Dougherty: Don't dismiss Reggie McKenzie as Packers GM candidate

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie (left) and Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider (right) talk prior to a preseason game in Oakland.

Of the former Green Bay Packers scouts who could be candidates to become the team’s next general manager, John Schneider’s name rings loudest.

But because of NFL rules governing upper-level executive movement, Schneider probably isn’t available. Another former Packers scout, though, could be a sleeper candidate: Reggie McKenzie.

That’s not to say McKenzie is likely to end up as Ted Thompson’s successor. If I had to handicap it in this starting stage of the hiring process, I’d give the best odds to Russ Ball, the Packers’ vice president of football administration/player finance. Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, the Packers' top remaining personnel executives, come in next.

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Still, Mark Murphy, the Packers’ CEO, made it sound like he’s going to conduct a thorough search for his next GM. If that’s the case, it makes sense that he'd check into whether Schneider or McKenzie is interested and available, because both worked with the Packers during Murphy’s tenure and have had measurable success in the GM hot seat since.

Schneider, of course, has won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks, and has the added allure of having grown up in nearby De Pere. But he signed a contract extension just last year that he’s acknowledged doesn’t include an out for the Packers’ GM job.

Though there’s some ambiguity in Schneider’s power-sharing arrangement with coach Pete Carroll in Seattle, the NFL’s anti-tampering policy appears to preclude Schneider from leaving without the Seahawks’ consent. Teams can’t stop a scout from taking a GM promotion with another club, but GMs under contract can’t change teams without approval.

The policy defines a GM as having “primary authority” in football operations and reporting directly to the owner. Or, as “the primary authority over all personnel decisions related to the signing of free agents, the selection of players in the College Draft, trades, and related decisions; and the primary responsibility for coordinating other football activities with the head coach.”

The latter clause appears to apply to Schneider. You have to think the Seahawks signed him to the contract extension last year (reportedly worth $4 million a year) and made sure to exclude any out clause precisely for this circumstance.

McKenzie’s job description, on the other hand, could be more fluid. He’s the Oakland Raiders’ GM with all the power that implies. But Raiders owner Mark Davis’ hiring of Jon Gruden as coach appears to be all but a done deal, and the thinking is, the Raiders probably had to give Gruden total control over football to entice him from the TV booth.

If that’s indeed the case, McKenzie would be GM in name only. He very well might be able to move on without the Raiders’ consent.

McKenzie’s tenure as a scout and front-office executive with the Packers (1994-2011) overlapped with Murphy’s team presidency for five years (’07-11). McKenzie’s winning percentage as Oakland’s GM since 2012 is terrible (.375). But he also took over under abysmal circumstances. The Raiders were in salary-cap jail — more than $30 million over the cap when he signed on — and his first pick in his first draft (2012) wasn’t until late in the third round. That’s no way to build a team.

But he slowly improved a roster that now includes two of the league’s more talented players (Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper) and a potential franchise quarterback (Derek Carr), all drafted in the last four years. The Raiders went 12-4 in 2016 before slipping to 6-10 this season.

Ball probably is the front-runner, but don’t dismiss McKenzie as a sleeper candidate, depending on how the Raiders’ deal with Gruden works out.

In his news conference Tuesday, Murphy said he’s beginning his search for a new GM immediately. Among his most important statements was that the new GM will have the same authority the team has been giving its GMs since former CEO Bob Harlan hired Ron Wolf in late 1991: total control over football operations, including hiring and firing the head coach.

That has been the key to the franchise’s success the last 25 years.

He also confirmed that late in the season the Packers extended coach Mike McCarthy’s contract one year, through 2019. That might appear to be a strange move at first blush, but it was the right thing to do.

McCarthy, among other things, has to hire a new defensive coordinator, and what defensive coordinator with other options wants to go to a team where the head coach has only one year left on his contract?

The Packers have to be willing to eat that money if the next GM wants a different coach after next season. But they can’t just write off 2018. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, they could be right back in the thick of the Super Bowl race next season. They have to give him and McCarthy a fighting chance, and the contract extension helps accomplish that, even if a new GM moves on from McCarthy next year.

Murphy also confirmed he has hired an outside consultant, Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry, to help with the search. Hughes ran the Packers’ search that landed Murphy with the team in 2007.

I’m not a fan of hiring a search firm to help find an NFL GM — I think it’s a waste of money in what is by definition a relatively small pool of candidates. You also can end up with a client of the search firm on your finalist list, which is an inherent conflict of interest.

But Murphy at least acknowledged the hiring of the next GM is solely on him.

“The search firm doesn’t make the decision,” he said. “I will make the decision on who the next general manager is.”

That he will. It’s the most important hire he’ll make and could end up his legacy to the franchise.

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