Gruden right to blow up roster
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.
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.
Khalil Mack, shown after a victory last week, has thrived with the Bears after the Raiders traded him.