Fans of the Silver and Black have to be pulling their hair out wondering what has happened with their beloved Raiders.
Two seasons, ago all-world defensive end Khalil Mack was winning Defensive Player of the Year, and Derek Carr was finishing 5th in MVP voting. Now at 1-5, the Raiders’ season is dead in the water with holes all along the hull of the ship. While some of this regression was evident last season, there was hope that a coaching change, via a Gruden overhaul, would be enough to stymie a return to the pack. That hasn’t been the case and now some are having buyer’s remorse, but the writing has always been on the wall.
Since Carr cemented himself as the franchise quarterback after beating out Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub, the Raiders have relied on comeback wins. With a bit of luck, some clutch play, and leaning on Mack to close out games, the formula was thought to be set. The truth is, though, that formula was never sustainable unless the talent on the team got considerably better.
When Jon Gruden took over he acknowledged that the talent gap was actually pretty big. Between awful play in the secondary, holes in the middle of the defense, missing talent at right tackle and running back, there were plenty of moves to make. The front office, however, made the biggest move by trading the one difference-maker on defense now for shots in the first round of the draft later. Now Gruden continues to shop parts of the roster in search of draft ammunition rather than player for player trades.
All of this amounts to a clear direction by the new coaching staff: the Raiders just weren’t good enough to continue down that path. Not something fans want to hear, and awful for Bay Area fans, but clearly the case. Coaches have consistently admitted to “trying things out” with certain players and acknowledging that things would be a work in progress. Now there is talk of “changing the culture” and the tacit quiescence that the rebuild is on.
With this reality in mind, it’s easy to see the signs in retrospect: only three players have significant cap hits after this season, one of which has appeared in trade rumors. The roster is stocked full of rookie contracts and one to two-year deals for players who will not be around to see Las Vegas. Gruden is not gaining any love from current players but likely because it is clear to them that they were never in his long-term plans.
From this vantage point, the radioactive fallout coming from Oakland was inevitable. When Gruden took over, in his mind, “town-bidness” was nothing more than nuclear waste from an outdated power plant that needed to be buried. Time will tell if this toxicity, which may have been implicit to the team, will follow them to the desert. What is certainly true now is that this tear-down was always the plan as the Raiders look to punt until 2020.