Reggie McKenzie is finally on the clock.
Welcome to the world of NFL decision-making, sir.
No man in the NFL has been more handcuffed in recent league history than McKenzie has been the past the 15 months.
McKenzie, a career lifer in the front office in Green Bay, got the daunting opportunity to be in charge of the post-Al Davis Oakland Raiders in January 2012, three months after the legendary Oakland owner died at the age of 82. Hand-picked by several of Davis’ former lieutenants, McKenzie, a former Raiders linebacker, has vowed to bring the struggling franchise back to relevancy.
Thursday, McKenzie was finally able to put his general manager's hat on and start the rebuilding process in earnest. Until Thursday night, McKenzie’s job has consisted mostly of cutting players, signing inexperienced players to inexpensive, short contracts and hoping for a better future.
Last year, McKenzie didn’t make his first NFL draft pick until the end of the third round when he had a compensatory pick. The Raiders, who went 4-12 in McKenzie’s first season in charge, didn’t have a first-round pick in the past two years because of trades for Richard Seymour and Carson Palmer, two players who are no longer with the team.
McKenzie delayed his first first-round pick Thursday when he dealt the No. 3 pick to Miami for the No. 12 pick and the No. 42 pick. The Raiders used the No. 12 selection on Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden.
The Hayden pick has its risks (he nearly died after suffering a major heart injury in practice last season), but he can become a good player, and the Raiders have a big need at cornerback. Most teams had Hayden ranked in the bottom half of the first round. I’m fine with the Raiders making the pick; if they think he can be special, take him.
But I am disappointed with the trade McKenzie made. The decision to trade down made it clear he wanted to scramble out of the No. 3 selection and load up on more picks. The Raiders entered the draft without a second-round pick (as part of the terrible Palmer trade made by the previous regime) and without a fifth-round pick. With so many holes on the roster, the Raiders need an influx of talent on both sides of the ball. McKenzie signed several players this year, but most of them were on short, show-me deals, and the Raiders cut and saw several free agents leave.
Talent is needed.
I thought the deal with Miami left too much on the table. It's great Oakland received a solid second-round pick, and another solid player will be added to the team on Friday.
But, overall, I think Oakland needed to get more. Consider what Buffalo got from St. Louis later in the draft. The Bills sent No. 8 and No. 71 for No. 16, No, 46, No. 78 and No. 222. Plus, New England got No. 52, No. 83, No. 102 and No. 229 from Minnesota for No. 29.
Compare those caches to the Oakland deal, and you have to wonder if the Raiders didn’t simply settle just to get a second-round pick. The No. 3 overall pick holds more power than that.
The trade could stem from the fact McKenzie has been so hamstrung. He had to find a way to get more, and he probably figured No. 42 was better than nothing.
Things will get better for McKenzie. The Raiders, after years of being in salary-cap jail, will have a ton of salary cap room next year -- somewhere in the $70 million range (figures subject to change).
McKenzie has already said the extra room doesn’t mean he will revisit wild spending days of the past for the Silver and Black. McKenzie will stick to his Green Bay roots. He will build through the draft, and he will try to keep his best players with extensions. Free agency will be used as a complement and not a focal point.
Things will get better for Oakland. It will take awhile, and the Raiders probably won’t see a quick fix in a league that has been accustomed to microwave improvement.
But the process began Thursday with the addition of a potential dynamic cornerback and the acquisition of a second-round pick with which McKenzie will take the best player available.
Could McKenzie have done better Thursday night? Sure, but for a personnel man finally able to do his job, he has to be happy just to be able to finally act like an NFL general manager.