When the Jon Gruden-to-Raiders rumors were finally proved true in spring 2018, there was a lot of hype created by mainstream sports media, but I’m not sure there was anyone who didn’t look at the 10 years, $100 million he signed for and think “what if this doesn’t work out?” I was certainly one of those people. The players loved former head coach Jack Del Rio, and I thought that the Raiders made a poor decision in firing him. I think that Del Rio was a good coach, and if he had gotten more consistency (in both play and health) out of Derek Carr, they could have made multiple deep postseason runs.
I knew a storm was coming by the time news leaked that Khalil Mack was not on speaking terms with Gruden: they had only spoken once or twice by the time June rolled around.
And then the Mack extension talks went nowhere. Mack was adamant that he would be the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, and the Raiders would not, or could not, give him the money.
So training camp finally rolled around, and Khalil Mack was still nowhere to be found. It became increasingly obvious that he would not play another game in a Raiders uniform.
When I woke up on the morning of September 1, I was getting ready to head to Iowa City for the Iowa Hawkeyes season opener in football when news broke that the Bears and Raiders had reached a trade agreement that included Khalil Mack. As a Bears fan, I was ecstatic, but I still had to laugh at the Raiders.
How do you not pay a future Hall of Famer at an extremely important position, who is never hurt, and is also a great guy? I don’t get it. Sure, the Mack trade did give the Raiders a pair of extra first round picks, but the 2019 pick is going to be way down at 24th given that the Bears made the playoffs, and the 2020 pick will unlikely be any higher.
Also, can we really trust how the Raiders will use these picks? Gruden’s first pick in this tenure as Raiders head coach, offensive tackle Kolton Miller, appears to be a flop at this point in time. “Well,” you could argue, “they now have Mike Mayock as their general manager, and he is an expert draft analyzer, so that should fix it, right?” Well, it may not be that way in reality.
Sure, Mayock may provide some useful scouting, but will Gruden listen? In a recent interview with the press, Mayock was asked about drafting for need versus drafting best player available. “I’m the son of a coach, and I know how coaches think. And coaches think need.” He proceeded to say that the Raiders are a “coach driven building,” implying that Gruden is the boss in Oakland. One person, especially the head coach, should not have such a big voice in an organization. Plus, we’ve seen over the years that drafting for need over best player available rarely correlates to championships.
The draft is just one area where Gruden is incompetent. In free agency/trading, however, Gruden traded Mack for two low first round 50/50 draft picks, and essentially traded Amari Cooper, a pro bowler, who is just 24 years old and is not a bad locker room influence, for Antonio Brown, who is going on 30, is getting paid a massive contract, and is a horrible person who has seemingly lost his mind, and another late first round pick.
Oh, yeah, and who did he replace Khalil Mack with? Vontaze Burfict, another horrible person and dirty player, who just happens to be Brown’s worst nemesis.
But here’s the kicker: Earlier this week, the Raiders sent all their scouts home because they didn’t know who to trust. If you can’t even trust your own scouts, who can you trust? Or maybe that was just Gruden covering himself because his scouts are telling him things that he doesn’t want to hear. Whatever the case, this Gruden thing is never going to work. Not unless he figures out how to work with his colleagues, who probably know more about football than him.