Raiders flop at free agency

This is my Wednesday column. WARNING: This is a Raiders column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.

You’ve got to wait on Raiders’ general manager Reggie McKenzie, give him a chance. Don’t judge him on his first two horrible seasons. Those weren’t his fault. He had to tear down Al Davis’ mess. You can’t judge McKenzie until Year 3.

Fifteen minutes into Year 3, McKenzie flopped.

McKenzie let the Raiders’ left tackle, Jared Veldheer, walk away to the Arizona Cardinals for a five-year, $35 million contract as soon as free agency began. A few minutes later, McKenzie gave more money – $42.5 million over five years – to a lesser player, Rodger Saffold.* He is a better offensive guard than an offensive tackle.

Now, the Raiders have to spend their first-round pick in the upcoming draft on a left tackle, the most important position on the offensive line. They can’t trade down – all of the good left tackles will be gone after the top 10 picks. And the Raiders can’t take a quarterback with their first pick, either, because Veldheer isn’t around to protect him.

Ain’t that a shame?

Around the same time Veldheer signed with the Cardinals, the Raiders’ free agent defensive end Lamarr Houston signed with the Chicago Bears. McKenzie just let him go. The Raiders have one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL and more cap space than any other team, but McKenzie let his top two free agents walk.

Not a good 15 minutes for Reggie McKenzie. It almost seems like he was trying to make the Raiders worse, if that’s possible.

He could have franchised Veldheer or Houston. He didn’t. Instead, it seems like players are fleeing the Raiders.

Who did McKenzie choose to re-sign? Darren McFadden, the running back who never has played a full season during his six-year NFL career, and has the durability of a cream puff.

What a mistake. The Raiders will be lucky to win five games next season.

It’s not like these mistakes were firsts for McKenzie. He made mistakes last year, too. Remember, he traded for Matt Flynn, a bust. And the top-two players McKenzie drafted – D.J. Hayden and Menelik Watson – played 13 games combined last season.

McKenzie appears to be in over his head. The decisions to re-sign McFadden and not Veldheer or Houston, to trade for Flynn, and to draft Hayden and Watson all had come from McKenzie, because Raiders’ owner Mark Davis sure doesn’t know football. He depends on McKenzie, for better or worse, mostly worse.

Unfortunately for Davis, he will not find the answers to the Raiders’ problems in a fortune cookie with his lunch at PF Chang’s.

At minimum, there are five problems on Davis’ plate:

1. Himself. Davis has relatively little experience as an owner, and nobody to turn to for mentoring or consulting. Talking to John Madden and Ron Wolf obviously has not helped.

2. Bad stadium. Davis can’t get a new one any time soon. The 49ers built three locker rooms in their new Santa Clara stadium – one for the Niners, one for their opponent and one for a third team who could share the stadium with the Niners for a price. If Davis can swallow his silver-and-black pride, the Raiders can become the 49ers’ tenants.

3. McKenzie. A general manager in his first rodeo, and the bull is about to throw him to the ground and stomp him. McKenzie probably will not get a contract extension in 2015.

4. Dennis Allen. A head coach on his last legs. Allen probably will not get an extension in 2015.

5. No starting quarterback. McKenzie has to draft a QB and sign another one. Do you have faith that he can draft and sign the right ones, and that Allen can coach them up? Me neither.

Now, thanks to McKenzie, the Raiders have bonus problems – no left tackle and no pass rusher.

When McKenzie leaves and Davis replaces him, here’s what you’re going to hear: “You’ve got to wait on new Raiders’ general manager Joe Blow, give Joe Blow a chance. Don’t judge him on his first two horrible seasons. Those won’t be his fault. He has to tear down McKenzie’s mess. You can’t judge Joe Blow until Year 3.”

And then, maybe, Joe Blow will last more than 15 minutes before he flops.


Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

* The Raiders just voided Saffold’s contract because he apparently failed his physical. Shortly after that move, the Rams signed Saffold to a five-year contract. More good news for McKenzie. Now the Raiders really have to draft a left tackle with the No.5 pick.

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