Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie served in the Packers front office for nearly twenty years, 1994 through 2011.
He was a pro personnel assistant, director of pro personnel, and director of football operations. He was involved in an organization that went to three Super Bowls, winning two of them.
Oakland hired McKenzie, a former Raiders player, when the franchise was at its lowest ebb. A once-great franchise led by an iconic owner/GM in Al Davis who embraced the phrase “commitment to excellence" had fallen well behind the times in every way from facilities to field.
Reggie took over a roster that was filled with old, overpaid veterans and a salary cap mess from “hell.”
It took two years to climb out from under the financial situation to where, over the past two off-seasons, the Raiders have had more cap space to sign players than any club in the NFL.
The problem was, Reggie wasn’t getting many of the front line free agent talent to sign with Oakland, so improvement was slow.
Justin Tuck brought a Super Bowl ring from the Giants, Charles Woodson returned to the Raiders with a ring in hand from the Packers, while this year Michael Crabtree crossed the Bay from San Francisco but, long term, the Raiders are not being built through free agency.
Reggie was just obligated to spend a certain amount of money under the cap to comply with league “salary floor” requirements. That’s part of the reason the Raiders have 30 free agents on their active roster. (The Packers have 18.)
The last three drafts have put 17 players on the roster, and this is where you see Reggie beginning to build the way he was taught under Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson in Green Bay.
You see starting running back Latavius Murray emerge in his third season ranking second in the AFC with 878 rushing yards.
Second-year quarterback Derek Carr, the club’s second round pick in 2014, is currently 10th in the league with a passer rating of 96.7 and 28 touchdown passes.
This year’s draft netted wide receiver Amari Cooper of Alabama with the fourth pick in the first round. He leads all rookie receivers in catches (62) and yards (920) this season.
Defensively, the centerpiece was put in place through the draft as well, outside linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack the fifth player selected in the first round of the 2014 lottery. He currently leads the league in sacks with 14, coming off a five- sack performance at Denver.
Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., a second round draft pick this year out of Florida St., has played very well with 40 tackles, 30 solos, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles, not to mention 2.5 sacks.
Second year nose tackle Justin Ellis, a fourth round pick from Louisiana Tech in 2014, has also emerged as a solid starter along the Oakland defensive line.
There is no doubt as he goes forward, McKenzie will build this team primarily through the draft, but like his former Green Bay colleague John Schneider (GM Seattle) he will supplement his drafts with a sprinkling of free agents (Michael Crabtree from San Francisco is a hit!).
He is not afraid to trade, either. Three players on his current roster have come via that route: wide receiver Andre Holmes from New England, defensive end Benson Mayowa from Seattle and cornerback David Amerson from Washington. Amerson is a starter on the corner while Holmes and Mayowa play in the sub-packages.
At 6-7, the Raiders have already doubled their win total of last year. If Reggie is allowed to continue his program, and why wouldn’t he be, this organization will be back in the postseason in short order regardless of where they are playing Oakland or Los Angeles.