The Oakland Raiders were a hot mess in 2018. More a soap opera than a competitive NFL franchise. Remember, in 2016 they had made the playoffs under Jack Del Rio and looked to be going places with new young QB Derek Carr – his injury just before the end of the regular season probably put pay to a potential run to the Super Bowl. Then in 2017 the Raiders stalled, finished 6-10, and Del Rio was fired in December 2017.
Enter Jon Gruden, on a huge 10-year contract anticipated to be worth in the region of $100M – a huge sign of the faith the Raider organisation placed in Gruden as he had been in the commentary box for much of the last decade.
It was obvious from the 2018 season that in Gruden’s mind he needed to ‘tear the whole place down’ in order to rebuild the Raiders in his own image. Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper were traded away for first round draft picks (both had successful seasons after departing) and the GM Reggie McKenzie was dispensed with and replaced by another long-time analyst and draft expert Mike Mayock. They finished the season dead last in the AFC West, 4-12, and Gruden appeared to argue with just about everyone about everything – Derek Carr included.
Life as a Raiders’ fan in 2018 will not have been easy viewing but has all the trauma been worth it for a renaissance in 2019. I think it might……..
I’m beginning to see the light
The trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers for Antonio Brown is a great start to free agency for the Raiders. The cost of a 3rd and a 5th round pick is small change to the Raiders this year. Think about it – they’ve effectively traded Amari Cooper and a 3rd & 5th for Antonio Brown and a 1st. Looks like good business. Khalil Mack was a big loss but the value of 2 1st round picks (one now one next year) is great draft capital. In Brown they now have a premier WR1 for Derek Carr to target and target him they will – Brown wanted to be undisputed WR1 and you don’t pay that sort of money for anything else. Of course that’s if Gruden wants Carr to be doing the throwing. Their relationship during 2018 was strained to say the least. However, that is to be expected in a season where everything was going wrong – would be strange if people weren’t shouting at each other at times. Also, as a Giants fan, I’m reminded of the relationship between Phil Simms and Bill Parcells – their exchanges on the sidelines during game breaks and timeouts were legendary – and that worked out alright!
In terms of Cap Space they sit just over the $60M mark so room to manoeuvre even taking into account the addition of Brown. It will be interesting to see who they target in free agency and some players may well see a franchise on the rise and be tempted by the circus which will always surround the Raiders, even more so when they move to Vegas in 2020. I’m sure that for free agents a move to the Raiders will be a bit like Marmite – they will either love it or hate it. There are plenty of holes to fill and landing some big name targets, particularly on defense (Donte Fowler JR, CJ Mosley, Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins), may generate some real momentum for Oakland.
Draft Night – Raiders are the ones to watch
By the time late April rolls around the Raiders roster will have started to take shape, ready to then infuse youth into the mix through the draft. Here is where Mayock should come into his own, after years of expert opinion on upcoming prospects. So, what will happen? I HAVE NO IDEA – and I don’t think anyone else truly does outside of the Oakland war room.
With the cost of the Antonio Brown trade though the Raiders are front loaded with four picks out of the first 35 choices (3 round 1 and their fourth in round 2). After that they have four more picks late in the process (rounds 4,6 and 7). Now it depends on how the Raiders view that arrangement of picks. They may simply stand their ground on the basis that you should be able to get 4 out of 4 as starters from their first and second round picks – but that would be dull wouldn’t it? However, if between Mayock and Gruden they think they can secure 4 studs then may be they do stay put.
But let’s look at the more fun option that they decide to deal in order to secure a couple more picks – they do after all have a lot of draft capital to deal with. They could slip a few places at the top of round 1 (e.g. with Buffalo, Denver, Cincinnati) and pinch another high 2nd rounder as compensation. Then later in the round what if a team wanted to deal back in to the first round (Dallas anyone) then more picks could be added in to the mix. I think they could easily secure 6 picks (instead of 4) within round 1, 2 and high 3 if they wanted to bring on board a couple more draft picks likely of being able to start come September.
Not going into detail here around who they might look at in the draft – still some 6 weeks away – but the future in Oakland is beginning to look brighter and by the end of April Jon Gruden may well have a roster able to challenge in a strong AFC West (got to get past the Chiefs and Chargers) – on paper at least!