NAPA – Reggie McKenzie is a patient man, with a firmly held belief that slow and steady wins the race. The tortoise isn’t a popular spirit animal in today’s NFL, where two things are common: wins or change.
He was honest with owner Mark Davis while interviewing to be Raiders general manager, that the franchise required a massive overhaul that couldn’t happen overnight.
McKenzie’s undertaking, in CliffsNotes: The GM deconstructed an 8-8 team, absorbed significant dead money over three years and slowly, hired and fired Dennis Allen (with a push from Davis), steadily built the team through the draft and selected enough good players to earn street cred required to sign attractive free agents with generally front-loaded deals that won’t kill cap standing long-term.
Progress was made outside the win column, which only improved with a 7-9 record in Jack Del Rio’s first year as head coach. Davis was able to look under the hood of an undecorated car and see the engine was good and easily maintained.
That was enough not to sell. He rewarded McKenzie with a four-year contract, a pact announced on Friday night but broached just before the 2016 NFL draft. Details were ironed out that locked McKenzie up through the 2021 draft.
“Mark Davis was committed to my plan,” McKenzie said Saturday morning. “A lot of credit goes to him, because I’m sure he took a lot of phone calls and had people asking, ‘Is Reggie the guy?’ If you’re into hurrying up and trying to do this or that, it doesn’t last long. I’m trying to get something that lasts. I want to be a consistently good football team. That’s what we’re trying to build.”
McKenzie’s team is in good standing after a long, hard winter.
“The guys inside the building saw and understood the plan,” McKenzie said. “It wasn’t going to be a quick fix. I’m not into quick fixes. It was a process, and it worked the way we thought it would. We still haven’t had a winning season, but we feel good about the direction it’s going and we feel good about this upcoming season.”
High expectations hang over the training camp, after the Raiders added quality veteran talent to a young foundation that many believe should lead to the first playoff berth since 2002.
McKenzie doesn’t think the Raiders would be here without first slogging through the mud. It was experience he doesn’t want to repeat.
“We want to get on the other side of .500 and just keep going up from there,” he said. “Our goal as always been to hold up a trophy. It’s a process. I had to dismantle the team, and money played a big part in that. Once we got it straight, we had to work a plan to keep it straight.”
McKenzie has director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales and director of college scouting Shaun Herock to help him do that, lieutenants who are in lockstep philosophically and can execute his vision.
The plan is simple at its core. Draft, develop and reward your own. Supplement when appropriate and, whenever possible, pay with cash not credit. The Raiders generally avoid long-term cap hits, allowing them to be in position to reward young players who fit their mold.
“The way the money is going in the NFL, you have to figure out a way to spend it wisely,” McKenzie said. “There’s no better way than to spend it on your own players, guys you know more about. That’s the way I was raised in this business. You keep good players in the building, and you need financial means to do that.
“At some point, you can’t keep them all, but you’re going to try your best to that. That means we must continue to manage the situation. … If we can (do that) and keep bringing in good players, I’m expecting big wins.”