The Oakland Raiders were calm, collected and cool during free agency. The team didn’t succumb to the allure of a high-profile talent — much to the chagrin of many in Raider Nation — and inked players who have the requisite skills but at a much more affordable rate.
Will the Raiders display that same patience and reserve come draft day?
This is a tricky question that doesn’t have a definitive answer. And that’s all due to Jon Gruden. We’ll get back to him in a moment.
Prior drafts under the direction of general manager Reggie McKenzie saw Oakland lie in wait.
Oakland can simply wait out the process and sit tight until it’s on the clock at No. 10 in this year’s draft. An impact prospect is going to be ripe for the picking at that spot. A trade down is also a possibility if the player atop the Raiders’ board can be had later in the round. After all, McKenzie is in the business of keeping or acquiring more draft selections, not dealing them.
Alright, back to Gruden … He came back to Oakland on the premise of making the Raiders relevant again. That is no easy task for the head coach. But with that increased degree of difficulty comes sway.
“Jon’s the head coach and he’s going to be here a while, so it’s important that he gets the players he wants and builds a team he wants to build,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Scott Bair. “Reggie is there with his staff to find the players, and also to keep the (salary) cap and everything else in order.”
Gruden the talent man and McKenzie the contracts man?
It’s not difficult to see McKenzie’s role change with Gruden in town. McKenzie was the final say on roster moves when Dennis Allen and Jack Del Rio were the head coaches. With Gruden — a coach on a 10-year, reportedly $100 million contract — influence and maybe, even final say, reside with Chucky.
Gruden appeared content waiting until the outrageously expensive first wave of free agency subsided allowing the Raiders to sign players that fit his and new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s respective system. The additions filled some holes giving the Raiders an opportunity to take the best player available.
Yet, with a roster lacking serious star power outside of Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Marshawn Lynch, the temptation to grab a star prospect may be too strong for Gruden.
Unlike the cat-and-mouse game of free agency where bank accounts become flush with cash, the NFL changed rookie contracts for the better with a slotted, pre-determined system. So draft-day misses aren’t as catastrophic to the salary cap as they once were making the exercise affordable. You get a scenario where teams can say “Oh, our draft pick busted, it wasn’t that expense.” Or “Man, this kid really developed and we have him under a relatively cheap contract for years to come”.
It’s not clear how Gruden feels about draft capital. Does he hold picks in the same regard as McKenzie? Or is he willing to part with them to land a talent the Raiders wouldn’t be able to acquire unless selections are dealt?
Gruden is in a no-lose situation, really.
If acquisitions flourish, he will heap the praise as fans and pundits will pinpoint Chucky as the reason. If the additions fail, the spotlight will be on McKenzie and the GM will be pelted with venom for the failures.
That’s a situation that beckons a little gambling, no?
Perhaps the Raiders tickle the Vegas fancy this April.