By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, January 16th, 2014 at 3:49 pm in Oakland Raiders.
General manager Reggie McKenzie told the local media Thursday he saw the Raiders as “a different 4-12 team’’ in 2013, is looking forward to operating with a full draft and salary cap room and outlined some of his philosophies and ideas regarding the future.
Although an eight-game losing streak to close out the season gave the Raiders the won-loss record as 2012, McKenzie didn’t see it as the same product.
The running game was better, McKenzie said, and the team was more competitive, particularly early in the season. McKenzie conceded the defense was smaller, short on depth and wore down in November, having trouble on third down.
“But the overall play was better in 2013, if you’re comparing,’’ McKenzie said.
More items addressed by McKenzie in an approximately 45-minute press conference with media which covers the team regularly:
– An agreement was being finalized with special teams coordinator Bobby April, who joins defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tony Sparano as returning assistants on the staff of coach Dennis Allen.
There was speculation the Raiders could lose key assistants because of owner Mark Davis’ reluctance to extend existing contracts.
– Areas which need improvement are everywhere.
“Biggest need? We have biggest needs, with an `s,’’ McKenzie said. “We’re going to attack it. I don’t care if it’s the waiver wire, an unrestricted guy, the trade, the draft, we’re going to upgrade this team in any way.’’
He included the position of quarterback, with Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, in that assessment. McKenzie cited Pryor’s inconsistency as an issue and while he liked McGloin’s ability to get the ball out quickly, said his decision-making down the stretch was a problem.
Asked specifically about the possibility of drafting Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, McKenzie said, “He’s a playmaker . . whether it’s him or any of these other guys, when you can add a playmaker to your team that’s what you’re shooting for.’’
However, McKenzie also said he wanted a veteran presence (currently that is Trent Edwards) at the position and ideally wouldn’t start a rookie at quarterback.
“You have to make sure you surround those young players with good football players, whether it’s weapons, protection from an offensive line standpoint, or the run game,’’ McKenzie said.
– McKenzie sounded as if key unrestricted free agents Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer, Charles Woodson and Rashad Jennings will all be pursued, and discussions are underway with the agents for all players.
Running back Darren McFadden looks destined to hit the open market.
“His agent has no idea what his market value will be and I couldn’t tell you what the other 31 teams think,’’ McKenzie said. “His agent is leaning toward trying to figure out what that is.’’
Although the franchise tag would be a possibility for Houston or Veldheer, McKenzie said, “I don’t really like to go there as an option. I’d like to negotiate a deal.’’
The Raiders have 17 unrestricted free agents in all.
– The Raiders’ approach to free agency with the possibility of being as much as $50 million under the salary cap.
“We’re going to do things that make sense,’’ McKenzie said. “Just because I have $5 in my pocket, that doesn’t mean I have to spend it all of it on junk. I don’t want to do that. We’re going to look at every player out there and decide whether he can help us,’’
– Thoughts relayed to him in postseason discussions with owner Mark Davis.
“He saw some progress in some areas, absolutely, but still, it’s the bottom-line, and like myself, Mark wants some better results.’’
– Why he stayed silent while the job status of Allen was an open debate as the season came to a close.
“I wasn’t going to add fuel to just to put out a fire that wasn’t there. I hate that stuff has to get thrown around,’’ McKenzie said.
McKenzie said he approached Allen late in the season to assuage his fears.
“I took it upon myself to just say, hey, man, all the stuff that’s out there, I don’t know where that’s coming from but just coach these guys, let’s get going,’’ McKenzie said.
– McKenzie’s first two drafts, which haven’t much immediate production, will be better assessed down the road.
“We’ll be better able to assess them in the next year to a year-and-a-half what they can do and who they truly are as players,’’ McKenzie said.
McKenzie cited injuries to cornerback DJ Hayden, tackle Menelik Watson and second-year player Miles Burris as impediments to instant progress.
– With so many late-round draft picks and undrafted players assuming starting roles, McKenzie conceded it illustrated the lack of overall talent on the 2013 roster.
“Definitely we lack some talent in some areas, no question,’’ McKenzie said. “We don’t have that go-to big hitter Calvin Johnson-type guy at receiver. Every position we’re going to try to upgrade. We’re fully aware of some of the places we’re lacking offensively and defensively.’’
– McKenzie echoed Allen’s goal to become a “top 12” or playoff team.