With the recent news of an attempted Khalil Mack trade, it appears the Las Vegas Raiders were ready to eat crow on the historic trade. This only emphasizes a recent trend of admitting fault. While you would rather not have to do this, it is encouraging.
The art of team building in sports is nowhere near an exact science. This rings especially true in the NFL where rosters are large and ever-changing. It goes without saying but when constructing a roster of 53 players, mistakes will be made. Under Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, they have made their fair share. However, they are smart enough to identify these mistakes.
In the case of Khalil Mack, the Raiders traded him away for a massive haul of draft picks back in 2018. As one of the best pass rushers in Raiders history, Mack was the biggest part of the Raiders’ 2014 rebuild.
Good pass rushers are hard to find…
When Gruden came in, however, he was ousted to Chicago. Instantly, Mack went to work and continued to be one of the best players in the entire NFL. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ defense floundered without him. “Good pass rushers are hard to find” is the famous quote used by Jon Gruden and he figured that out quickly in his second Raiders tenure. As such, when the Bears were faced with salary cap troubles, Gruden was able to swallow his pride and approach Chicago about bringing the superstar pass rusher back to the Raiders. While he would be denied, it is a positive step in the Raiders’ team-building process.
Don’t Cling To Mistakes
This thinking has also been applied to draft picks and free agency acquisitions. In the 2019 and 2020 NFL drafts, the Raiders made some surprising selections. In the first rounds, it was defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell and cornerback Damon Arnette. Despite being high selections in recent draft classes, the Raiders coaching staff has both men running with the backups in the 2021 preseason. While the team easily could have kept putting both players out there in the starting lineup, they appear to have made the smart choice this preseason.
Also in the 2020 draft, the Raiders selected Lynn Bowden Jr. in the third round. The multipurpose athlete starred at the University of Kentucky prompting the Raiders to select him. However, the Raiders almost instantly realized he wasn’t going to be a fit with what they were building. As a result, the Raiders traded him to Miami before he even played a game in Las Vegas. Many, myself included, were stunned to see a high draft pick moved so quickly in his career but it appears the Raiders were right. The selection wasn’t a total waste as the Raiders received a fourth-round pick in return which was then packaged in a trade-up to acquire Tre’von Moehrig.
What about free agency?
After Mack’s sendoff, the Raider had cap space in droves. With this cap space, Las Vegas was able to add a multitude of players. Among them, were offensive tackle Trent Brown and safety Lamarcus Joyner. Trent Brown, a mountain of a man, was supposed to lock down the right side for years to come. Alas, two years into a four-year, $66 million contract, he was traded away. The trade came after a multitude of injuries, being diagnosed with Covid-19, and a general feeling that he didn’t want to be on the Raiders.
In the case of Joyner, he just didn’t live up to his contract. After being added to a four-year, $42 million contract in 2019, he was released in the 2021 offseason. Similar was the case with wideout Tyrell Williams who was added the same year.
Positive steps forward
All of this excludes the discussion to be had about Antonio Brown. This was of course a choice practically made for them but is an example of the Raiders’ unwillingness to put up with players that don’t fit their vision. Of course, Raiders fans would rather the team not have to admit to any mistakes. However, this is not a reasonable expectation. Every team in the NFL is going to make mistakes in terms of team building. All that fans can hope for is that their team is willing to admit them. The Raiders have done a good job of this. Now the goal shifts to minimizing these mistakes and not repeating them. Regardless, under Gruden one thing is for sure with the Raiders: What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Ben Margot