New Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is making rational decisions as he builds for the future, hiring mostly young coaches and making one startling, but wise, decision by releasing Stanford Routt last week.
The question is, though, do Raiders fans want rational?
The last 30 years of Al Davis’ tight-fisted control over the Raiders were nothing like what preceded them. Overall, the Raiders were 22 wins below .500 in that period, with a league-record seven straight seasons with double-digit losses, erratic drafts, a coaching carousel of bad hires because no reputable one would work under Davis and league records for most penalties and most penalty yardage in a season in 2011.
Yet, a portion of the fan base continued to believe in the image Davis had created for himself, even as he was making a mockery of his own slogan, “Just win, baby!” Wasn’t much of that the last few years; a .500 record was the best the Raiders could do, and they haven’t been in the postseason since the 2003 Super Bowl, in which they were routed by Tampa Bay.
McKenzie, who played for the Raiders in the ’80s, paid deference to the team’s past when he was introduced to the media, but he has since shown he wants to work in a traditional NFL environment and get away from the self-destructive cult.
Cutting Routt was both a symbolic and practical move, symbolic because Routt was a perfect example of the kind of player Davis was drafting, picked because of his speed, not talent. If he could be cut, no player can think he’s protected. Performance, not potential, will be the deciding factor.
Practically, it helped reduce the bleeding from the terrible contract Davis gave Routt. Only Nnamdi Asomugha, who left for the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent, deserved that kind of contract. The Raiders will still be on the hook for some of it, but they won’t be paying an average player as a superstar for another four years.
By one measurement, Routt graded out well: He defended a high percentage of the passes thrown at the man he was covering. But he was vulnerable to the deep pass, one reason the Raiders gave up so many late-game touchdowns last year, and he was also frequently called for pass interference. That’s one way of preventing completions, but the end result is the same, since the ball is placed at the point of the interference.
McKenzie knows he has to change the mindset of his team, and also that of the fan base.
There is no more of the pretense that this is the year the Raiders finally break through to the postseason. He is building for the long haul, as good teams do, so in the future, the Raiders can be expected to be consistent contenders. He’s given new coach Dennis Allen a four-year contract, so he’ll have time to establish his systems and his way of working.
And, equally important, McKenzie will have the time to weed out the mistakes from the last Davis years and bring in winning football players instead of track stars, so winning will be a reality, not a slogan.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at email@example.com.