Gru­den right to blow up ros­ter

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By Jerry McDon­ald East Bay (Calif.) Times

De­spite 2016 berth in play­offs, Raiders sorely lack depth

ALAMEDA, Calif. — As we wade through the dis­as­ter that is the 2018 Raiders, the ques­tion per­sists as to why it was nec­es­sary to dis­man­tle a team that was one sea­son re­moved from 12-4 and its first play­off berth in 14 years.

Yes, Jon Gru­den and Co. haven’t done much to in­spire any­one with the way they took the Raiders apart.

Yet it had to be done.

Gru­den made it clear when he was hired by Mark Davis that he was tak­ing over a team that had strug­gled for a long time. If your def­i­ni­tion of a “good” sea­son is be­ing over .500, the Raiders have been a good team ex­actly once in the last 16 years.

The 12-4 sea­son was a bolt out of the blue, fur­nished by the clutch right arm of Derek Carr and a coach in Jack Del Rio who got the team to be­lieve in it­self de­spite some ob­vi­ous de­fi­cien­cies.

It wasn’t a fluke, be­cause a team is de­fined by its record. It also wasn’t sus­tain­able.

Call­ing it a fluke wouldn’t be fair to Del Rio, who laid the ground­work for 2016 with a 7-9 sea­son in his first year that in ret­ro­spect was as im­pres­sive as the play­off year that fol­lowed.

Reg­gie McKen­zie made his rep­u­ta­tion as a gen­eral man­ager with some of the moves he made to help the mini-resur­gence, com­ing af­ter a de­lib­er­ate and painful “de­con­struc­tion” from the bloated salary-cap days left by the late Al Davis and weath­ered un­der Den­nis Allen and in­terim coach Tony Sparano.

Yet McKen­zie’s moves did lit­tle in terms of depth. In the big pic­ture, Gru­den came to be­lieve the Raiders had been a bad team for a long time and would con­tinue to be bad in the ab­sence of dras­tic mea­sures. He was right.

Only 16 play­ers re­main from a team that made the play­offs just two years ago. Many re­place­ments will them­selves be re­placed in the com­ing off­sea­son, which sug­gests the new regime looks a lot like the old regimes.

Fair enough, but it’s not as if Gru­den had the core of a win­ning team and threw it all away.

As it stands, it will be de­fined as the sea­son the Raiders traded Khalil Mack rather than make him the high­est-paid de­fen­sive player in the NFL. They were will­ing to pay him some­thing along the lines of Carr, but not ap­pre­cia­bly more.

Mack and agent Joel Se­gal played it per­fectly. The Raiders got a pair of first-round draft picks in re­turn. It isn’t what any­one in the or­ga­ni­za­tion wanted. They could have played hard­ball since Mack was un­der con­tract, but de­cided against it. Gru­den was on board, and his voice car­ried the most weight. Oth­ers, such as Davis and front-of­fice ex­ecs Marc Badain, Dan Ven­trelle, McKen­zie and Tom De­laney, also had their say.

Davis told ESPN they be­lieved Mack would sit out the sea­son as Pitts­burgh run­ning back Le’Veon Bell has done. So they sim­ply moved on.

Mack was great for the Raiders, but other-worldly for the Bears, and it gets rubbed in the face of the or­ga­ni­za­tion ev­ery time he abuses an of­fen­sive line­man, gets a sack or causes an­other fum­ble.

The Raiders can’t ex­actly spill their guts as to what they were think­ing and why. Gru­den did tell the truth dur­ing train­ing camp when he cor­rectly stated the Raiders weren’t a good de­fen­sive team even with Mack. The truth went over as a slam on Mack, when it was the rest of the per­son­nel he was talk­ing about.

Here are some other truths: If Mack gets hurt, the Bears have tied up their salary struc­ture for a de­fen­sive player who is not a fo­cal point on ev­ery play in the same way as a quar­ter­back. And that with­out Mack, the Raiders’ abil­ity to bring in more good play­ers (if cor­rectly iden­ti­fied) is more flex­i­ble.

As good as Mack and Aaron Don­ald are, nei­ther the Bears nor the Rams made those deals with an ex­ist­ing fran­chise quar­ter­back on his sec­ond con­tract.

Aside from Mack, where ex­actly was this core of play­ers from the 2016 team that was set­ting the Raiders up for a bet­ter fu­ture?

Carr is still there, whether you like it or not. So are run­ning backs Jalen Richard and DeAn­dre Wash­ing­ton, de­fen­sive tackle Justin El­lis and line­men Rod­ney Hud­son, Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jack­son.

The oth­ers? Wide re­ceiver Seth Roberts, tight end Lee Smith, of­fen­sive tackle Don­ald Penn (in­jured re­serve), safety Reg­gie Nel­son, de­fen­sive end Shilique Cal­houn, de­fen­sive end James Cowser, safety Karl Joseph and guards Jon Feli­ciano and Den­ver Kirk­land.

As for the play­ers dis­carded by Gru­den, noth­ing other than Mack sticks out as a colos­sal blun­der. Michael Crab­tree had run his course. Amari Cooper never achieved his draft sta­tus and brought back an­other first-round draft pick.

Go ahead and try to find some­one other than Mack who was on the 2016 ros­ter that is a stand­out some­where else and would have made a big dif­fer­ence for the 2018 Raiders.

Whether Gru­den can re­build the Raiders re­mains to be seen, and there is plenty of room for skep­ti­cism based on Year 1. But blow­ing up the ros­ter was the only way to get started.

THEARON W. HEN­DER­SON/GETTY IM­AGES

Coach Jon Gru­den, shown ear­lier this month, didn’t like the qual­ity of per­son­nel depth the Oak­land Raiders had when he took over the fran­chise.

DAVID BANKS/AP

Khalil Mack, shown af­ter a vic­tory last week, has thrived with the Bears af­ter the Raiders traded him.

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