Raiders Vault: Jon Gruden Trade Was a Wasted Opportunity

The Las Vegas (then-Oakland) Raiders trading away their head coach Jon Gruden was ranked as one of the Bay Area’s worst sports trades. Even more frustrating was the wasted opportunity that came afterward.

After the late Al Davis hired him in 1998, the young Gruden went ahead and rebuilt the Raiders. By then, the team was a far cry from the organization that had won three Super Bowls. With patient drafting and roster building, Gruden had the Silver and Black within reach of greatness. Alas, an officiating gaffe put a stop to it. After being on the losing end of the infamous “Tuck Rule” game, Davis shipped Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Steve Berman of The Athletic recently spotlighted the worst historical trades by Bay Area teams. To nobody’s surprise, the Gruden trade was ranked fourth.

“Coaching trades weren’t all that uncommon in the early 2000s and the Raiders certainly got quite a lot for Gruden. So much, that the trade might not have looked so awful had the Raiders not gotten dismantled by the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl a year later. Then the Raiders won five games or fewer in each of their next seven seasons.”

As far as the actual trade and who got what, the Raiders received a 2002 first-round and second rounder, 2003 first-round pick, a 2004 second-round pick, and $8 million in cash. The Buccaneers for their part? They got a head coach that got them over the hump and a Lombardi Trophy.

What Might’ve Been…

The trade, as Berman points out, ended up hurting the Raiders so much they went into irrelevance for years. One of the biggest factors that made that possible was the utter waste of the picks that the Raiders received in exchange. It’s difficult to gauge what might’ve been when it comes to drafting players because a player might not have necessarily succeeded in one situation like he would in another. That said, judging on talent and what the Raiders could’ve ended up with, it’s frustrating, to say the least.

The original first-round selection the Raiders received for Gruden in 2002 ended up a part of a trade with multiple teams. Instead, had they opted to hold onto the pick, they could’ve landed Ed Reed. Instead of Langston Walker, the Raiders could’ve picked All-Pro safety Michael Lewis with Tampa Bay’s second-round pick. The following draft in 2003, with Tampa’s first-round pick, the Raiders chose Tyler Brayton. Unfortunately, the team missed out on All-Pro cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Rashean Mathis. Sadly, this type of drafting came to define the Silver and Black for years Raiders and the return for the Gruden trade ended up by the wayside.

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*Top Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

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