ALAMEDA (AP) — General manager Reggie McKenzie got rewarded for orchestrating the rebuild of the Oakland Raiders that got them back into the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
Next up for McKenzie after winning the Pro Football Writers of America Executive of the Year award on Thursday is figuring out how to get the Raiders closer to the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl title.
“To get to the playoffs is a step,” McKenzie said Thursday. “We feel good about that. But we’re only scratching the surface. We still want to hold up the trophy and that’s what we’re going to continue to strive to do and that’s our next step. We need to win playoff games.”
McKenzie has done impressive work since being hired in January 2012 as the team’s first general manager following longtime owner Al Davis’ death. He overhauled the scouting, personnel and football operations, got the team’s salary cap in order and hired Jack Del Rio as coach following a 3-13 record in 2014.
McKenzie joined Davis as the only Raiders to win the award. He called it an accomplishment for the whole organization, including current owner Mark Davis who stuck by McKenzie despite an 11-37 record his first three years.
With strong draft classes, free agent signings and uncovering productive undrafted free agents, McKenzie put together a roster with an NFL-high seven Pro Bowlers this season led by quarterback Derek Carr, All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack, receiver Amari Cooper and three-fifths of the offensive line.
That helped the Raiders (12-5) post their best season in 14 years, even if it ended on a down note after Carr broke his right leg in the fourth quarter of a victory in the second-to-last game of the regular season against Indianapolis on Dec. 24.
Oakland lost the following week at Denver with Matt McGloin at quarterback to miss out on winning the AFC West and a first-round bye and then was eliminated from the playoffs with a 27-14 loss at Houston on Jan. 7 behind rookie quarterback Connor Cook.
“I’m still getting over it until I win my next game,” McKenzie said. “Any time you lose your last game, it’s going to eat at you. ... We’ve got to set the course for this ‘17 season. So it’s going to eat at you until then.”
The Raiders have some big questions this offseason starting with the franchise’s home. The team applied Thursday to relocate to Las Vegas, pending approval from 24 of the 32 NFL owners. The Raiders will remain in Oakland for at least the next two seasons under their current lease and McKenzie declined to comment about a possible move.
Also on the agenda this offseason are possible contract extensions for Carr and Mack, decisions on whether to retain free agents like running back Latavius Murray and moves to upgrade a defense that struggled to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback and allowed too many big plays.
The most expensive moves will be with Carr and Mack. Carr is entering the final year of his rookie deal, while the Raiders have an option for 2018 on Mack. But McKenzie said he doesn’t want to wait too long to lock up those cornerstones even if it does limit salary cap space.
“Hopefully, it won’t beat up the roster that much. You try to do the best you can to work the contracts where you can keep as many good players as possible,” he said. “But we all know that you cannot have a roster of a lot of multi-million dollar players. That’s not the way the system works. So we’re just going to have to continue to strive to get good players for a lesser amount. It’s just the way it is. A quarterback is going to command a high dollar. Khalil is going to command a high dollar. We’ll work around it, but we don’t feel at this point threatened by it.”
Helping the cause is McKenzie’s success in finding hidden gems. The team has had several undrafted free agents on the roster the past few years and got 30 of the 47 touchdowns this season from players who were drafted after the fifth round or entered the league as undrafted free agents.
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