If Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan sees his Raiders counterpart, Reggie McKenzie, on the field in Oakland on Sunday, he may want to pull him aside and ask for some tips.
McKenzie has pulled off what Maccagnan hopes to — rebuilding an organization from the ground level and making a moribund franchise a Super Bowl contender.
The Jets are at the early stages of the process that the Raiders began in 2012. They are searching for those franchise-changing draft picks that McKenzie landed in quarterback Derek Carr and outside linebacker Khalil Mack. They are looking for the right blend of free agents and draft picks who can carry a team to the playoffs.
When the Raiders hired McKenzie, they had missed the playoffs for nine straight years. “Commitment to Excellence” was nothing but a phrase painted on the wall. McKenzie, a Raiders linebacker in the ’80s, came from the Packers with a reputation as a shrewd talent evaluator. That was the same thing the Jets saw in Maccagnan in 2015.
McKenzie struggled at first and fans were losing patience with him as recently as 2014 when the team started 0-10. He hired the wrong head coach and had blown the call on two quarterbacks. The Raiders looked destined to stay at the bottom of the AFC West.
It could be a feeling Jets fans get familiar with this season if the Jets play as expected. The lesson from the Raiders, though, is things do not change overnight.
“Patience was the key,” McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle in January. “From 2012 to now, it’s very good to see we have players whose contracts we’d like to extend. I’m talking about young, up-and-coming cornerstones, and now Pro Bowl players.”
The major difference between what McKenzie pulled off and what Maccagnan is attempting is that McKenzie began the rebuild when he was hired. Maccagnan is now doing it in Year 3 of his time with the Jets. Still, there are lessons to be learned.
Some fans are pointing to Maccagnan’s track record with quarterbacks and saying that is reason he should not be allowed to make the pick in 2018, if the Jets are taking a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft. But McKenzie made plenty of mistakes of his own before righting the Raiders. He whiffed with quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Flynn, and Dennis Allen was the wrong fit as coach.
McKenzie hit the jackpot in the 2014 draft when he took Mack in the first round and Carr in the second. He added guard Gabe Jackson, a starter, in the third round. That draft changed the course of the team. McKenzie also hit in free agency with offensive linemen Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn, who all went to the Pro Bowl last season.
Maccagnan now must prove he has the eye for talent that McKenzie has shown. After that 0-10 start in 2014, the Raiders won three of their final six games, a sign of better times ahead. Jack Del Rio was hired in 2015, they added wide receiver Amari Cooper in the draft, and it was clear they were on the rise, going 7-9 that year. Last year, they made the playoffs and would have been a Super Bowl contender if not for the broken leg Carr suffered at the end of the regular season.
When the Jets and Raiders take the field Sunday in Oakland, they will be two teams in vastly different places. This will be a party for the Raiders fans witnessing the home opener with hometown hero Marshawn Lynch in silver and black. All Jets fans feel about this game is dread.
Jets fans can look at the Raiders, though, and remember it was not that long ago they were at the same place the Jets are now.
There is hope for the future. It wouldn’t hurt for Maccagnan to ask for a few pointers from McKenzie, though.
Of everything that came out of Sunday’s Jets loss to the Bills, the hardest to figure out is what to make of the team’s offensive line.
It performed well in the passing game, but the running game was nonexistent. Josh McCown had plenty of time to throw for most of the day, and showed what he could do with it. New right tackle Brandon Shell surrendered only one pressure on 42 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Left guard James Carpenter also allowed one pressure. The offensive line as a whole gave up just four pressures all game, according to PFF.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is Jets running backs had nowhere to run all day. Jets runners averaged a dismal 2.5 yards per carry. Part of the reason was Buffalo stacking the box to stop the run, but the Jets must find a way to overcome that. Teams are going to do that all year to them with the quality of their wide receivers.
Offensive coordinator John Morton can help by calling more deep shots to make defenses back off the line of scrimmage.
The offensive line was expected to be one of the weak spots of this team. After Sunday, the jury is still out.