Coaching regimes change demand a changing of the guard. Jon Gruden has reentered the NFL coaching ranks in a highly favorable situation. Under contract is a franchise quarterback, an explosive misused wide receiver, arguably the best edge defender in the game, one of the best offensive lines in football and, after all of that, we come to the perks.
New coaches need new players and usually inherit great draft positions. The Raiders were awarded six compensatory picks in the 2018 draft. Finishing with identical 6-10 records in 2017, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers will flip a coin for the 9 & 10 draft slots at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Gruden has already overhauled the coaching staff and has been carefully poring over the film of 2017 to see exactly which players can help him win in 2018, and who won’t survive the cut.
The return of Gruden marks the first time an “offensive guy” has held the job since Hue Jackson back in the 2011 season. While the coach and the general manager will be working hand in hand as they always do, Gruden will be responsible for the offense and McKenzie the defense. Gruden is pleased with the team he inherited and, while some tweaks need to be made, it is far from a rebuilding project. Mark Davis appears all in on winning now in Oakland and ignoring rebuilding calls after a 6-10 season.
According to overthecap.com, the Oakland Raiders are headed into the offseason with $19.276M in salary cap space. The Raiders have a total of 23 players who can be cut without one cent of dead money, which could easily clear over $50M towards the salary cap and allow them to head into free agency with around $72M in cap space.
Say what you will about Reggie McKenzie, but make sure to include “cap-ologist.” McKenzie has done a masterful job of acquiring talent and conducting the cap hits to a near non-issue during his tenure with the Raiders. Tack on being able to shed dead-weight on what appears to be a nearly year-to-year basis and the Raiders stay out of financial purgatory.
Speculation is aplenty about who is staying and who is leaving the Raider locker room. My guess of players who will not be on the team in 2018 is as follows: Jared Cook, Sean Smith, Michael Crabtree, Clive Walford, Marshall Newhouse, Seth Roberts, Jihad Ward, Darius Latham, Jalen Richard, and Bruce Irvin.
Jared Cook is rumored to have fallen out of favor resulting in lower targets down the stretch and a lack of involvement. Sean Smith has upcoming legal issues and while a scheme change benefitted him greatly, his price tag is too high.
Michael Crabtree has been ostracized as a pariah and labeled “that guy”; in addition to his cap number it appears a change of scenery is upcoming. Clive Walford just hasn’t quite caught on and is frequently injured. Marshall Newhouse is a head-scratcher. While having a solid year and being relatively inexpensive considering the necessity of the position, he seems to not be in line with his new coaches’ philosophy.
Seth Roberts is a great blocker with subpar hands. In the Gruden offense, receivers need to have great hands and can get away with being subpar blockers. Jihad Ward is dissatisfied with the way he’s being used and wants away from “snakes.” Jalen Richard had a great rookie season as an undrafted free agent; unfortunately, ball security issues from scatbacks are a no-no. Darius Latham is good in the run game and that’s about it, and that’s also not good enough.
Bruce Irvin is the most mysterious man on this list. He has the inconsistent statistical production that is baffling. As a whole, the stats look great, but there are too many games where he isn’t making an impact. The $17M owed to him over the next two years makes him expendable; not to mention with Ken Norton Jr. taking up defensive coordinator in Seattle, perhaps a reunion is in the cards.
Omitted from the list of guys not expected to be back is Marshawn Lynch and that’s because he’s a special case. Lynch is scheduled to make $5.9M and word around the campfire is a re-worked deal is desired moving forward. Lowering his $4M base bay while minimizing bonus money and incentivizing the deal should be the aim here. Lynch is loved by Mr. Davis and will be given every opportunity to stay.
The spirit of “the town” flowing through Lynch is what attracts coach Gruden to him, the toughness with which he plays and the edge he brings. Oakland, California is a place like no other, which can bring out the best in you. Being all about Oakland and being “about that action” will directly counteract being the unnamed player whose coachability has come into question.
As it stands now Lynch is a member of the 10,000-yard club, soon to be a 32-year-old warhorse with one game over 100 (101) yards in 2017. While he punched it in for nine touchdowns, paying him the $5.9M he’s scheduled to make is upside down in today’s NFL. Lynch is going to be Lynch and Beast Mode does what Beast Mode does. With that being said, how that is going to work out with an uber-disciplinarian is a matter of wait and see.
The Raiders are in the best possible position for a team in flux. The coach is a retread only in former employment. Gruden has more tape on football than anyone on this earth and has been working with every fired coach in America for the last ten years. If anyone knows how to use the talent on this team properly, it will be him.
The draft slot, whether it be nine or ten, is still a top ten pick and will allow the Raiders to draft impact players one after another. The salary cap can easily open up to accommodate the free agent market and there appears to be no reason why this team can’t make a drastic turnaround in 2018.