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Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites Franchise Sports Media

 

It’s Jon Gruden 2.0 For Las Vegas Raiders

https://franchisesportsmedia.com

 

Don’t talk about it Jon Gruden, be about it.

 

On January 6th, 2018, Mark Davis hired Jon Gruden to be the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for the second time. During the introductory press conference, Davis famously stated, “it is the biggest day of my life” to have Gruden back leading the team. Davis essentially made Gruden the face of the franchise once again. Mark’s father, the great Al Davis, always felt as though no player or coach should be the singular face of the Raiders. Yet here you have Mark defying his father’s ideology.  Whether or not that was a wise move remains to be seen. Here’s what we do know.

Photo Credit: NFL.com

Gruden 2.0 got off to a really rocky start with all-world defensive-end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack holding out. Both parties dug in deep with neither side budging a millimeter. It was pretty apparent that the Raiders wanted to keep Mack but at their price, which according to sources, was a very handsome offer which would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league. Mack’s agent Joel Segal countered back with a myriad of unrealistic demands along with a higher annual salary. Behind closed doors, it was evident that Mack would never play another down in Silver and Black again. 

The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement restricted the amount of interaction between coaches and players during the offseason. On paper, the Raiders had a team with franchise cornerstones in quarterback Derek Carr, his best friend Mack, and 2-time Pro Bowl receiver, Amari Cooper. There were some aging vets along with a few high-priced free agents and players brought in by general manager Reggie McKenzie under previous head coach Jack Del Rio’s regime. Once minicamps arrived, Gruden was finally able to install his playbook and see what he had to work within-person. Before taking the job, Gruden knew that the roster needed some upgrades but felt as though he could win with it. His moves in free agency and the draft backed that belief up. What he saw on the field was alarming.

 

Financially and philosophically the team was in a tough spot.

 

If they found a way to re-sign pending free agents Mack and Cooper, they would have little cap space to build a competitive team around them. Reggie McKenzie had multiple misses throughout the draft of the previous 3 seasons. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency, in the draft he had a strange affinity for players coming off of major injuries. With limited cap space and a team devoid of talent, Gruden’s best course of action would surely be unpopular but one he felt he had to make. As the season approached, Mack was still a holdout so, he decided to trade his best assets for draft picks.

On September 1st, 2018, Gruden traded Mack to the Chicago Bears along with a 2nd round pick in 2020, and a 7th round pick in 2020 for the Bears 1st round picks in 2019, and 2020, along with a 2019 6th round pick, and a 2020 3rd round pick. 

Just seven weeks later, Gruden sent Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for their 2019 1st round pick. The Mack trade was akin to a gut punch from your best friend on your wedding night. Mack was far and away the best player the organization had drafted since Charles Woodson in 1998. Now he was gone for good. The Cooper trade didn’t even matter. Still numb from it all, Raider Nation was ready to burn this thing to the ground. In Gruden, we trust, right? Not surprisingly, on December 10th, 2018, Reggie McKenzie failed to make it out of the inferno and was fired. Without a pass rush (13 total Sacks) and only one legitimate weapon on offense, (Jared Cook) that trust in Gruden 2.0 saw the team finish with a 4-12 record. Deconstruction complete.

 

New Years’ Eve 2018 Gruden 2.0 made his best move yet.

 

Las vegas Raiders, Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock
Photo courtesy of ABC7 San Francisco

He hired longtime friend Mike Mayock away from NFL Network to be the Raiders’ new general manager. Mayock has been rumored for years as a potential GM candidate; however, nothing had ever materialized until now. As much as Gruden loves watching film, he doesn’t like scouting. He has never been a big draft guy. Scouting players, conducting interviews, calling their high school, position, and college coaches are not appealing to Jon. Enter Mayock, who, like Gruden, is a tireless worker. He lives for the entire draft process. He’s the Yin to Jon’s Yang. Give him a clipboard with a highlighter, and he’s in heaven. He was built for this. For 15 seasons at NFL Network, Mayock played virtual GM for 32 NFL teams; now, he was a GM in real life. With an abundance of high draft picks and a draft historically rich in talent, it was time to get work. You only get one chance at a first impression.

Mayock and Gruden absolutely crushed the 2019 NFL Draft. They drafted high character individuals that personified their vision for what it means to be a Raider. The proof was clear as day on the football field. Running back Josh Jacobs was a rookie sensation and obliterated Hall-of-Famer Marcus Allen’s rookie rushing records. Defensive end Maxx Crosby came out of nowhere to lead the team with 10 Sacks. Both players garnered Rookie of the Year considerations. Receiver Hunter Renfrow was terrific down the stretch to finish the year strong. Tight end Foster Moreau made numerous spectacular catches to finish the year with five touchdowns.

Cornerback Trayvon Mullen forced his way onto the field and provided the team sticky man coverage. His length and agility make him an ideal fit for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense. Undrafted Free Agent fullback Alec Ingold is the epitome of a Gruden grinder. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell overcame a serious illness along with the rookie wall to finish the year strong. Safety Johnathan Abram’s rookie season was cut short after the season opener due to a shoulder injury. Before the injury, he had Denver players peeking over their shoulders consistently. Both Ferrell and Abram have already taken over as locker room leaders despite their youth. What they lack in experience, they more than make up for it with their stewardship. 

 

Fast forward to the present day, and the roster overhaul is nearly complete.

 

Free agency injected some necessary help at multiple positions of need. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins was signed away from Dallas, as was his position coach, Rod Marinelli. Coach Marinelli is one of the league’s most respected coaches as he’s known for extracting the most out of his players. Linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski were signed to shore up a much-maligned linebacking corps. 

Veteran defensive backs Damarius Randall, Jeff Heath, and newly signed Prince Amukamara bring playmaking ability and depth to the back end. Former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota joins the quarterback room with former league MVP candidate Derek Carr. Defensive end Carl Nassib will be used in rotation with Crosby and Ferrell to get after the quarterback. Future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten was also signed away from Dallas to mentor budding superstar tight end Darren Waller and the aforementioned Moreau.

 

Las Vegas can be a very tempting location for millionaire athletes. Part of Witten’s job is to watch over his younger teammates.

 

A Look Back at the Raiders 2020 Draft
Photo Credit: Raiders

The draft brought along even more riches. Gruden secured some shiny new toys on offense to play with. He drafted dynamic receiver Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama in the 1st Round. In Round 3 the Raiders had back to back picks (80 and 81st). Gruden wasted no time with his selections of running back Lynn Bowden Jr out of Kentucky and wide receiver Bryan Edwards out of South Carolina. Bowden and Edwards were highly productive college players who rewrote the record books at their respective schools.

In the 4th round, they selected guard John Simpson out of Clemson. Simpson is a large framed people mover. He was selected with the hope he can be the eventual replacement for either Richie Incognito or Gabe Jackson. 

It wasn’t all offense, however. On the defensive side of the football, the Raiders selected corner Damon Arnette out of Ohio State in the 1st Round. Then came safety/linebacker hybrid Tanner Muse out of Clemson in the 3rd Round. They wrapped up the draft by selecting corner Amik Robertson out of Louisiana Tech in the 4th round.

Arnette is a feisty competitor that isn’t afraid to come up and introduce himself to you forcefully. Gruden likened him to another corner he drafted during his time in Tampa Bay. Michael Crabtree’s arch-nemesis, Aqib Talib. Robertson might stand only 5’8,” but don’t let his height fool you. His team’s mascot was the Bulldogs, and he plays like one too. One can even compare him to legendary rapper Eazy-E. Built like a tank, yet hard to hit…

 

Gruden 2.0 rid the team of players he felt weren’t ‘Gruden Grinders’.

 

Gone are former Raiders draft picks Khalil Mack, Justin Ellis, Amari Cooper, Mario Edwards, Clive Walford, Jon Feliciano, Karl Joseph, Jihad Ward, Shilique Calhoun, DeAndre Washington, Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu, Eddie Vanderdoes, and Johnny Townsend

It’s a new day for the Las Vegas Raiders. Gruden has rapidly built this team in his vision. During an interview after Gruden 2.0’s introductory press conference, Raiders icon Charles Woodson noted that if Gruden doesn’t think you can play for him, he will be quick to get rid of you. Truer words have never been spoken. It’s not all cupcakes and rainbows, however. Gruden needs to win, and he needs to win ASAP. He stripped the team of numerous former high draft picks and traded away multiple first-round picks (Conley, Cooper, and Mack). 

The Chiefs just won the Super Bowl and appear to have had an excellent draft on paper. The Chargers continue to accumulate quality football players. Denver quietly had an outstanding offseason by surrounding their quarterback Drew Lock with multiple weapons. 

 

Monday Morning Beef
Photo Credit: Terrence Quaites- Franchise Sports Media

Entering his 3rd season, Gruden 2.0 has everything he needs to have an elite and explosive offense. One can argue that he has more raw talent on this team than he has ever had at any time in his head coaching career. In 2018 and 2019, his offenses finished 28th and 24th in points per game. No team has allocated more salary cap dollars, and draft picks on offense as the Raiders.

There are no more excuses.

Going back to 2002 with his time in Tampa Bay, he has not had an offense finish higher than 18th in points per game. That is a pretty alarming number for an ‘offensive guru.’ There is no doubt that he can still scheme with the best of them. His first two seasons back, the lack of talent and injuries significantly hampered the scheme, thus the lack of production. Roster talent won’t be an issue moving forward for the foreseeable future.

 

Now all Gruden 2.0 has to do is improve on his lifetime coaching record of 106-102 (.510 winning percentage). Knock on wood if you’re with me!

Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   

Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   Jon Gruden   

– Rooz – Franchise Sports Media

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