Draft vitally important as McKenzie tries to rebuild Raiders
NFL insiders believe general manager needs time fix mess he inherited

Reggie McKenzie has been Raiders general manager for just 15 months. He has never had the authority to make a first-round NFL draft pick, or even a second-rounder.

So is it too soon to call the 2013 draft a defining moment for the soft-spoken former NFL linebacker?

Not necessarily. This is, after all, the National Football League, where patience is measured in minutes and loyalty is as rare as a fullback who carries the ball.

“Well, it’s the start of a new regime, and the first step on the road, hopefully, to championship football,” said Bill Polian, the long time Bills and Colts GM who now does studio analysis for ESPN. “Last year was a situation where he had to come in and essentially dismantle an organization that had fallen on awfully hard times. He was hamstrung by the (salary) cap and by the number of choices he had. He did the best he could.”

Indeed, just about everyone would give McKenzie a pass for the Raiders’ 4-12 season in 2012. Backed into a financial corner — the Raiders were $31 million over the cap — he couldn’t afford any prominent free agents. And the wheeling and dealing of late owner Al Davis and former coach Hue Jackson had left Oakland without a draft pick until No. 95 overall, deep into the third round.

This offseason is different. The Raiders still don’t have a lot of spending money, and their modest free-agency activity reflects that. But they own the third overall pick in the draft, a selection that will help to shape McKenzie’s tenure with the team.

Matt Millen, for one, downplays the importance of this one draft on McKenzie’s reputation. Millen played alongside McKenzie for four seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders and later served as general manager of the Detroit Lions for seven-plus years.

“Once you get a coach in, you have get the kind of people to fit the kind of schemes you want to run. That usually takes three years,” Millen said. “Also — and this part is kind of untalked-about — it usually takes a good three years to get your staff right. I told Reggie all that. Coach (John) Madden told me that years ago. This draft is, while pivotal, and it will be part of his base there, still not a defining one.”

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