These are tough times to be an Oakland Raiders fan.
2018 began with such hope for the storied franchise. The signing of Jon Gruden to a ten year, $100 million deal as head coach promised a return to better times.
With Gruden signed, star quarterback Derek Carr secured to a long term mega deal and Khalil Mack terrorising the opposition offence, the pieces seemed to be in place.
However, this is the Raiders. Dysfunction comes as standard.
Hit the road, Mack…
It didn’t take long for trouble to set in. Mack, looking for a mega pay day, sat out the entire off season and preseason. If he presumed that the 40.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles and the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award gave him sufficient leverage with the team, he hadn’t reckoned with Gruden and GM Reggie Mckenzie. The weekend before the season opener, Mack was traded to the Chicago Bears.
Despite receiving two first round picks for the 2019 NFL Draft in the trade, the Raiders soon found out that you don’t just replace a player like Khalil Mack. The defence struggled without him, finishing 26th in overall defence. Their 467 total points conceded and 6.3 average yards per play given up were the worst in the league.
As the defence struggled, the offence flounded too. Their 290 points left them ranked 28th in the league. Carr was sacked a massive 51 times, and often looked physically and mentally exhausted. The relationship between Gruden and himself came under intense scrutiny. During the 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in November, the two were seen shouting at each other in a heated sideline exchange. Although it was played down by both, rumours continued to circulate that Gruden would look to move on from Carr at the end of the season.
The season that had started with so much hope was essentially over by early November. Despite shocking the Steelers and burying the Broncos, in what could be their last game in Oakland, the Raiders ended the 2018 campaign with a 4-12 record and last place in the AFC West.
Beginning the Raider rebuild…
After that victory over the Steelers, Gruden was quoted by the Raiders website as saying:
“We’re going to build this team back. I know that. We’re going to bring the Raiders back, that’s all I’ll say”.
The Raiders certainly have the draft currency to begin that building process this spring. They own four of the first 35 picks, including three in the first round and the number four overall pick.
Gruden is a head coach who likes to have input in to how his team is put together.
“I think any coach wants input” he has said (per nfl.com) “Let’s be honest. I’ve had input here. I had input on the draft picks that we made when I was here with Al Davis…I think the general manager, the scouts, the coaching staff, sometimes the owner, all work together in every selection”.
He will be working together with a different general manager for this year’s draft. Since Gruden’s arrival at the Raiders, many of the draft choices made under GM Reggie McKenzie have been shown the door out of Oakland. In December, McKenzie himself was fired by owner Mark Davis after seven years with the organisation. It was just two seasons since he’d been named NFL Executive of the Year.
Mckenzie Out, Mayock In…
Just over two weeks, and a reported eight hour interview, later, the Raiders found their new GM. Mike Mayock was announced on New Year’s Eve as the guy to lead the Raiders rebuild.
“I’m really happy to be here” Mayock said (per nfl.com). “I’ve probably had over 300 text messages [since being hired by the Raiders]…and the more I was just kind of scrolling through, all these football guys were reaching out and saying ‘you and Gruden are a great fit'”.
They may well be a great fit. If there was any doubt over the true power dynamic at the Raiders however, it was revealed by Mayock in an interview with ESPN during the College Football National Championship:
“In all honesty, Jon’s got the final say, if it ever comes to that, and I’ve got zero problems with that…now, having said that, I think we’re going to come to a consensus, and I like a little yelling, a little screaming, a little fighting for what players you believe in”.
Mayock has made a career out of believing in players. Since 2004, he has been the heartbeat of the NFL Network’s draft coverage. He is widely renowned as one of the best draft prospect analysts. His scouting reports and mock drafts are held in high regard.
Despite his inexperience as an NFL executive, this is his first front office role, I think the appointment of Mayock is a stroke of genius by the Raiders. When you have so many early round picks, who better to be involved than one of the premier draft experts?
He is under no illusion that his reputation is one of the factors behind his employment as he told ESPN:
“I’ve been a little overwhelmed with some of the non-football duties that go along with being a GM, and you’ve got to kind of prioritize, get yourself back to the tape, because that’s the reason I’m there in the first place”.
Senior Bowl Standouts to Silver and Black?
Mayock and Gruden got first hand experience with some players that may form the Raiders rebuild at this year’s Senior Bowl. It was a successful experience for them, as the Gruden lead North Team ran out 34-24 winners. He rewarded players that made an impact in the game by slapping a Raiders sticker on their helmet.
If that has any indicator towards the draft thoughts then Raider fans can expect to see a pass rusher, cornerback, two wide receivers, a defensive tackle, a saftey and a fullback come off the board in April. Oh, and a quarterback.
There has always been a mantra that defines “being a Raider”. Don’t expect that to change under Mayock. It seems one thing for certain that unites himself and Jon Gruden already:
“At the end of the day, I guarantee you, Jon Gruden and I are going to know what a Raider looks like and smells like. I don’t think we’re going to have any issues”.
With the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that the Raiders have secured the right to stay in Oakland until their move to Las Vegas, it seems everything could be in place for a turnaround in fortunes for the Silver and Black.
However, this is the Raiders.
Photo Credit: Associated Press