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Jon Gruden discusses Oakland Raiders' GM Reggie McKenzie
Jerry McDonald, BayAreaNewsGroup

Gruden on McKenzie: 'He's got an unbelievable pedigree'
Paul Gutierrez, Comcast SportsNet

49ers a good model for rebuilding Raiders, says owner Mark Davis
Steve Corkran, BayAreaNewsGroup

Mark Davis gives his rating on Reggie McKenzie so far
Comcast SportsNet

Reggie McKenzie: We’re not throwing in the towel


Raider fans: You want the good news or the bad news?

The bad: Oakland is missing two of its top five picks in this year's draft (the second- and fifth-rounders), leaving the team with just one choice in the top 65, and will have about $75 million to spend on the salary cap this year, a league low. That's because of approximately $48 million in dead money from the normal $123 million cap each team has. Some bad, bad contracts from the final days of Al Davis -- and the onerous decision to deal for and to pay big money to Carson Palmer in 2011 -- led to this mess.

The good: In 2014, Oakland will be in the best cap shape of any team -- or very close to it -- because GM Reggie McKenzie took his cap medicine in his first two years on the job. The Raiders will have approximately $50 million to spend in free agency and to extend the contracts of good players on their roster next year.

Think about an NFL team having $75 million to spend on players in a year. Washington has been grousing because of its $18million cap penalty in each of the last two years because the league ruled the team put too much dead money into the 2011 uncapped year. But Washington still has $105 million to spend this year -- $30 million more than McKenzie has to rebuild the 4-12 Raiders.

That figure, $75 million, was the cap number 10 years ago, in 2003.

McKenzie finds himself in one of the biggest Catch 22s ever in the NFL. He took the job knowing he had two years of cap hell to negotiate. Year one was ugly. Then he jettisoned the big-money quarterback, Palmer, in favor of the largely untested Matt "Two Career Starts'' Flynn. Year two could be uglier.

On Sunday, I asked McKenzie if he feared a lost season -- 3-13, or something on that order -- could cause owner Mark Davis to question the progress of the team, and maybe clean house.

"No, I don't fear that,'' he said. "You know what? I don't think along those lines. I just think of doing what's needed to make this team the best it can be long-term. That's my job. But fearful? No. Not at all. Mark knew the cap part of this was going to be a two-year deal. Mark is not his father. He is allowing me to do this, and we talk about the process all the time. He's allowing me to do the job that needs to be done.''

As one club executive told me, the Raiders will bear watching this year and next, as the lowest-growing team in the league. Some in the league think the Raiders would have less of a problem with spending $75 million on players this year than Oakland will have spending a load of cash it may struggle to scrape together next year, when McKenzie could open the checkbook to spend freely on free agents. Will Davis give McKenzie free reign to build the team as he sees fit?

"Yes, and we've talked about that,'' McKenzie said. "Remember -- the way I was raised in football, in Green Bay, was not as a big spender in free agency. I hope we continue to draft well, and I hope we can sign our own players, because that's the way I believe you win in this league. You draft, develop and sign your own players. Mark is on board with that, and what we have to do now and in the future, he's on board with and understands and he supports.''

This year, McKenzie badly wanted to keep bright defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, but the Browns, with scads of cap money available and a new owner dying to spend it, forked over $7 million a year to nab him. Could McKenzie have moved bodies around and mortgaged the future a bit with some contracts to do a deal with Bryant? Probably. But McKenzie made it clear Sunday that he wanted the Raiders out of cap jail right now, and he wanted to be sure they'd never be back in it again on his watch.

"But as far as taking our bruises now, I do want you to know we're in this to win this year,'' McKenzie said. "We will compete. This is not a throw-in-the-towel deal.''

I like that the Raiders dealt for Flynn. McKenzie knew Palmer, long-term, wasn't going to be the quarterback, because he wasn't going to commit franchise-quarterback money to Palmer annually. So for half the cash, McKenzie dealt for Flynn. McKenzie doesn't know if Flynn will be his quarterback of the future. In fact, the odds are against a seventh-round passer being someone's franchise quarterback. That's why McKenzie won't rule out taking a quarterback with the third pick in the draft. He won't rule out taking any position there. "Matt could turn out to be the guy, and if he does, so be it,'' McKenzie said.

This is why it's essential for Raider fans -- at least in my mind -- to have a forgiving nature this year. This isn't the year they're going to win. This is the year they put up building blocks for the future. If you say, "I've been patient long enough, I want results.'' Well, don't. Or don't put the blame for the 2013 performance on McKenzie if it's substandard.

The level of incompetence in the draft room by the Raiders is stunning. Over the past nine years they're the only team to not draft a Pro Bowl player in the first round. The year-by-year futility in drafting:

2004 -- Drafted tackle Robert Gallery second overall. Couldn't hack tackle. Became a decent guard. Now out of football.

2005 -- Drafted cornerback Fabian Washington 23rd overall. Now out of football.

2006 -- Drafted safety Michael Huff seventh overall. Just left for Baltimore as an unrestricted free agent.

2007 -- Drafted quarterback JaMarcus Russell first overall. Russell and Ryan Leaf are the biggest quarterback busts in NFL history. Now out of football.

2008 -- Drafted running back Darren McFadden fourth overall. When healthy, he's a very good back, but he's missed 23 games due to injury in five years. Enters the season as the Raiders' prospective starting back.

2009 -- Drafted wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey seventh overall. Just left for a modest free-agent deal in Indianapolis.

2010 -- Drafted linebacker Rolando McClain eighth overall. Two arrests, one team suspension and three in-and-out seasons later, he was released by McKenzie last week.

2011 -- Al Davis used the first-round pick in a trade the previous year for defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who was cut by McKenzie in a cost-cutting move last month.

2012 -- Former coach Hue Jackson used the first-round pick in a trade the previous year for Palmer, who was traded by McKenzie to Arizona in a cost-cutting move last week.

Nine first-round picks in the last nine years, and the Raiders have just one of the players used with the nine picks on the roster today. That is all-time incompetence. McKenzie is here to clean up the mess. It's categorically unfair to judge the job he's doing until at least the end of the 2014 season.

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