Is it too Early to Say Jon Gruden Killed the Oakland Raiders?

Jon Gruden is a caricature of an NFL head coach, rather than an actual figurehead. Personally, I balked at his 10 years, $100 million dollar contract when it was first announced, as did many.

Disregard his professional resume for just a moment; the man hadn’t coached since 2009! Even worse, while the best NFL teams have looked to progress, Gruden has indulged in nostalgic gut reactions that eviscerated the Raiders depth chart last year. Now he has had the opportunity to rebuild this team, and I remain unimpressed.

The most egregious move that Jon Gruden made was shipping off arguably the second best defensive player in the league, after Aaron Donald, to the Chicago Bears for myriad picks. The best of those picks became the 24th overall selection in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. In the meantime Khalil Mack quickly established dominance for Da Bears, helping them achieve a 12-4 record on a defensive led team.

Gruden would also ship out first round pick, Amari Cooper, to the Dallas Cowboys, for what amounted to the 27th overall selection in the draft. The initial reaction to the Khalil Mack trade was some combination of total bewilderment, shock, and disappointment. Gruden even had the gall to say that he was ‘sensitive’ about this issue because guys like Mack are hard to replace.

The explanation for the move is a dueling theory of cap room availability and personal differences between Gruden and Mack. While Gruden expressed his desire to coach the defensive superstar, Gruden also has a long history of actions that directly contradict his words, making him an unreliable source.

The bottom line is they thought the Bears would have a worse record than they did. Somehow they didn’t realize adding an All-Pro Linebacker to a Vic Fangio led system would result in a great defense and likely a positive team record. They cheaped out on Mack, and opted instead to go the analytics route, again, contradicting Gruden’s mantra of old-school football that he’s espoused since taking over the Raiders, and the best pick they got out of it was their own first round pick because of how badly they sucked in 2018.

Well, we are a year removed from the trades, and we can now begin to evaluate the compensation received for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, two young stars in the NFL. The Raiders began their draft in an awkward fashion, by selecting Clelin Ferrell with the 4th overall selection in the NFL Draft. Ferrell is a decent player, but was projected as a mid-first round pick and was a wild reach in my opinion, especially when you consider guys like Joshua Allen, Ed Oliver, and Devin Bush were still available.

Then, the Raiders would come back and select rookie running back Josh Jacobs in the first round. I can’t hate on this pick, the Raiders needed a quality starting running back after both Beast Mode and the Muscle Hamster burned out in Oakland, and they didn’t have to reach up to get him. They came back with their final first round pick and selected strong safety Johnathan Abram who is a decent safety, but struggles in coverage and could be susceptible to big plays.

So, ultimately, in exchange of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, the Oakland Raiders now have Josh Jacobs, Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, and another 2020 first round and third round picks that will likely be in the back end of the round, assuming the Chicago Bears continue their success.

Unfortunately, not only do I not see a player the Raiders have added that is the caliber player that Khalil Mack is, I do not project them to come anywhere close to replacing him. While Antonio Brown is an upgrade over Amari Cooper, he also costs much more against the salary cap and is approaching the downside of his career. Even if Brown is able to maintain his statistical dominance in Oakland, the fact is, it never translated into a SuperBowl when he was on a much better team with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Finally, adding a cast of combustible characters to the locker room is usually a recipe for disaster, not a success. When you throw together players like the aforementioned Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict, Richie Incognito and other colorful NFL personalities, all of them being led by Gruden, you’re almost begging for trouble (or a run on NFL Hard Knocks, which they got).

However, in terms of playoff success, I just don’t see it with this roster. I like Derek Carr, but outside of rookie running back Josh Jacobs and a volatile Antonio Brown, I don’t see much else at the skill positions. The offensive line is subpar and the defense is mediocre at best. In arguably the toughest division in the AFC, with the Chiefs and Chargers both carrying themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and the Broncos who are looking to bounce back from a rough offensive season last year, I don’t see how the Raiders escape this season with more than 6 or 7 wins.

The truth is, the Raiders could end up being a dumpster fire by season’s end, with Antonio Brown posting highlights on his social media accounts. With the team set to move to Las Vegas, it is fair to wonder if Jon Gruden killed the Oakland Raiders, trading away what little chances they had at playing meaningful December football during the team’s final two seasons in Oakland. Though there is a multitude of questions still surrounding the impending success of the team during their final year in Oakland, at the very least, it should be fun to watch.

Jack Lucenay