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What the Raiders can expect as the Reggie McKenzie era begins

According to Hue Jackson, Al Davis once told him, “Hue, trust your players, not your plays.” That begs the question, what happens when you can’t trust your players? The answer: You hire Reggie McKenzie to be the General Manager and he promptly fires Hue Jackson. With that, the McKenzie era has begun in Oakland.

In his first act as General Manager, McKenzie has terminated head coach Hue Jackson. Now, you might just want to leave your jaw in your lap because if Hue is out, then anyone else is fair game. The firing of Jackson, while controversial, fires a clear warning shot across the bow of the Raider incumbents. Expect change. Expect a whole piggy bank of change.

So, who’s the next head coach?

First up: Jon Gruden. He has ties to Green Bay, runs the right system, loves the Raiders, and said he’d love to come back. Problem? McKenzie just fired one coach with a big ego. (Sorry Jon, love ya!) Next up: current Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. Without too much detail, I don’t see this one happening. Philbin has the luxury of coaching under McCarthy, who is a great offensive mind. Packer QB coach Tom Clements? Well he certainly looks the part and who can argue with Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn. Speaking of Flynn, isn’t he a free agent? Back to that later.

Gruden, Philbin, and Clements are all West Coast Offense guys, and Carson Palmer is, well, not a West Coast guy. Hmmm. The Raiders don’t have many draft picks this year. Who holds the record for most TD passes in one game by a Packer? Two hints: Not Favre, not Rodgers.

Without question, McKenzie’s number one priority will be to fix the defense. The 2011 Oakland defense is the fourth highest paid defense in the NFL. That same defense finished 29th in total yards, tied for 30th in points per game, and was the worst fourth quarter defense in football.

Oakland’s defensive approach will change dramatically under McKenzie and Jackson. A popular choice for defensive coordinator as well as head coach is current Green Bay Assistant Head Coach and inside linebackers coach, Winston Moss. Moss will be entering his 25th season as an NFL player and coach. In 1993, as a player, he led the Raiders in tackles on a team that advanced to the AFC divisional playoffs and earned the Ed Block Courage Award.

So could we see Moss as the head man and Clements running the offense? Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

If Moss is unavailable or gets the head job, McKenzie could look to current Green Bay coaches Joe Whitt Jr. or Darren Perry as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator. Whitt has been with the Packers since 2008 and is currently cornerbacks coach. Perry was DB coach in Oakland and receives partial credit for the development of Nnamdi Asomugha. Perry is the current safeties coach in Green Bay. However, both Perry and Whitt are a bit of a reach for defensive coordinator at this point.

The hiring of Moss could also signify the rebirth of the 3-4 in Oakland. McKenzie was a 3-4 linebacker during his playing days.

It’s safe to assume McKenzie will replace most of the current defensive staff. One exception may be defensive backs coach Rod Woodson. Woodson is a rookie coach and Hall of Fame player. He was given the unenviable task of coaching Oakland’s depleted and/or inexperienced cornerbacks. Woodson also played for Dom Capers in Pittsburgh from 1992-1994. Capers is the current defensive coordinator in Green Bay which could signal Woodson sticking in Oakland.

When McKenzie’s hiring became official, fantasies erupted about all the wonderful talent McKenzie would bring with him from Green Bay. As it turns out, McKenzie did his job well. So well, in fact, almost all of Green Bay’s top tier talent is already locked up with a few notable exceptions.

Green Bay has a stable of productive wide receivers and one of their best will be available. How does Moore, Ford, Heyward-Bey, Murphy, and Nelson sound to you? Jordy Nelson was selected in 2008 with the 36th overall pick and has grown to be one of the Packers’ most dangerous weapons. He finished the 2011 season with 68 receptions, 1,263 yards, for an awesome 18.6 per reception not to mention the 15 touchdowns. While this may be a departure from McKenzie’s home grown beliefs, he may need a few of “his guys” in the building. My guess is that Nelson will be a tough sell and stays in Green Bay.

Next up would be tight end Jermichael Finley. Signing Finley will require a silver and black dump truck full of cash. Instead, look for McKenzie to seek out his very own gigantic pass catching tight end. The Green Bay Packers are the only NFL team with five tight ends on the roster, the Raiders have four which leaves room for one more.

Packers’ defensive back, Jarret Bush, isn’t a household name and doesn’t even crack the top 75 on most free agent lists but he is a solid DB and an excellent special teamer. Bush is a Bay Area native from nearby Vacaville and has 130 tackles and three interceptions in 94 games (seven starts). Bush will come cheap and would be an instant upgrade over Lito Sheppard or Chris Johnson. At the very least Bush will provide solid depth to Oakland’s shallow secondary.

Speaking of Bush, what happens to Michael? McKenzie has the new school approach to running backs. The current Green Bay roster has three running backs. Two are un-drafted and the other a sixth round draft pick. However, I don’t think McKenzie will just let Michael Bush walk out the door. He should franchise tag him and then sign a couple UDFA running backs to battle for the third spot.

Who stays and who goes? Tyvon Branch is a priority for the Raiders, but McKenzie won’t over pay in the Raider tradition to keep Branch. It is possible the Raiders might lose Branch to a team willing to pay him big money. Branch is the Raiders’ leading tackler and one of the few bright spots in a gloomy secondary. Hue has continually mentioned the importance of Branch and hopefully Branch will buy what McKenzie is selling.

McKenzie’s 2012 Raiders are going to have quite a few new faces, which means plenty will have to go. And with the new faces, a lot of the current roster will be moving on.  McKenzie has an eye for talent. He and Jackson will seek out and focus on filling the roster with “team” guys. There are only about fifteen to twenty players on the current Raider roster that are locks to return. 

Trading draft picks away in Oakland is officially over. Green Bay during McKenzie’s tenure retained more draft picks than any other organization. McKenzie has a unique eye for talent and will harvest picks carefully. As the head of player personnel he rarely signed high priced free agents or over-paid to keep free agents with no one guy bigger than the team.

The Raiders have traded away most of the picks for the 2012 draft but that isn’t all bad news. The Packers currently have 16 un-drafted players on their active roster. This group includes John Kuhn, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Ryan Grant, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Frank Zombo, and Jarrett Bush. McKenzie has made a habit of finding quality un-drafted players and developing them into household names, a talent that will come in handy this year in Oakland.

McKenzie currently has two draft picks to work with, fifth and sixth round selections. The Raiders are likely to receive several compensatory picks in 2012 for loss of free agents. There are a total of thirty-two compensatory picks awarded in rounds three through seven, but the formula for awarding picks is proprietary. The formula is thought to be heavily weighted by the salary of free agents lost and gained.

In 2011 the Raiders lost Asomugha, Robert Gallery, Zach Miller, Thomas Howard, and Bruce Gradkowski. The combined contracts including signing and roster bonuses are 118.7 million. The Raiders signed Kevin Boss to a four year sixteen million dollar contract.  In the 2011 draft the Panthers were awarded three picks for the loss of Julius Peppers; he received a six year eighty four million dollar contract. The Panthers received an additional third, sixth, and seventh round pick. Compensatory picks cannot be traded or packaged with other picks in a trade.  The Raiders will likely be awarded a third round pick and a combination of three additional picks in rounds four through seven.

I predict McKenzie will use these picks, combined with UDFA’s, to rebuild the Raiders’ secondary, fill gaps in a 3-4 system, and add depth at running back, O-line, Linebacker, and a future Carson Palmer replacement, similar to Green Bay’s Matt Flynn. McKenzie will look for a highly intelligent, accurate, chip on his shoulder and slightly arrogant developmental project.

While the future in Oakland is unclear, Raider fans have a lot to be excited about. All signs point to McKenzie being an excellent hire and at this point there is no reason to believe he and Hue Jackson won’t make an excellent team. Mani-Pedis for everyone!!

–Barnavicious is a Guest Contributor special to Thoughts From the Dark Side.