The Oakland Raiders, like every team in the NFL, are looking to put together a “super plan” for winning it all in 2018-2019.
Stretched between a rock and a hard place salary cap-wise, they chose not to overpay for younger talent, which has left them all of the 30 somethings general manager Reggie McKenzie can sign on the cheap. Currently, the Raiders have 16 players 29 or older, they also have 10 players who are 22 or younger, and 17 total players 23 and under. While the Raiders may be subject to many puns and the butt end of many jokes, one thing which should never be undersold is the importance of veterans.
In today’s NFL, turning 30 is looked upon as the twilight of your career, few iron men produce at a high level past that marker. Gruden is a zen-master and career exorcist for veterans. Remember how much better Rich Gannon got after being under Gruden? Or the fact that 39-year-old Jerry Rice had 83 catches for 1139 yards and nine touchdowns? On top of all that, 35-year-old Tim Brown had 91 catches for 1165 yards nine touchdowns under Gruden.
Being a veteran for Gruden and the Raiders was different in 1998 and more so now including a multi-leveled, in-depth, highly sophisticated and most definitely super secret formula to raising rookies. Most of the older free agents and re-signees this offseason are on the defensive side of the ball.
As unpopular with the fan base as veteran acquisitions Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall has seemed, these could be the things Gruden saw. Nelson and Hall combined for: 312 games, 265 starts, 49 interceptions, four touchdowns, 174 passes defended and multiple Pro Bowl selections inside former and current defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense in Cincinnati. Derrick Johnson is a mere 35 years old, a full year younger than fan-favorite Bill Romanowski during the 2002 Super Bowl run.
Every NFL franchise is littered with savvy veterans and players who were written off and thought to be done. Coaches in the NFL affect the game strategically every bit as critically as a general commanding his armies. The Patriots and Bill Belichick have created a dynasty off of the mantra, “do your job.”
Lastly, many of these elder statesmen of the league are former Pro Bowlers and established professionals in a system. They are leaders in the locker room, capable of rounding sharp edges on young players who come from varied backgrounds and upbringings. Teaching them the ways of this game, to respect it, and to learn how to better themselves at it; studying film, preparation, taking care of their bodies, and learning how to conduct themselves.
For a coach retooling his roster while restocking it with talent, veterans are a godsend because make no mistake: Gruden isn’t here for goodwill, he’s trying to win it all now.