Reggie McKenzie Chose This Path; Now It's Time to Deliver

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Reggie McKenzie Chose This Path; Now It's Time to Deliver
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I've been a pretty stalwart defender of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie since he took over as the man in charge of making the football decisions at Raiders headquarters. 

Over the course of his tenure, however, it's started to feel like those of us who believe in what McKenzie is doing in Oakland are the last, sad survivors of a once robust civilization that has been forgotten, living in an outpost that was abandoned by all hope and promise long, long ago. 

Too much? Maybe. But being a McKenzie defender is a lonely business these days. 

What exactly has McKenzie done to cause so many of the Silver and Black faithful to jump ship?

Well, obviously many of them read and share the sentiments of those who thought the previous regime got a raw deal and have never gotten over Hue Jackson's ouster. These folks tend to lead the anti-McKenzie charge

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Then there are fans and observers who started with open minds but have watched while the team has gone out and won exactly eight games the last 32 times they've taken the field. It's hard to fault these folks for feeling uneasy and not exactly trusting McKenzie when he starts talking about how the Raiders actually did improve in 2013 despite not notching even one win more than they did in 2012. (Maybe McKeznie was referring to point differential, where the Raiders improved from -153 in '12 to -131 in '13?) 

One reason media and fans tend to have a hard time with McKenzie's stewardship of the Raiders is that he has presided over a pretty hefty exodus of names. Not exactly talent, mind you, but names.

Richard Seymour, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff, Tommy Kelly, Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bryant, Rolando McClain. On and on. The names have gone out the door, but have any of those names gone on to prove they were worth what McKenzie and the Raiders would have been paying them had they been allowed to stick around in Oakland?

Any honest observer would be hard pressed to make a case that any of those players have gone on to make the Raiders regret the moves. (I will concede that Kelly was having a decent year for the Patriots prior to being injured. But again, I think it would be hard for an honest evaluator to say he was having the kind of year that would have justified Oakland living with a $11,099,270 million cap hit.) 

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Obviously one name not included in the list above is Carson Palmer, the quarterback that McKenzie inherited and whose acquisition had left the draft-pick-cupboard somewhat bare. It's hard to fault a general manager for moving an aging quarterback who doesn't want to stick around for what certainly looked like an extensive rebuild. 

However, what is a bit easier to fault, and where McKenzie's detractors have more than a bit of ground to stand on, is his track record of replacing even a modicum of the talent that he escorted out the door. Yes, he's been hamstrung by the lack of premium draft picks so far (though that's finally over) and he's done an excellent job of creating a mountain of cap room for the Raiders to be a gigantic player in free agency. 

But his handling of the game's most important position, be it trading for Matt Flynn or drafting Tyler Wilson, has been downright abysmal. His decision to bring in a bevy of mid-level talent on the defensive side of the ball last offseason made some sense, but it also left the offense completely bereft of play-makers. 

McKenzie's head coach and his two coordinators, Dennis Allen, Greg Olsen and Jason Tarver, have actually done a pretty good job considering the vacuum they are operating in, talent-wise. No, no one is going to confuse them for Bill Walsh's crew back in the 80's or Mike Holmgren's staff in the mid-90s. But they have done solid work, despite what the record shows. 

As Allen told the San Francisco Chronicle at the Scouting Combine last month, "There's no question that this is the year we have to make something happen. We need to show significant improvement this season. We have to show that this is a team on the rise ... and the record needs to show that."

Yes, it's time for McKenzie to supply his coaching staff with more than middling talent. It's also time for McKenzie to identify the core of his football team and start locking it up. 

While he took heat for not applying the franchise or transition tags to either Jared Veldheer or Lamarr Houston, it was the financially prudent thing to do. Of course, that's the last thing Raiders fans want to hear after back-to-back 4-12 seasons, but being on the hook for roughly $13 million for Houston or roughly $11 million for Veldheer while creating the inevitable friction that comes along with the placement of a tag is just not sound business. 

There really is no question when it comes to the 2014 season in Oakland. It is put up or shut up time, and it starts with McKenzie as he tries to build a roster that can not only improve in the win column, but one that can compete in a tough AFC West.

It can't be lost on Raiders owner Mark Davis that division rival Kansas City went from a two win season and the first overall pick (which wasn't even used on a quarterback, the impetus for many a turnaround) to a playoff appearance the following year. 

Meanwhile, in that time, Davis has watched his general manager assemble a team that has the look of a perennial bottom-feeder. 

Yes, the time is now for McKenzie and the Raiders. A pile of cap money that would attract the attention of Smaug. Premium draft picks, including the fifth overall selection. A staff that has squeezed about as much production as possible from the talent on hand and that can't wait to turn this thing around with whatever new toys their general manager can deliver. 

No more excuses, Reggie. 

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