The choice between veteran savvy with established play and youthful exuberance coupled with potential will become all too real for the Oakland Raiders as they grind towards the 2018 regular season.
It’s the battle of the tangible vs. the conceivable.
And that’s a dope time for NFL personnel peeps to earn their keep. Does a squad keep the older player who provides clear-cut — but albeit capped — production over the neophyte who doesn’t have the distinct productivity but a high ceiling of promise?
Do the Raiders want to win now with aging veterans to can give good to solid production in the next year or two versus boasting a squad with young developing players who can give similar “umph” now but give the potential bonus of long-term sustainability and growth?
Are the veterans there simply to provide the youth on-field teachers with hands-on guidance in camp? Or are they not only going to be contributors but starters come the regular season?
All that will be the conundrum for head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie.
“I think that adding older veteran players brings into mind how quick this thing goes and they don’t want to take anything for granted, whether it’s a practice, a play, a rep, because they know how much each and every play matters, each and every relationship,” said quarterback Derek Carr — who finds himself nestled in the gray area of established vet while remaining relatively young (27 years old).
Based off the Raiders’ latest acquisitions (veteran defensive lineman Frostee Rucker and Ahtyba Rubin), Oakland is not only doubling-down on the ‘more the merrier’ competition theme, but also the aged player mantra as the team boasts 15 players of the age of 30.
Can the alleged over-the-hill gang (that’s what I’m dubbing the players over 30 that media and fans like to give the Raiders grief over) take the 53-man spot of a the young pups?
Yes and no are appropriate answers to the question and it’s fascinating.
There’s a sense the best players will not only make the roster, but be starters under Gruden Part Deux. And if that best player is a vet, so be it. The flip side to that coin, of course, is can the Raiders afford to cut loose a young player with untapped potential?
Here’s a scenario: Do you keep Seth Roberts or roll with rookie Marcell Ateman at wide receiver?
In truth, there’s a countless number of situations: Rubin or Treyvon Hester? Shareece Wright/Leon Hall over Daryl Worley? Reggie Nelson over Shalom Luani?
Come September, all 32 NFL teams go from a 90-man squad down to the mandated 53. (The teams do get to build a 10-man taxi group known as the practice squad.) And every year, a player waxed from one roster joins another rises to prominence.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20 — unless you’re a perennial NFL cellar dweller and you’re wearing an eyepatch over both eyes.
For the Raiders, a wayward team looking to once again find its way, Gruden and McKenzie need to be not only in rhythm, but view the landscape with as much clarity they can afford. They need to find the equilibrium in bolstering quality while mitigating quantity. The horrid teams fail at this year in and year out. The good teams do this well. But the great teams excel at it.
Gruden wants to bring back a smash-mouth, old-school football back to the Raiders. In turn, he’ll need to be a no-bullshit assessor when it comes to the roster. Make the tough roster choices and don’t spend too much time defending the decisions. Instead, coach the players up, execute a proper game plan and win to definitively prove the decisions were indeed best for business.