Reggie McKenzie finally has gained equal footing with the rest of the NFL general managers but having a full complement of draft picks and big money for free agents won't get the Raiders turned around unless he finds a quarterback.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was under the NFL combine spotlight Friday in Indianapolis. Texas A&M's Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Blake Bortles of Central Florida are considered the three quarterbacks who could be worthy of the Raiders' No. 5 draft pick in the first round.
The Raiders need many things besides a quarterback and, while evaluating more than 330 players over the next few days, they plan to adhere to their philosophy of focusing on serious-minded players who put the team first.
Yet it's clear that if McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen can't find a solution to the most important position on the field, the jobs of both men could be on the line. Owner Mark Davis is watching closely, attending his first combine since taking over for his late father.
Manziel hit all the right notes in a jam-packed media session, promising to take the NFL seriously and hinting his hard-partying college days are behind him.
One problem -- he was measured at 5-foot, 11 3/4-inches. Only two quarterbacks 6-1 or smaller (Rex Grossman and Michael Vick) have been taken in the first round since 1970.
"I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion," Manziel said. "I feel I play like I'm 10 feet tall. A measurement to me is just a number."
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock ranks Bridgewater (6-2, 214 pounds) as the most ready to play immediately. Bortles, at 6-5, 232 pounds, has the prototype height and size and enough mobility to get out of trouble.
Allen was complimentary about Manziel but stressed the Raiders had only just begun to dig into the backgrounds of potential draft picks.
"He's able to throw the ball from the pocket and can create things with his feet," said Allen, who, like Manziel, attended Texas A&M. "As we get more into the evaluation process, he'll be fun to evaluate."
While Mayock said film shows that Manziel becomes less comfortable when kept in the pocket, Manziel said, "I'm looking forward to showing up all the people who say I'm just an improviser. I've worked hard at improving my all-around game."
In the past two seasons, during which time they've gone 8-24, the Raiders have had four starting quarterbacks: Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn and Matt McGloin. Only Pryor and McGloin remain, and McKenzie and Allen agree it's possible that neither is the club's quarterback of the future.
Whether the Raiders have the right men in the building to identify their next quarterback is a fair question. McKenzie and Allen have backgrounds on defense, and the club whiffed twice last year by trading for Flynn and using a fourth-round pick on Tyler Wilson. Both were gone early.
Following a 2013 draft that saw the Raiders get minimal production because of injuries to their first two picks -- cornerback DJ Hayden and tackle Menelik Watson -- they need to make the most not only of the draft, but also of free agency. They are projected to be $60.7 million under the salary cap, the most in the NFL.
"This is the most critical year for the Raiders in my memory because they've kind of been through purgatory and they've got to get out of there and make great decisions," Mayock said.
The Raiders have 17 unrestricted free agents with whom they can negotiate exclusively until the free agency period begins March 11.
Among them are two of the most talented home-grown players they've had in years: left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston, the team's best linemen on each side of the ball. Either could be a candidate for the franchise tag ($11.1 million for Veldheer, $12.5 million for Houston) for one-year deals, which must be applied by March 3, although McKenzie said he'd rather work out long-term deals.
Also among the players McKenzie said he'd like to bring back are running back Rashad Jennings, the Raiders' leading rusher in 2013, and free safety Charles Woodson. Starting cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter were on one-year deals last season, and the entire starting defensive line -- including Houston -- have expiring contracts.
If the Raiders opt for an immediate impact starter at No. 5 aside from quarterback, there are others at the position that could be available later, including Fresno State's Derek Carr and San Jose State star David Fales.
The list of potential free-agent quarterbacks is slim. The two most notable names are Philadelphia's Vick, who played in Atlanta when Allen was an assistant there, and Minnesota's Josh Freeman, whose best season came in Tampa Bay when Greg Olson, the Raiders offensive coordinator, was there.
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