The 2018 free agency frenzy is rapidly approaching as it officially starts on March 14th. Shortly after the madness of free agency subsides, the Oakland Raiders will turn their focus to the NFL draft. It will mark Jon Gruden’s first draft with the Raiders since 2001.
Despite only coaching the Raiders for a period that spanned four years, Gruden became a household name for his aggressive coaching style. The Raiders had a taste of success before he was traded and won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002. The good fortune Gruden had in both Tampa Bay and Oakland was in large part to a high level of execution in the off-season process. One he will seek to emulate in his second go-around with the Silver and Black.
Starting in 1998, the Raiders were fortunate enough to draft the reigning Heisman Trophy Winner, one of the greatest defensive backs to ever lace them up, Charles Woodson.
Mo Collins solidified the “O-line” unit after he was selected with the No. 23 overall pick. In the third round, the Raiders nabbed Jon Ritchie, who was the bloody bruiser that paved the way for Charlie Garner’s three seasons of 1,700 plus yards from scrimmage.
Cornerback Eric Allen was also traded to the Raiders in March of ’98 in exchange for a mid-round selection in that year’s draft. Allen turned in a remarkable career with Oakland. He compiled 15 interceptions from 98-01 while finding pay-dirt three times and was the one of the squad’s most outstanding player on defense in 2000.
1999 Free Agency
The next step forward came from the signing of the league’s future MVP, Rich Gannon. The gunslinger etched his name on the dotted line for a measly 4-years, $16 million. Gannon had previously played for the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. From that moment on, Gannon took the torch and never looked back. He would claim MVP honors as he led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002.
The new century brought two special teamers that will no doubt go into the Hall of Fame someday. Sebastian Janikowski was shockingly taken by Gruden and Al Davis in the first round with the 17th pick. It’s something that will never be forgotten by the NFL community anytime soon. Later in the fifth round, Shane Lechler became the punter for what turned out to be the following 12 years in Oakland. Lechler earned seven Pro Bowls and dubious amounts of awards/records during his career in the Silver & Black. Wide receiver Jerry Porter also made a name for himself as a second-round selection as he played eight seasons for the Silver and Black.
2001 Free Agency
In the spring of 2001, Gruden’s decision-making landed him the talents of Charlie Garner and the greatest receiver ever in Jerry Rice. Garner paired with Gannon, Ritchie, Brown, Porter, Rice, and a stellar offensive line created a fierce offensive attack that took the league by storm. Garner’s open-field elusiveness and agility were a thing of beauty. Rice continued to impress everyone with his ageless abilities that went into his forties. This veteran-led group promptly lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl, a destination Gruden’s 2018 squad will soon be aiming for.
Not all of Gruden’s moves were perfect but his track record is undeniable when it comes to working with quarterbacks. From Gannon to Brad Johnson and Jeff Garcia in Tampa Bay, history has shown us that Gruden knows what he is doing with QB’s. Derek Carr paired with Gruden should not only create a highlight-reel of an offense, but a trip to the big game will likely come of it. Looking into the not so distant future the excitement for Raider Nation is going to be as palpable as ever. Ramble On Raider Nation!