OAKLAND, Calif. -- After winning a game the Raiders absolutely had to win against the Chargers, a 27-17 test of their mental and physical resolve on Sunday night, general manager Reggie McKenzie stood in the hallway outside the team's locker room with an excited smile on his face. One by one, he acknowledged coaches and players as they emerged from behind the double doors, giving them a nod or a handshake for a job well done.
McKenzie was speaking with a visitor when Matt Flynn approached. Flynn was acquired in a trade last April to be the starting quarterback but wound up losing the job in training camp and plunging to third string last week, just days after an awful performance in relief of injured starter Terrelle Pryor. It was an awkward moment, Flynn, standing a few feet away, looking as if he wanted to say something, and McKenzie using non-verbal expressions to try to convey that nothing needed to be said.
McKenzie then smiled and pumped a motivational fist as if to say to Flynn: "It's OK. It's OK."
Less than 12 hours later Flynn was no longer a Raider. In a stunning, though not completely shocking move, the team released him Monday morning, six months after surrendering a fifth-round pick in next year's draft and $6.5 million in guarantees to acquire him from Seattle. The deal also included a conditional fifth-round pick in 2015, but it was negated now that there's no chance of Flynn being on Oakland's roster in 2014.
"I don't know exactly what the reason was, why that didn't work, but it didn't work," coach Dennis Allen said of the trade. "Terrelle came in and took over the job. He's earned the position that he's in, so we just felt like it was probably best to go ahead and move on from that."
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If it wasn't clear that the deal would fail in training camp, when Pryor beat out Flynn, it was transparent two weeks ago after Flynn bombed while starting for Pryor, who was sidelined with a concussion. Even players who supported Pryor at that point still believed Flynn could be a contributor as a backup. But in the 24-14 loss to Washington, he appeared completely out of sorts in the second half.
The Raiders had eight possessions in the final two quarters, but only one longer than four plays. Flynn lacked pocket awareness and was sacked four times to go along with two lost fumbles. Even when his protection was good, he held the ball longer than he should have, perhaps fearful of making a mistake after having an interception returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Allen was hard on him after the game, although he softened his comments the next day. Still, the writing was on the wall when Flynn was demoted to third string, behind undrafted rookie Matt McGloin. The debate now is whether McKenzie, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment, should be applauded for cutting his losses or criticized for missing on such an important position.
His track record on quarterbacks is dubious at the moment. While working for Green Bay, he studied Flynn extensively coming out of college. He felt strong enough about him to restructure his deal to guarantee Flynn at least an additional $1 million this season. As if that weren't bad enough, he used a fourth-round pick on Tyler Wilson in this year's draft, then waived him in the preseason. When no team saw enough in Wilson to claim him on waivers, McKenzie signed him to the practice squad.
It's also no secret that Pryor, who had only one career start coming into the season, wasn't viewed as a legitimate starter candidate coming into the season. That's why the deal for Flynn was made. But Pryor forced everyone, including management, to rethink the situation.
Josh Freeman, the fifth-year veteran who was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, saved the Raiders from another potentially awkward or embarrassing situation on Sunday when he chose to sign with the Vikings instead of the Bills or Raiders. Think about the circus that could've ensued if Freeman had opted for Oakland. What kind of doubt could that have put in Pryor's mind, at a time when he is starting to blossom?
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"When I heard about it, I'm like, 'Geez, I haven't played terribly,' " Pryor said Sunday night. "The two losses I played in were to Indianapolis and Denver, two of the top teams in the league. I was thinking, 'Maybe they don't like me.' "
Pryor chuckled after the last comment, but was any consideration given to what the Freeman discussions might do to the young quarterback?
"No, no, no," McKenzie said Sunday night outside the locker room. "That's my job to make us the strongest 53-man roster possible, at every position, from one to three (on the depth chart). I'm sure Terrelle would feel pretty good about what he's doing, but he has to go through that type of maturity too. It was more for the team, not about him, at all. Like I was telling my coaches, I'm going to try to strengthen this team. I'm trying to get the best 53, and you put them together, let them practice and if you like them, keep them. If you don't."
McKenzie basically shrugged.
"It's really that simple," he said.
If you don't believe him, ask Matt Flynn.