Reggie McKenzie says Raiders will stand behind Aldon Smith

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Saturday, July 30, 2016

NAPA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team would not "bail" on suspended linebacker Aldon Smith, who has reportedly entered an undisclosed rehab facility after a Periscope video on an account purportedly belonging to Smith surfaced last week of an unidentified man and woman showing a hand-rolled cigarette or blunt.

"We're going to support, our deal is to support Aldon from a standpoint of the person," McKenzie said Saturday at training camp of Smith, whose one-year suspension runs until November. "Whether he comes back to us or not, it has no bearing. We told him from Day 1, we care more about you than the player. So, whatever he does to ensure his health, we're going to stand behind him."

The Raiders could not say that Smith, who signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract with no guaranteed money this offseason, is in rehab because they cannot have contact with him while he is under league suspension.

Smith is currently serving a yearlong ban handed down in November for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. He will be eligible to apply for reinstatement in September, 60 days before the one-year anniversary of the suspension.

"We know his situation; it's not that we have blinders, you know?" McKenzie said. "Going into last year, we knew the suspension was probable and it was going to be an uphill battle. He's just going to have to fight the good fight, but we're not going to bail on him. But, he has to do his part."

McKenzie was speaking in the wake of his being re-upped with a four-year contract extension, a move announced Friday night at a team alumni dinner by owner Mark Davis.

"I didn't want him to become a free agent," Davis told "It was time to honor him."

Told of Davis' comments, McKenzie smiled.

"It's a great feeling," McKenzie said. "Any time people recognize the job that you're doing as good work, no matter what, it's a sense of accomplishment.

"The guys that are in the building, all the guys that I'm working with, they saw the plan. It wasn't going to be a quick fix, and I'm not into quick fixes. Like I always said, there's a process and it works. It worked the way that we kind of planned. I still haven't had a winning season, let's get things straight. But, we feel good about the direction it's going. We feel good about the upcoming season and it starts with the players."

McKenzie, who was hired in January of 2012 by Davis three months after the death of Al Davis, oversaw a rebuilding project that has seen the Raiders go 4-12, 4-12, 3-13 and 7-9 and many critics wondered if McKenzie was in over his head.

Even as Davis said all along the team had to be "de-constructed" before being "re-constructed" and patience was needed.

"One of the big things is it showed from ownership, from Mark Davis, he was committed to my plan," McKenzie said. "A lot of credit goes to him. I'm sure he had a lot of phone calls, a lot of people talking to him saying, 'Is Reggie the guy?'"

McKenzie laughed.

"If you're into the quick, fast and hurry (solution), let's try to do this and that, it doesn't last long," he said. "We're trying to get something that lasts. I want to be a consistent, good football team. That's what we're trying to build. We want to try to get on the other side of the .500 mark and just keep going.

"Our goal, ultimate goal from Day 1,we want to hold the trophy and there's a process to that. It's not a quick fix to it. And yeah, I had to dismantle the team; money played a big part of that. But, once we got it straight, we have a plan to try to keep it straight now...Mark being able to see what I envisioned, and he was right along with my plan (so) we're in this thing together. Like I said, he rewarded me and said some good words, because he's been by my side. That's for sure."

McKenzie will have some work to do next offseason as quarterback Derek Carr and All-Pro linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack become eligible for new contracts.

And yes, that is already on McKenzie's mind.

"Yeah, the plan is to keep the good players, like I said, and definitely want to keep our really good players," he said. "I don't foresee those situations arising. We've been planning for those types of players. Mark would come beat me across the head if I let some Hall of Fame-type player leave the building.

"I'm talking to them all the time. I'll take his agent out to dinner any time I see him."

McKenzie laughed again.

"You foster good relationships," he said. "But, the number one thing is you get the players that want to be here. So, that's half the battle. You present a good vibe, coaching staff, good relationships with the players and then you win, that's what you come into, man.

"When you get a winning team, you don't have to work so hard. I had to work really hard those first three years, to not only keep guys, but get guys to come here. So, hopefully it's easier to keep guys that want to be here. Winning cures all and that's what's expected and that's what we're going to do."