The Las Vegas Raiders have largely been a failure in free agency since Jon Gruden’s return, making 2021 his most pivotal year in his second stint.
After a series of cuts, the Raiders are putting themselves in a solid position to make noise this free agency. Also, the organization can still restructure Marcus Mariota’s deal, which would help tremendously. If the team really wants to help themselves further, extending Derek Carr’s current deal would solidify them even further. This sounds good at first sight. However, there’s a flip side to this and that’s creating cap room is a moot point if you’re rebuilding every year.
Entering Jon Gruden’s fourth year as the Raiders’ shot-caller, the roster has many holes that need to be plugged. To make matters worse, the Silver and Black are still essentially a .500 team in a division with the dominant Kansas City Chiefs and a Los Angeles Chargers team that’s trending up. Oh, and defeating the Chiefs once and ‘nearly’ defeating them a second time shouldn’t be the measuring the stick. What’s the use in beating a team that’s been in the last two Super Bowls (winning one) if you lose to lose sub .500 teams?
Raiders continue to miss under Jon Gruden
The elephants in the room are the failed trades that Gruden’s largely responsible for involving Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. An all-world, generational player in Mack and a number one wide receiver in Cooper, both shipped off. Are the Raiders in better shape after moving on from those two? The draft capital they acquired hasn’t translated into wins no matter which way you want to twist this narrative.
Missing on several draft picks and choosing Clelin Ferrell over Devin White has only exacerbated the problem. However, what really takes the cake is the terrible management of free agency since Gruden’s return. It’s true that injuries and other foreseen circumstances take a toll on any NFL roster, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Nevertheless, if you look at the signings since Gruden’s return, it’s clear that he might be a decent coach but clearly, his strength isn’t in personnel or roster building.
The Raiders have paid how much?
Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus recently broke down which players have been given a minimum of $4 million guaranteed in Gruden’s stead. The largest deals given were to Trent Brown, Cory Littleton, Lamarcus Joyner, and Tyrell Williams, each of them making $21-plus million in guaranteed money. Brown, Joyner, and Williams are no longer on the team and the jury’s still out on Littleton.
The argument made by Gruden supporters is that Brown got ‘lazy’ after getting paid, well, who’s fault was that? Brown had made it clear he was about the money from the outset but the Raiders insisted on breaking the bank for him. They also blame Joyner’s failure on Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme. Yes, Guenther is to blame but who kept him employed longer than he ever should have?
Has Gruden hit on any of his signings?
The mid-tier pickups were Jordy Nelson, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Carl Nassib, all of whom signed for $13-plus million guaranteed. Kwiatkoski’s emerged as the defensive leader but as we all saw, Nassib literally had zero impact on this defense. Nelson? At that point, he was 33 years old and on his last legs but had no business being the de facto number one receiver. Certainly, he wasn’t worth that amount of money looking back.
If we’re strictly looking at value, Gruden has had some good moments. He picked up Denzelle Good, Richie Incognito, Nelson Agholor, and Johnathan Hankins. All of these carried less than $4 million guaranteed but yielded results greater than the initial investment. And yet, the Raiders still haven’t gone past .500 under ‘Chucky’. Oh, and let’s not forget the decision to bring in Jason Witten, a move that essentially stunted Foster Moreau’s growth. For each signing Gruden hits on, there are two he misses on, it seems he’s his own worst enemy at times. Entering his fourth year, are you trusting Gruden to finally get the Raiders out of perpetual rebuilding?
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*All contract numbers courtesy of Spotrac.com/Raiders
*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal