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The Curious Case of Reggie McKenzie and the Raider Nation.
The strangest of NFL relationships.
The relationship between the management and fans of a NFL franchise is always a strange one.
When things are going well, they rarely get credit, but when they aren't...
"Oh, why did they hire this guy?"
"Why would they draft him?"
"These guys are morons".
It doesn't matter how successful they had been in the past or what they had done for the franchise, these guys face the guillotine more often than coaches or quarterbacks.
Bill Polian built the Bills team that won 4 consecutive AFC championships, transformed the Carolina Panthers from expansion team to NFC contender, and was the genius behind the Colts franchise that won 10 games for 9 consecutive seasons, but was fired from each job.
There seems to be no patience with these guys, even with those three, very patient fanbases.
No fanbase in any sport in the world is as passionate about their team as the Raider Nation.
They love their Silver and Black...maybe a little too much, and unfortunately, they're accustomed to winning.
Why is that unfortunate?
Well. The Raiders haven't done a whole lot of that recently... Failing to post a winning record since they were blown out by Tampa Bay in the 2002 Super Bowl.
How did a team that held the highest career winning percentage in the NFL drop 10 straight seasons?
Well... a little old man named Al Davis.
Don't get me wrong, Al was brilliant... 40 years ago.
He could find guys who didn't live up to expectations and give them a second chance. Guys like Quarterbacks Jim Plunkett and Rich Gannon came out of nowhere to be crucial parts of fantastic Raider seasons. He was crucial in breaking the color barrier in football, and always did whatever he thought was best for the "Raiduhs".
But over the last ten years, it became painfully obvious that the game had passed him by.
He was still obsessed with the vertical offense he helped make popular in the early 70's. He overpaid for size and speed, without much regard for intelligence or skill.
He overpaid for average players, and his draft selections (especially that of QB JaMarcus Russell in 2007), never really panned out.
Al was all about "Just Win, Baby", but he was consumed with "Just Win RIGHT NOW, Baby", and it hurt the team.
He would trade picks and over pay just to taste mediocrity instead of ripping the band-aid off and starting over.
Staying with that metaphor, Al just kept picking at it.
The highlight of the last 10 years? Back to back 8-8 seasons in the pitiful AFC West.
Then, on October 8th, 2011, Al passed away from heart failure, and the Raider Nation wept.
The franchise was in a state of chaos. Al had been the only GM in the history of the franchise, and without him, the Raiders spiraled and missed the playoffs.
Then the off-season came, and with it, came new GM Reggie McKenzie.
McKenzie came over from the highly successful Green Bay Packers organization and inherited quite a mess.
A hideous cap situation, very little talent or depth, an egotistical head coach, and a depleted 2012 draft.
As we all know, the Raiders didn't have a very fun 2012 season. They only managed to win four games, and never seemed to find any offensive rhythm.
The zone blocking scheme implemented by offensive coordinator rendered star runningback, Darren McFadden useless and QB Carson Palmer failed to make plays when it counted, and the defense was one of the worst in the league. It was a dark time for the Raider Nation.
Then came the off-season, and with it... Change.
Reggie McKenzie cleaned house, cutting first round picks Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Huff, Rolando McClain, allowing players like Philip Wheeler, Brandon Myers, Mike Goodson, Shane Lechler, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant, Ron Bartell, and others to leave. The biggest move of the off-season was clearly trading for Seahawks QB, Matt Flynn, and shipping the ineffective Palmer to Arizona.
A lot of fans panicked when this happened. Huff, Heyward-Bey, and Lechler were fan favorites, and coming off of a 4 win season... It didn't feel like they were improving.
But the hidden message behind all of it?
The Raiders are almost in the clear.
Unlike Indianapolis' new GM, Ryan Grigson, who inherited a 2-14 franchise (with some decent pieces, I might add), McKenzie didn't get a fresh start the year before. Bogged down by awful mistakes, he didn't have any money for free agency, or any high picks in the draft.
This season? The Raiders will have nearly 50 million dollars in dead cap space, essentially money they can't use. But next off-season?
The Raiders are reportedly going to have between 50 and 69 million dollars of free cap space in 2014, as well as a full draft.
The Raiders will probably struggle in 2013. The team is missing a lot of pieces and McKenzie had to go bargain shopping to sign players like Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, but the Raiders will finally get a fresh start. They can finally forget about 10 years of failure, about JaMarcus Russell, about Carson Palmer.
Reggie McKenzie has ripped the band-aid off of this wound and the skin is starting to heal over.
It's gonna take some time, we won't be signing elite free agents or spending money in big chunks, but with Reggie McKenzie leading the way, the future looks bright for the silver and black.