKenzie’s hire of his first coach Dennis Allen.
If Davis’ vision always included adding Gruden to the mix, maybe he never truly saw McKenzie running the organization along J.G.Instead, maybe it was always McKenzie’s objective to shape the organization into an appealing destination for Gruden.
Flash back even further. When Al Davis died, the organization needed a leader. Mark Davis didn’t have the football acumen to immediately fill void. Hue Jackson was the head coach and pulled the trigger on a questionable trade for Carson Palmer that did not result in a playoff berth. It was clear the Raiders needed a leader.
We assumed Mark Davis would take a different path than his late father. Perhaps, he’d be a more hands off owner and let his people work. However, let’s not forget the Davis family is in the business of football. Al finessed his way to owning the team after coaching them. He forced his way to L.A. then finessed his way back to Oakland.
The point is, Al Davis always believed in the global appeal of the Raiders but more than anything, he wanted to lead that charge. By extension, I remain sure he wanted his son to carry on that lineage.
Already, he exceeded expectations by getting the city of Vegas to pony up a stadium paid mostly by a tourism tax. Until recently, Mark Davis’ tenure as the Raiders owner focused there. With that moving closer to fruition, Davis has the time to get involved with the on-field product.
It is already happening. Amari Cooper said Davis wanted to trade him not McKenzie or Gruden. The same situation occurred with Mack. Many speculated that Davis couldn’t pay the guaranteed cash to give Mack big guarantees. Also, some thought that Davis disliked the agent of Mack and Cooper.
Don’t forget, Davis who pulled the trigger on McKenzie too. Gruden said he had no idea it was coming. That’s probably B.S., but either way the move was always going to come from M.D. It was probably his plan to be more involved with personnel, like his dad, all along.
What will Reggie McKenzie’s legacy with the Raiders be?
Reggie McKenzie’s lasting legacy with the Raiders won’t connect to Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper or even Derek Carr. McKenzie’s best talent development position and legacy in Oakland ties to Mark Davis. The same owner who both hired and fired McKenzie, hired Gruden and green-lit trades of McKenzie’s top picks. It was always McKenzie’s job to develop Davis. With McKenzie out of the picture, we will see how well R.M. did shaping the heir to Al Davis.
Ultimately, I don’t think McKenzie did not fit as a long-term leader of the Raiders. Yes, he possessed ties to the Raiders and groomed as an executive in Green Bay. McKenzie was a great candidate for the job but I think the long-term plan was always to be the bridge between Al and Mark.
Mark needed a mentor to show him the ropes. Of course, he’s been around the organization his entire life but I don’t think he was ready when his father died. It’s hard to follow in the shadow of someone who has held every position in football. It’s hard to take lessons and notes from your father in any family business.
Thus, McKenzie did a lot to leave the Raiders in a better position than he inherited. He cleaned up their salary cap. Brought their technology and practice facilities out of the dark ages. McKenzie signed key free agents found some late round values and kept the franchise afloat during his tenure. R.M. ended the playoff drought and won executive of the year too.All that was probably never going to be enough to make McKenzie the long-term decision maker that Davis was destined for.
Now, McKenzie leaves Mark Davis, Gruden, and whoever will lead the front office with more than $70 million in cap space. They can create another $30 million without any dead money by cutting veterans like Tahir Whitehead, Jordy Nelson, Gabe Jackson, and Kelechi Osemele. They can create even more by parting ways with team friendly deals like Justin Ellis,Donald Penn, and even Derek Carr. Don’t forget the five picks in the first two rounds of this draft and a few more next year. This sort of flexibility is ideal for a new head of the front office that was probably Davis’ object all along when he hired McKenzie.
The Future of the Raiders in the Post-Reggie Era
Speaking of the future, the Raiders are already being weird about filling McKenzie’s position. They’ve referred to it as a front-office executive search and not officially a GM. That tells Gruden and Davis will fill that role. They’ll hire someone to logistically lead the front office. I’m sure he’ll be in charge of meetings, negotiations and all that stuff but like McKenzie he’ll be more of a figure head. I don’t blame McKenzie for not settling for that after he’s worked too damn hard to be marginalized.
Still, Reggie accomplished his objectives. He delivered the Raiders from cap hell, kept the train moving, made them desirable enough for Gruden to come out of retirement and shaped Davis into an NFL owner with the brass to make tough decisions. McKenzie molded Davis into the owner with the guts to make tough decisions like leaving Oakland, firing Jack Del Rio a year after an extension, trading franchise players and firing a GM that won executive of the year two years before.
Let’s just hope the rest of Davis’ plan comes to fruition. Either way, it won’t be because Reggie McKenzie didn’t do his part. His primary goal was always to groom Mark Davis into an owner capable of making roster moves and he accomplished that evolved into his undoing.