This was bound to happen.
From the moment Jon Gruden was hired, the question had to be asked: How would he and Reggie McKenzie work together? Sure, McKenzie held the general manager title, so the logical assumption was that he would get the final calls on decisions. But logically, a team wouldn’t try to hire a coach it had previous traded nearly two decades ago, nor would a team sign a coach to a contract worth $100 million for 10 years — the same amount of time that had passed since they held a head coaching job.
But this is the Raiders.
So after owner Mark Davis finally made Gruden his 100-million-dollar-man, he, Gruden and McKenzie sat together in front of the media at Gruden’s introductory press conference and promised to collaborate on personnel decisions. Gruden even joked that McKenzie would “probably” win any arguments.
To their credit, McKenzie and Gruden were positive about the relationship in public, but when Khalil Mack was traded, the seeds that Gruden had more power were there. As the dismantling of the roster began and the losses piled up, almost everyone knew change had to come. That change came in the form of McKenzie’s dismissal after the team fell to 3-10 on the season
“We are grateful for everything Reggie has done for this organization as a player, executive and member of the Raider family,” the team said in a statement.
Gruden spoke highly of McKenzie on his way out.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Gruden said on Monday. “He will always be a Raider, and we are going to have to rebuild this football team without him. But I will assure the Raider fans that we will do everything we can to find the right replacement. He left some big shoes to fill, and I just want to wish him the best.”
It’s easy to question how a team that was the pleasant surprise of the NFL in 2016 season — which earned McKenzie 2016 NFL Executive of the Year honors — could have fallen so far, so quickly, but the answers are there in droves.
The Raiders’ Super Bowl push ended the moment Derek Carr’s leg broke. Although Carr wasn’t the only reason the team fell well short of expectations in 2017, it says something when your franchise quarterback goes from one of the hottest young players at the position to a guy who is dead last in air yards per attempt (6.6) according to Next Gen Stats.
Carr’s regression isn’t just his fault. The offensive line went from one of the best in football to a shaky and injury-riddled group. Cooper’s reliability dropped as his drops piled up, yet Carr is the one with the $125 million contract. And looking at teams like the Chiefs, the Rams and the Eagles, building a strong roster around a bargain-level quarterback is the easiest way to build a quick contender. Unless your quarterback is Tom Brady or Russell Wilson, it’s hard to create a real contender while also paying top-dollar for your QB.
Regardless of how the Raiders rebuild, McKenzie won’t be a part of it. The gradual dismissal of what McKenzie built is akin to when he arrived. He let Hue Jackson go after an 8-8 season (a move that aged incredibly well, unless you’re the Browns) and surrounded himself with friends and family. He got rid of overpaid disappointments like Richard Seymour and draft disappointments like Darrius Heyward-Bey, and he struck what seemed like draft gold between the 2014 and 2015 drafts. Carr, Mack and Cooper looked like a trio that could lead the franchise back to the vaunted glory years as well as into the future in Las Vegas.
That’s not what happened. Some of it was in his power; some of it wasn’t, but that’s how these things go. When a team stumbles, people lose their jobs. First, it was Jack Del Rio last season, and now, it is Reggie McKenzie, the main who built the closest thing to a contender in Oakland for more than 15 years leaves the franchise pretty much how he came to it. A 29-70 record seems dismal because it is, just like only having a single winning season in seven years at the helm. But considering the roster he inherited and the one that was built, there was hope in the weird way Raider Nation cultivates it.
In a way, his time with the Raiders fits perfectly into the team’s ethos this century: mostly forgettable, but there’s always going to be some good times to remember.