ALAMEDA (AP) — Reggie McKenzie heard all the preseason predictions from the pundits that had his Oakland Raiders pegged as one of the worst teams in the NFL.
After a tight road loss at Indianapolis and a home win over Jacksonville to start the season, the Raiders general manager is not ready to crow about his team’s success.
“Vindication? No. Not at all,” he said Wednesday. “It’s way too early. Vindication is when we’re in the playoffs. Then it’s a whole new season. That’s my goal. ... Our goal is to try and win as many games as we can and get to the playoffs.”
McKenzie touched on many subjects in a 30-minute interview with local beat reporters, with much of the focus being on the quarterbacks after Terrelle Pryor beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job in training camp.
Flynn held the top spot for most of the offseason and training camp after McKenzie traded two draft picks to Seattle and committed $6.5 million in guaranteed money to acquire a quarterback he spent four years with in Green Bay.
McKenzie had traded away last year’s starter, Carson Palmer, and did not have confidence in Pryor to be the starter at the time of the deal in April.
But Pryor exceeded expectations in the preseason and Flynn struggled with a sore elbow, leading to the decision to go with late owner Al Davis’ final draft pick over the player hand-picked by the new regime.
“He’s made leaps and bounds from last year, from the time I spent with him,” McKenzie said. “He’s done a good job.”
Pryor has done well so far. He posted the eighth 200-yard passing, 100-yard rushing game since the 1970 merger in the 21-17 loss at Indianapolis and then posted a 19-9 win in the home opener over Jacksonville.
McKenzie said Pryor is only getting better as his confidence and playing time increases.
McKenzie has spent much of his first two years on the job tearing down the team as part of a massive rebuilding job. Only 14 players on the active roster were with the organization when McKenzie was hired in January 2011.
McKenzie has cut ties with many of the high-profile players he inherited, letting go of former first-round picks Michael Huff, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rolando McClain and players acquired for first-rounders in Carson Palmer and Richard Seymour.
Those moves have led to the Raiders carrying over $50 million of “dead money” on their salary cap, meaning about 40 percent of their cap is going to players no longer in the organization.
“It’s not about driving off players who were here and bringing in our own guys,” McKenzie said. “It’s trying to put together a good nucleus and core group of guys and then funnel other players in that can help complement them and put together the best team. And whoever plays will be whoever the coach thinks gives us the best chance to win. And that’s what it’s all about.”
McKenzie has vowed to build through the draft but that is still a work in progress. The 16 players he has picked in his first two drafts have combined for one start this season and only 278 total snaps on offense and defense.
McKenzie’s first draft class was hamstrung by having no picks until the 95th overall and only defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi was active from that group of six last Sunday.
The 2013 class has been more productive with first-rounder D.J. Hayden getting playing time as a nickel cornerback, third-round linebacker Sio Moore starting one game, sixth-round tight end Mychal Rivera emerging as a receiving threat and seventh-round receiver Brice Butler getting significant time.
But McKenzie said it’s too early to judge those picks.
He has made judgments on some of the current players, signing extensions with kicker Sebastian Janikowski, fullback Marcel Reece and long snapper Jon Condo to keep them off the open market next year.
He has also had talks with defensive end Lamarr Houston and left tackle Jared Veldheer about long-term deals and hopes to be able to lock up some of his potential free agents before they hit the market.
“We’re working diligently to keep our own,” he said. “If we can lock some guys up that’s going to be key for us. That’s how I want to build this thing.”
McKenzie will finally get to build the team his way next offseason when he will have plenty of salary cap room and all of his top draft choices at his disposal.
The goal this year is to build a foundation for future success as the Raiders try to end a 10-year playoff drought.
“I think we’re moving in that direction, we really are,” he said. “Next year, from an offseason standpoint, we’re going to be in line like the other teams. What I’m saying there is the cap won’t be an issue. I won’t be way out here while everybody else is able to play the free-agency game. The first three picks? You got ‘em. That’s 2014. This year, we were able to get some pieces that we feel can help us. Hopefully, we can build on that every week and turn some of these games into some victories.”
NOTES: McKenzie said no decision has been made by the NFL about whether to move the Oct. 6 game against San Diego because of a possible conflict with the Oakland Athletics in the playoffs.