The Las Vegas Raiders Report was able to sit down with Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie to discuss the team’s moves in free agency and how his relationship with the new coaching staff is playing out.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie was all smiles today during the NFL owners meetings as he held court with Raiders beat writers inside the Ritz-Carlton Grand Lakes Orlando hotel. This, a day after owner Mark Davis said McKenzie’s role had changed with the hiring of head coach Jon Gruden.
“The one thing about Coach Gruden and his system is I know exactly what player they [Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther] want at each and every position. That makes my job really a lot easier instead of trying to figure out what works best, because we can communicate.”– Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie
The changes — and his evolving role — are nothing new to McKenzie, who seems to welcome the addition of a hands-on coach who appreciates being part of the player-evaluation process.
“The one thing about Coach Gruden and his system is I know exactly what player they [Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther] want at each and every position,” McKenzie said. “That makes my job really a lot easier instead of trying to figure out what works best, because we can communicate.”
McKenzie said he has a better feel for what Guenther wants on defense because of an open line of communications with his entire staff.
When asked if that was an issue with former coach Jack Del Rio, McKenzie quickly snapped it was not.
“No, not to say that, but the communication is just constant and it’s not just with Coach Gruden, it’s with the entire staff and it’s well received,” he said.
McKenzie said the re-signing of linebacker NaVorro Bowman, a major bright spot during a forgettable 2017 season, remains a priority.
“We would still love to have [Bowman] back,” he said. “Right now, we can’t come to an agreement, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want him because we do.”
McKenzie has been busy signing 15 free agents during the early part of the offseason. The veteran GM walked away from those signings with three key takeaways he imparted on the group.
“No. 1, we think we added some good players,” he said. “No. 2, [we added] leadership, and 3 — and most important — was competition. We want to fill this roster [and create] as much competition with what we could and with what we had to work with.”
A theme throughout was versatility, leadership and — in McKenzie’s words — “guys [veterans] who could teach.” Asked if his history of success with undrafted free agents, the number of free agents signed, and 11 draft picks arriving in April would limit UDFA signings, he emphatically stated:
“No, if we see some guys we want, we’re gonna make some changes. We want the best 90 players — wherever they come from.”
McKenzie said his biggest free agent acquisition — wide receiver Jordy Nelson — was a much better player than departed starter Michael Crabtree. McKenzie, who drafted Nelson while in Green Bay, said he was a better route runner, more quarterback friendly, and a better locker room presence.
McKenzie said one-year contracts can cause difficulty in building a stable roster, but believes the Raiders are taking the right approach.
“Its tougher long-term when all those one-year contract players do great,” he said. “I mean, when you try to re-sign them it’s tough, but it was difficult to create longer-term contracts when agents were looking for the money. We just worked with those guys and their representatives to try and fit them in. Some we were able to get in, others we were not.”
McKenzie reiterated his excitement over the return of running back Marshawn Lynch. He said he believes the team is far better with Lynch than without him.
“It means he really wants to be here and be a part of this, and I believe it means a lot to our locker room,” he said. “We have full intentions of being a physical offensive football team under Jon Gruden. We want to go Beast Mode this year.”