The Oakland Raiders finished the 2016 season with a record of 12-4, and despite an injury to then MVP candidate Derek Carr that lead to an early playoff exit, they oozed potential. The black and silver brigade seemed poised to return to their former glory, and a championship looked more realistic than it had in a while.
Fast forward to December of 2018, and the Raiders are 2-10, staring a roster blowup in the face. The once promising core the Raiders had is now either no longer promising, or off the team entirely. What exactly went wrong here? There are a few theories, but I do know one thing the Raiders have done: They have slapped Reggie McKenzie in the face.
McKenzie was hired in January 2012 after late owner Al Davis stepped aside from the role. He inherited a roster that consisted of albatross contracts and under-performing players. In addition, McKenzie didn’t have a first or second round draft pick in his first draft with the team. During the 2013 off-season, McKenzie cut several starters including Richard Seymour, Darius Heyward-Bey, and Rolando McClain. He traded Carson Palmer to aide the rebuild process, and began to realize the fruits of this labor in 2015, when they went 7-9 with Jack Del Rio at the helm. The Raiders received standout performances that year from Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack.
Oakland regressed a bit in 2017, finishing 6-10. Owner Mark Davis proceeded to overreact and fire Del Rio. His replacement ended up being former Raiders coach and ESPN Analyst Jon Gruden. Gruden hadn’t coached since 2008, but Davis felt he deserved a 10-year contract with upwards of $100 million and a no-clause. Gruden now is in charge of final personnel decisions, and it couldn’t be more obvious.
Remember Khalil Mack? Gruden traded him to the Chicago Bears in what looks like a steal for “Da Bears” at the time of this writing. The Bears are 8-4 and in contention for a division title, thanks to Mack’s contributions to a defense that was already stout to begin with. The Raiders received a 2019 1st, 2019 6th, 2020 1st, and 2020 3rd round picks. These picks look to be less than the Raiders perceived them to be. Not only that, but Gruden was later on record saying that “great pass rushers are hard to find”.
It then came out that the Raiders were looking to move on from Amari Cooper. He had his struggles, but he was still producing as well as anyone they had on the team. The Raiders found a suitor in the Dallas Cowboys, who sent a 2019 1st round pick to Oakland. Since the trade, Cooper has helped boost the Cowboys to the division lead.
Going back to McKenzie, he built that exact 2016 roster from the ground up. He put the Raiders in position to compete for years to come. However, when the going got tough, Mark Davis coaxed Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth. By passing the torch onto Gruden, the structure McKenzie built was immediately torn down.
Gruden isn’t exactly the best at evaluating talent either, as his best quarterback pick was arguably Chris Simms. He did draft Aqib Talib and Jeremy Zuttah, two players who have had lengthy careers in the NFL, but that’s about it. McKenzie isn’t without his faults, but he drafted Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and Derek Carr. This is something Jon Gruden will never do.
Now, McKenzie will likely be fired at season’s end, and will be the scapegoat for a poor ownership decision. That’s how they treat him? If so, it’s a slap in the face to the man who brought the team back from obscurity.
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports