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ORLANDO, Fla. – General manager Reggie McKenzie signed nine unrestricted free agents, locked down four of his own guys and traded for a quarterback of the near and possibly intermediate future.
He was happy with the haul, but a few unexpected disappointments stick with him still.
“It didn’t go 100 percent as we wanted, but I got some things answered,” McKenzie said at the NFL owners meetings. “We added some key position players. We added depth and leadership. Some of those things went well.
“I don’t like losing my own players, but it happened and I’ve moved on.”
McKenzie wasn’t lying in January when he told local reporters he wanted to keep left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston, running back Rashad Jennings and safety Charles Woodson. It was a disappointment that he went 1-for-4.
The Raiders moved on and rebuilt well with quality veteran additions like Justin Tuck and Donald Penn, but McKenzie said they weren't part of the original plan.
“As it turned out, they didn’t want to come back,” McKenzie said. “That’s nothing I can control, unless you completely overpay. That’s not what we want to do.”
The Raiders had the salary cap space available to franchise tag Houston or Veldheer especially, but kept that option in their pocket. It was a choice McKenzie stands by. At the tag deadline, three weeks before free agency began, he was confident those players would return for market-value deals.
Within 24 hours of the March 11 start to free agency, all three were gone. Veldheer committed to Arizona, Houston went to Chicago and Jennings boarded a plane to sign with the New York Giants.
The Giants made Jennings an offer he couldn’t refuse. Houston got a comparable deal and chose to sign Chicago’s contract. Veldheer? That negotiation was a confounding one.
Veldheer’s camp told CSN Bay Area on March 12 that the Raiders didn’t make a competitive offer, prompting the offensive lineman to leave when he wanted to stay.
McKenzie said Monday that the Raiders were always committed to keeping him.
"We were going to pay whatever the market was," McKenzie said. "That's what we told him. Whatever the market was."
There was a discrepancy with what the market value was.
“There was a negotiation, and they had a number that was not close to where we were,” McKenzie said. “That’s how it started. There was no hiccup. It was just they way they negotiated. He's in his first negotiation, so it was a little different.”
The Raiders responded with a flurry of productive signings and the Friday trade for quarterback Matt Schaub, transactions that should provide significant roster upgrades.
The Raiders are improved and moving toward this offseason with confidence but less continuity. McKenzie’s long-term philosophy is to build through the draft and reward worthy players with extensions. That didn’t happen this time around.
“From a business standpoint, at some point, we couldn’t come to a mutual agreement with the player on what that value was,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said.
“It’s disappointing because you want to try to keep some of those young players and keep them around; but yet you have to be diligent in the way you handle the salary cap, too.”