The Raiders are actually doing things right, and Reggie McKenzie's the reason why.
When the Raiders hired McKenzie as general manager in January, he took over a team with the most decimated draft board in recent history. No first-, second-, third-, fourth- or seventh-round picks because of prior trades or Supplemental Draft picks. McKenzie inherited a team that, in late February, was $26 million over the salary cap and had two draft choices -- the 148th and 189th overall -- before the annual compensatory picks were awarded. Think about it: An 18-year scout finally gets his chance to run a team and pick the players he wants ... and he's hamstrung by the worst cap situation in the league, and one of the worst draft-choice pools in NFL history. And one more thing: Peyton Manning just walked into his division.
"Never thought, 'Woe is me,' '' he said the other night from his office in Oakland. "Not once. Never thought I shouldn't take the job because of things like that either. It never entered my mind. I just figured, 'We'll find players.' I know how to find players. I've been in Green Bay when we found Mark Tauscher and Donald Driver late in drafts, and found Tramon Williams on the street, and signed Charles Woodson in free agency. It can be done.''
If McKenzie's right, it will be done this year with low-cost free-agents starting at three positions (Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell at cornerback, Philip Wheeler at linebacker), and one well-paid (five years, $20 million) starting right guard, Mike Brisiel. Help also came in the form of three of the top 10 compensatory picks awarded last month in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. Oakland's first pick will be the first compensatory choice awarded by the NFL, the 95th overall choice, which means McKenzie will sit around all night Thursday on day one of the draft, and all night Friday through rounds two and three, till the end of the third round.
I asked McKenzie if he wished he could have the Carson Palmer trade back. Last October, then-coach Hue Jackson dealt first- and second-round picks to Cincinnati for Palmer. "You can beat that doggone story 'til it's worn out,'' said McKenzie. "But I know this: We've got a quarterback we think can win the division and take us to the playoffs. Losing a one and a two doesn't bother me one bit."
McKenzie said he feels honored to be the first person in almost half a century other than Al Davis to be running the Raiders' draft. "This is a new day in the Raider organization,'' he said. "Coach Davis, he knew football. I relish the chance to follow him and get this team back where it belongs.''