Count Reggie McKenzie among those who hope to have clarity soon on the potential future of Marshawn Lynch with the Raiders.
The Raiders’ general manager said Friday that ideally the team will know whether Lynch, the former Seahawks running back, intends to play this season in Oakland before it has to make any decisions on draft day.
“At some point you’d like to know, and prior to the draft is that point,” McKenzie said in his pre-draft press conference. “You would like to know that. But our door is open. And we’re not shutting the door until that time pretty much. Who knows after that? Not going to ever say never. But the door is still open.”
Lynch, 31, has met with the Raiders and visited their facility while weighing a comeback after sitting out last season. Coach Jack Del Rio, who was present for Lynch’s visit, said Friday: “I think every indication that I got was that he was excited to play for the Oakland Raiders.”
But as McKenzie pointed out, it’s not as simple as that. Lynch is still under the Seahawks’ control and is technically retired. He would have to be reinstated by the NFL and the two teams would have to work out a trade.
Knowing whether they’ll have Lynch in their backfield when mini-camp starts, though, could affect where the Raiders select a running back in the draft, which starts Thursday.
The Raiders bring back DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, who combined for 958 rushing yards last season. But both are smaller runners who mostly complemented feature back Latavius Murray, who departed this offseason in free agency.
Lynch was one of the league’s most physical runners during his career but has not played since 2015 and appeared in just eight games in his final season.
“We’re not going to go out of our way to just grab a certain big back,” McKenzie said. “We feel good about the young backs we have. If we can add another back, we will. We’re trying to get some more impact players. And if it’s Marshawn, whoever, we’re going to do it.”
This is considered a deep draft when it comes to running backs. One of the most talented and controversial players is Joe Mixon, the former Oklahoma back who in 2014 punched a female student in the face at a restaurant near campus, breaking four bones.
Mixon, who was 18 at the time, was suspended for most of the 2014 season. The victim, Amelia Molitor, filed a civil lawsuit. Friday, Molitor and Mixon issued a joint statement saying they reached a settlement out of court.
The Raiders reportedly had Mixon in for a visit last month, and McKenzie said Friday that Mixon, who attended Oakley High in the Bay Area, “really came across as a good kid.”
“He came off very well and explained each and every thing,” McKenzie said. “Every question that we had, he had an explanation. He was up-front about everything.”
In evaluating players before the draft, McKenzie said, “Every decision will be well researched … We’re going to make it to where that decision is based on all the facts, all the research and on the kid moving forward.”
Overall, the Raiders are expected to use their eight draft picks heavily on the defensive side, shoring up a unit that ranked 26th in the league in total defense last season. The most glaring needs may be in the second and third levels, as the Raiders were prone to giving up big plays last season.
The Raiders are especially thin at middle linebacker, where they lost Malcolm Smith to the 49ers in free agency. Asked about the linebacker corps Friday, McKenzie said, “We’re going to get us a couple, I hope, at some point before we play in September.”
It does not sound as though the Raiders are counting on reinforcements in the form of troubled linebacker Aldon Smith, who’s been suspended by the NFL since November 2015 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Smith was scheduled to meet with the league last month about potential reinstatement, but then Smith was detained March 9 by San Francisco police for public intoxication.
“As far as Aldon and the draft, our thought process is just on the draft, not considering Aldon at this point,” McKenzie said. “He’s still on the suspension list. So we’re not considering him at this point.”