ALAMEDA — Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie never doubted he would bring back coach Dennis Allen for a third year despite back-to-back 4-12 records.
If anything, McKenzie believes the team is on the cusp of turning around what has been a decade-long tailspin and likes the direction the franchise is moving under Allen.
Speaking to reporters for the first time in more than two months, McKenzie said Thursday that he purposely kept a low profile while rumors swirled about Allen’s job status during the final month of the regular season in hopes the chatter would go away.
“It was not an issue with me,” McKenzie said. “I understand how things kind of go in different directions when it gets toward the end of the season throughout the league when predicting who’s going to be in, who’s going to be out. But I wasn’t going to play into that.
“I wasn’t going to add fuel to just to put out a fire that wasn’t there.”
Oakland ended the season on a six-game losing streak and dropped eight of its last nine. Allen’s 8-24 record after two years is the worst of any Raiders coach in franchise history since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. McKenzie still gave Allen a vote of confidence and pointed out the team’s dearth of talent on the roster.
On that front, McKenzie said he and owner Mark Davis agree.
“He saw some progress in some areas, absolutely,” McKenzie said. “But it’s the bottom line, and like myself, Mark wants some better results.
“Definitely we lack some talent in some areas, no question. We’re fully aware of some of the places we’re lacking offensively and defensively. We’re trying to upgrade at quarterback, at receiver, linemen on both sides. The whole defense.”
Oakland’s second-year general manager also touched on several other topics during the 45-minute conversation with a small group of selected reporters at the team’s facilities.
Dressed casually in a Raiders sweatshirt, black-and-white shorts and shower shoes, McKenzie spoke in a quiet tone but talked enthusiastically about heading into the offseason armed with more than $50 million worth of salary cap space and a full allotment of draft picks.
That was something he didn’t have in either of the two previous years when the Raiders’ payroll was saddled with bloated contracts that limited the general manager’s ability to sign other free agents.
“Now you get to make some decisions from a standpoint of … not going through the list of who I have to release to get under the cap,” McKenzie said. “We can start building and adding some players, and try to keep guys that we don’t want out. It’s a heightened sense of let’s get this thing going.”
Among a long list of offseason decisions McKenzie has to make is what to do at quarterback.
Terrelle Pryor beat out McKenzie’s hand-picked selection, Matt Flynn, for the job coming out of training camp but lost it to undrafted Matt McGloin midway through the season. Both quarterbacks struggled to move the offense consistently, a big reason Oakland finished 24th in passing and 24th in scoring.
“I just want a quarterback that can be consistent and can rally that team to move up and down the field and make plays,” McKenzie said. “(McGloin) came in and I thought he did a pretty good job for what he was asked to do. Terrelle’s got a ways to go with the decision making and the timing. It’s a process and we’ll see what happens this offseason.”
The Raiders already made one small change at quarterback, signing journeyman Trent Edwards shortly after the regular season ended. McKenzie hinted the team will possibly look to bring in another veteran at the position.
McKenzie has other issues on the roster to address as well.
He said he wants to re-sign running back Rashad Jennings and acknowledged that Darren McFadden — the fourth overall pick in 2008 — will test the free agent market now that his contract with Oakland has expired.
Safety Charles Woodson, left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston — all pending free agents — are also among McKenzie’s offseason priorities. While he didn’t rule out using the franchise tag to keep either Veldheer or Houston, McKenzie would prefer to get both signed to long-term deals.
“It’s always a possibility but I don’t like to really go there as my option,” McKenzie said of the franchise tag. “I would like to negotiate a deal. You don’t want to use (the tag). Hopefully we wouldn’t need to.”