Where does McKenzie fit with Gruden set to join Raiders?


Where does McKenzie fit with Gruden set to join Raiders?

The Raiders have employed a static, linear power structure since Mark Davis took control. The owner sits on top, with general manager Reggie McKenzie below that in charge of all personnel decisions. The head coach rests below that.

Dennis Allen had say, but no influence in roster creation. Jack Del Rio was more of a lesser among equals, with a louder voice and certainly greater say in personnel. He could obviously decide who started, who played and how much.

Acquiring talent, however, was still McKenzie’s call. And the Raiders power rankings never changed: 1. Owner, 2. General Manager, 3. Head Coach.

Jon Gruden should rearrange that order.

He’s expected to be the Raiders next head coach, with a formal announcement likely coming next week.

The popular and respected personality walks loud and carries a big stick.

History suggests Gruden will have personnel control, a power he held over seven seasons in Tampa Bay. Al Davis ran the show during his first stint with the Raiders (1998-2001), though Gruden had significant say on how things went. He wanted greater personnel control, a point of contention as between him and the famous owner/GM.

Mark Davis has great respect, maybe even reverence for Gruden. He’ll pay the once-and-likely-future head coach a king’s ransom. Great power should come with that.

We won’t know how much until we hear from Davis and Gruden after a formal pact. That must be noted here, and recalled throughout this piece.

We can say with certainty that McKenzie’s influence will be dulled. That will be a blow. McKenzie signed a four-year contract extension in July 2016 that lasts through the 2021 NFL draft.

That doesn’t mean that he’ll want to be here. Or that Gruden will want him to stay long term.

McKenzie’s a respected pro and college scout and would be useful in any regime, but will he want to contribute if Gruden’s truly running the show? Will some of his loyal staff be let go in favor of Gruden’s trusted personnel people, with Reggie powerless to stop it?

Those questions are yet to be answered. While the transition from Del Rio to Gruden should be seamless, uncertainty reigns over the Raiders scouting department as currently constructed. The NFL draft is less than four months away and some continuity would help during that event, making it likely McKenzie sticks around a while at least. 

McKenzie seemed poised to remain in his exact role even during a disappointing 6-10 season where the coaching staff was under fire and his recent draft picks underperformed. He was, after all, Davis’ right hand man and a trusted resource. Will he want to carry on with Gruden in that spot?

McKenzie did lots of dirty work getting the Raiders right with the salary cap, ridding the roster of bloated contracts and bad apples. He deserves credit for a franchise-altering 2014 draft class that reaped Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson. He signed some quality free agents, and built offensive line strength that brought the Raiders back to relevance.

McKenzie also swung a missed on the 2016 draft class, and the Raiders got zero return from this year’s crop in its first season.

Getting Gruden, however, is worth more to Davis than all that. He moved mountains to get his guy -- Davis has done all the hiring and firing of coaches recently -- and is on the cusp of doing exactly that. Gruden being here suggests there's a new sherriff in town.

Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

Monday, Sept. 10 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 7:20 p.m.

Jon Gruden goes head-to-head against protégé Sean McVay in primetime, in the season opener and on a Monday Night Football telecast Gruden was on for nine seasons. That's must-see TV. 

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Sept. 16, at Denver, 1:25 p.m.

The Broncos might be the AFC West’s worst team. The Raiders have to make hay a mile up, a chore made easier with an early-season game. They avoid snow this year. 

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Sept. 23, at Miami, 10:00 a.m.

The Raiders beat the Dolphins in Florida last year. It’s hard to say Miami’s much better than they were a year ago. This road win’s attainable, even in the first of four morning kickoffs.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Sept. 30, vs. Cleveland, 1:05 p.m.

The Browns should be better, but that remains a game you’ve got to win. Hue Jackson’s return to Oakland adds intrigue to these proceedings.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Oct. 7, at L.A. Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders will have a huge home-field advantage in Carson, as they do each time they play the Chargers in Southern California. That should help against a formidable opponent that has had trouble staying healthy in recent years.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Oct. 14, vs. Seattle (at London’s Tottenham Stadium), 10:00 a.m.
The Raiders won’t make their combine their London trip with an East Coast game to make things easier from a travel perspective. Gruden doesn’t want to be away from home that long. How the Raiders handle a long flight to the United Kingdom will go a long way in determining a victor.

Prediction: W.


Sunday, Oct. 28, vs. Indianapolis, 1:05 p.m.

The Colts still stink, even if Andrew Luck is back healthy and throwing for this one. These are games (especially at home) the Raiders have to win.

Prediction: W.

Thursday, Nov. 1, at 49ers, 5:20 p.m.
A Thursday night game offers plenty of time to get primed in the parking lot. It also guarantees a traffic mess heading into Levi’s Stadium. What could possibly go wrong? This should be a good matchup on the field, with two young quarterbacks leading the charge.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Nov. 11, vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders have lost two of their last three home games to the Chargers. They have to handle business at home, even against a talented squad led by Philip Rivers and Joey Bosa.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Nov. 18, at Arizona, 1:05 p.m.

The Cardinals are mired in a rebuilding mode, well behind the Raiders at this stage.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Nov. 25, at Baltimore, 10:00 a.m.

Michael Crabtree will be supremely motivated for this one, after the Raiders essentially exchanged him for Jordy Nelson. He’s pretty dangerous in those situations.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Dec. 2, vs. Kansas City, 1:05 p.m.

The Chiefs will be a great litmus test, to see if the Raiders can handle big-play threats better than they have in recent seasons.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Dec. 9, vs. Pittsburgh, 5:20 p.m.

The Raiders defense better be ready to go against Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and the Steelers scoring machine in the Oakland Coliseum slate’s best matchup. To make matters better, this one's in primetime, on Sunday night. 

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Dec. 16, at Cincinnati, 10:00 a.m.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will go up against the team he helped run recently. Guenther should be an expert on stopping Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense. That will help the Raiders here. 

Prediction: W.

Monday, Dec. 24, vs. Denver, 5:15 p.m.

Marquette King’s coming back to Oakland. He’s looking forward to this one. So is Bruce Irvin. All this plays out on Monday Night Football, the Raiders' fourth primetime game and third at Oakland Coliseum. 

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Dec. 30,at Kansas City, 10:00 a.m.

Arrowhead Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Raiders in recent seasons. Jack Del Rio could never figure how to play well there. Can Jon Gruden buck that trend?

Prediction: L.

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

This NFL Draft should be interesting at the top. Quarterbacks should dominate early proceedings, with teams ready to select as many as four passers in the top 10.

That would suit the Raiders just fine. Derek Carr’s their franchise quarterback. They don’t need another one.

Many other teams do, meaning Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen could all be taken quickly.

“That will really reshape the draft, particularly if there's a run on quarterbacks very, very early in the draft like many of us expect,” NFL Network analyst and former Raiders cornerback Bucky Brooks said in a conference call. “…I think the fascination for me will be what do teams do to put themselves in a position to get a quarterback, what blue chip players find themselves in a bit of a free-fall because these quarterbacks come off the board.”

The Raiders obviously aren’t considering a quarterback at the top. They’ll likely get one of, if not the best players at his position falling farther than they would in a normal year.

We’ve gone over possible selections at No. 10 overall. If you missed it, check it out here.

Quality abounds in that group, with top players at key positions of need. That includes linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive back (and maybe edge rusher) at that spot.

While having four quarterbacks go before the Raiders picks shoves top players down to No. 10, leaving one on the market would make that selection incredibly valuable.

The Raiders could offer that pick to a quarterback starved team willing to trade up to get their passer of the present and future. We’ve outlined candidates for the Raiders should they trade down in the first round, and carry on with extra selections.

The Raiders have 11 as it stands, with one pick in the first four rounds, two in the fifth, four in the sixth and another in the seventh. That’s plenty to package and trade up to land a coveted player in this draft.

The Raiders aim to get the most value from the No. 10 pick, either with an elite draft prospect or the bounty that comes from trading it. One catch: The 49ers could be thinking the same thing at No. 9, a spot earned with a tiebreaking coin flip at the NFL Scouting Combine. They also have similar needs, though they aren’t exactly the same, but should deter the Raiders too much from getting the player or trade they covet.

That’s due to the top-flight quarterbacks they have no intention of drafting.