With a move to Las Vegas looming, the Raiders aren’t wasting any time trying to rebuild the juggernaut of old. Jon Gruden has grand plans for this team and he’s made those plans clear since day one.
Building for the Future
Raiders owner Mark Davis wasted no time in replacing 2017 coach Jack del Rio after the season ended in a disappointing 6-10 record. To right the wrongs of the previous 15 years, Davis looked to the past in hopes of reestablishing a future.
On Jan. 6, 2018, Davis announced former head coach Jon Gruden would be taking the reigns again in the Silver and Black. In a long-awaited move, Mark Davis pulled the trigger to make Gruden the highest paid coach in NFL history. Gruden is proving he’s not taking that responsibility lightly. The announcement was met with mixed reactions: excitement from much of Raider Nation and criticism from those outside looking in. Raiders fans were excited to see the return of the last man who built a playoff team. Critics were skeptical of the 10-year contract worth up to $100 Million.
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The team has taken a distinct left turn from the Raiders of earlier this century. The appointment of “Chucky” began a whirlwind of change. There were major trades, big offseason moves, and one of the best drafts the Raiders have seen in decades. Of course, drafts are not easy to evaluate until after two or three years. However, the team picked up a guy to fill every position that’s struggled.
Gruden made some major moves in his first offseason with the team. First, he hired an entirely new coaching staff, the beginning of a company-wide purge. He then picked up several veteran free agents in preparation for his first draft in almost a decade. He didn’t net any major superstars that year but attracted enough attention to make him a constant topic of conversation. The draft came and went and proved that Gruden is a man of his word. He spent his first round pick on protecting his greatest asset, QB Derek Carr. After all, in a Gruden offense, that’s the man the world revolves around.
Free agency 2019
After the Raiders’ first full season resulted in a dismal 4-12 record, Gruden made more changes to adjust for the team’s weaknesses. He wasted no time firing old general manager Reggie McKenzie and replaced him with undisputed football genius Mike Mayock. It didn’t take long for the two to get to work on both draft and free agency. Their work showed the minute the new league year started on March 13.
Their work soon paid off, picking up one the league’s best receivers in Antonio Brown for what many consider a total steal. Mayock also brought in star offensive tackle Trent Brown, safety Lamarcus Joyner, wide receiver Tyrell Williams, and a slew of other players who want to be a part of what they feel is going to be magic. The team finally has depth and not just regular depth, it has quality. For the first time in his career, Carr will have a true 1/2 wide receiver combo to catch for him. Given what he’s had to work with in the past, this should be a big year for him.
A Big Draft Day
In addition to a big free agency, Mayock and Gruden hit a grand slam in the draft. They netted two additional first round picks from the trades of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. So, they walked in on draft day with the biggest capital of any team. When pick four came up, it was clear that they weren’t wasting time filling up their defense. Clelin Ferrell was the second highest ranked defensive end in the draft and the first choice of Mayock and Gruden. The team’s 13 sacks last season proved that this pick was not only smart but necessary.
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Picks 24 and 27 saw a couple more star draft choices joining the Silver and Black when Mayock chose running back Josh Jacobs and safety Johnathan Abram. Finally, people in the front office who have their sights on improvements in the right areas, not just stop gaps and projects. The team is starting to look whole.
Even with the high talent and high character draft the team had, a couple of questionable moves were made, adding NFL bad boys Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito. The logic in the picks isn’t immediately clear, but breaking down the team needs, the two players are still, by all accounts, highly skilled and ready to work hard.
Burfict is known for having an attitude problem on the field, racking up several personal fouls in his time with the Bengals. But under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, Burfict flourished. He knows the system, which is essentially a Gruden-style playbook for defense, and that is an immeasurable quality to have.
Incognito, however, is a different story. He has had both legal and emotional issues on and off the field. He has a collection of suspensions, which will be increased this fall; however, the number of games won’t be released until the official suspension is announced. According to several reports, Incognito has spent some time battling his personal demons and improving his life physically and mentally, but the results remain to be seen. Still, one of the greatest holes left to fill after the draft is sure to be cemented by Incognito.
If anyone has a question about Gruden’s commitment to excellence, all of the things he’s done to improve this team should quiet those doubts. You’ll get to see exactly how he operates on this season of HBO’s Hard Knocks, but Gruden won’t be taking any more knocks of his own anytime soon. He runs this team like it’s his own child. Agree or disagree with the decisions he makes, it’s clear if anyone thinks this team deserves a return to excellence, it’s the man at the helm wearing the visor.