In January after a nine-year hiatus from professional coaching in the NFL Jon Gruden was announced as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders with a lucrative 10-year deal worth over $100 Million. When this was announced a lot of Oakland fans were split on what they thought about this decision of bringing back Gruden especially on a deal that massive.
Many were happy while many were upset as well and only time will tell what sort of decision this was by the Raiders brass. However, halfway through his first season a lot of fans are upset with not only the team’s performance but also the decisions that Gruden and the front office have decided to make.
Taking a step back and analyzing things from Gruden’s eyes, some of the decisions make sense. The caliber of players that they have let go is another thing especially considering the return on investment.
The Raiders have been mediocre to poor dating back all the way to 2003, aside from 2016 where the team went 12-4 but lost in the wild-card round. After nine years away, Gruden went to an organization that announced it will be moving to Las Vegas in 2020 and leaving its Oakland fan base for the second time. Not the easiest situation to come into.
Accepting the job, Gruden realized this and he has been determined to turn around the culture of a franchise that has consistently underachieved. Gruden has had to make some difficult decisions in order to implement the type of system he wants to run as the head coach.
Gruden wants to leave his mark on the who the players are in his locker room. The guys he selected, the guys he drafted, the guys he traded for, the guys that are leaving it on the field for him. Buying into Gruden’s way is something that most of the Raiders aren’t doing right now.
This is a different level but if you look at the NCAA, coaches there want to win with people they bring in, not the last recruiting class of the previous coach. When Gruden signed a 10-year deal he was being offered that opportunity.
Take the factor of moving to Las Vegas into it, the focus is on making a successful organization to be built there. With players Gruden has put his stamp on and are buying into his philosophy.
Looking at some of the guys who have been released or traded since Gruden has come aboard: Marquette King, arguably one of the best punters when entering this season, Khalil Mack, one of the best pass rushers in the league, Amari Cooper, a former first-round pick at receiver, and recently Bruce Irvin, a leader on a young defense.
With King, it was a decision based on moving on from an outspoken and difficult personality. With Mack, it was determined that the type of contract he commanded was too much to afford over the long term.
With Cooper, it seemed like he just wasn’t fitting it in and it was time to move on. For Irvin, it was a move to get rid of somebody who had grown disgruntled with the team’s rebuilding direction.
Getting a first rounder for Mack in 2019 and 2020 along with a third in 2020 and sixth in 2019 is a solid haul of young players to bring into Gruden’s system. Although banking on college players making the transition to be productive pros is a massive gamble but if the scouts in Oakland and of course Gruden like what they see it can be lucrative.
Addressing the future at quarterback could be the next step in this progressive rebuild. If Gruden decides to move on from Derek Carr and bring in a high draft pick in 2019 to groom to become the franchise quarterback in 2020 or even 2021 could make savvy financial sense.
With a fully rebuilt team and a new QB on a rookie contract means there is more cap room to improve the rest of the roster. Looking at the Rams this year and before that, the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks of 2013 both have been done with quarterbacks still on their rookie deals.
This left room for Seahawks general manager John Schneider and Rams GM Les Snead to portion their money around the team, particularly on defense adding some weapons offense while playing with a low budget young and exciting QB. This model could be the solution as the team looks towards its fresh start in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas will be a marquee market with the new stadium and new young pieces being brought in. The bright lights of Vegas and new tax implications should pique the interest of free agents which can fuel that rookie QB model and possibly form a new black hole on the defense for the soon to be Las Vegas Raiders.
But, with bright lights come bright publicity. With young players on the roster and not many veterans in the locker room, Las Vegas can be a place where young players find themselves making headlines for reasons outside of football.
Ultimately, it is going to be up to Gruden and Raiders front office to mix the rookies with some vets that can guide the young guys in the right direction. Las Vegas is already the fight capital of the world, a leading spot for professional motorsports, a gambling mecca and the future home of a storied NFL franchise. The possibilities for Gruden and the Raiders in their new home are certainly intriguing.
The performance on the field hasn’t been great, but it is his first season coaching in nine years so the results are understandable.
Gruden said it the best when discussing the decision behind trading Mack.
“Obviously, Khalil Mack didn’t want to play here. That’s what’s being missed here. He was under contract, he never showed up for an OTA, he never showed up for training camp, and it was obvious he wasn’t going to show up for the season. So, don’t forget that. We have to get ready to play and I want players who want to be here, want to help us put this thing back in high gear.”
Gruden is right, if Mack wanted to play in Oakland he would have been there. As the new coach Gruden wanted to make a statement, make the trade and focus on the future of bringing in guys that want to be a part of his team.
The NFL landscape has changed and it took some time for Gruden to adjust but he has a plan. Granted maybe most of the public doesn’t see it yet, but Gruden knows this type of overhaul doesn’t happen overnight.
If this season was a surprise with some of the changes the Raiders made, this offseason maybe even more so. Possibly a quarterback change and more big-time moves for what is on the field. The ultimate goal for the Raiders and Gruden is putting their sights on Las Vegas and seeing the Raiders name in the big lights there with a hopeful championship contending team. The next couple years will be the telling time on if Gruden can pull it off and make good on his expensive contract.