ORLANDO, Fla. – Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was caught on camera rocking a “Beast Mode” t-shirt scouting at the NFL combine.
That was right when speculation about Marshawn Lynch’s future reached its peak. Would he return for the 2018 season? McKenzie’s choice of attire didn’t answer the question.
A restructured contract featuring significant guaranteed funds certainly did, essentially ensuring Lynch will be the Raiders’ feature back in 2018. That was an important offseason step for the run game and the Raiders offense as a whole.
“It means a great deal,” McKenzie said. “It means that he really wants to be here and be part of this. I think it means a lot our locker room and our offense. We have full intentions on being a physical offensive football team with (head coach) Jon Gruden. That’s what it means, No. 1.”
There was some uncertainty about Lynch’s return, though maybe not as much as some reports suggested.
“It was blown out of proportion with you guys,” McKenzie said. “You never know with a veteran player, in terms of what he wants to do, but everything worked out. We have a new staff and wants to know how he’ll be used. I understand the uncertainty of all that, but we want to go ‘Beast Mode’ this year.”
Lynch took some time to warm up after a year away from NFL football, working within a new system. He really got going in the season’s second half, churning out 625 of his 891 rushing yards over the final eight games.
Having one of this generation’s best running backs, and a bruiser at that, will help the Raiders run game significantly. McKenzie and head coach Jon Gruden have added ancillary pieces in fullback Keith Smith and blocking tight ends Derek Carrier and Lee Smith to help the overall product.
Here are a few other notes revealed during McKenzie’s discussion with Raiders beat writers.
-- McKenzie didn’t offer an update on talks to extend Khalil Mack’s contract – a new deal is expected at some point this offseason – but understands the edge rusher isn’t going to be cheap and is worth the price.
“I’m not negotiating (in the media), but I love Khalil Mack,” McKenzie said. “The Raiders are a greater team with Khalil Mack, without question.
"If you can throw $100 million my way, I’d gladly take it and get it done.”
-- McKenzie reinforced what Bruce Irvin made clear on social media last week, that he will be attacking more and dropping into coverage far less than he has in two seasons with the Raiders. Irvin loves that idea, and should spend most of his time rushing off the edge. He had 58 tackles, eight sacks and four forced fumbles last year.
-- The right tackle spot remains an open competition, even after the Raiders signed Breno Giacomini, a veteran with extensive experience as a starter. McKenzie is interested to see how David Sharpe and Jylan Ware respond to new offensive line coach Tom Cable. Their development, and Vadal Alexander’s work this offseason, will play into that position battle.
The Raiders could also draft an offensive tackle early, and get a starting right tackle in 2018 and a left tackle of the future.
-- New linebacker Tahir Whitehead will play on the outside of the Raiders 4-3 lineup, though he has experience playing all three positions.
-- The Raiders try to predict veterans who might get cut in the offseason, and identified receiver Jordy Nelson as someone who might come free. Sure enough, Green Bay let him go. The Raiders pounced right away, and signed him to a two-year deal and promptly cut Michael Crabtree.
McKenzie thinks Nelson will fit right in.
“We look at the cap situation for each team and try to identify certain guys (who might become available),” McKenzie said. “We identified him as a possibility (of getting released), and when it came to play, we communicated to him. He was interested, and once we got him in the building, things went pretty good.”
-- McKenzie said the Cordarrelle Patterson trade was motivated by two factors: a desire to get a fifth-round pick, and a chance to clear cap space.