The days when Derek Carr was considered a dark horse MVP candidate and the Oakland Raiders a viable Super Bowl contender are now a distant memory, with Oakland having returned to the bottom of the league, a place where they’ve spent much of the last two decades. The team is in total disarray, and given that Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper are gone (perhaps to be joined by Derek Carr), it’s become clear that management has committed to a full rebuild.
It didn’t need to be this way. Less than two years ago, this team finished 12-4 and looked dominant at times. Prior to the 2017 season, many believed they could win a Super Bowl. That didn’t happen, of course, and the last year or so has brought a series of mistakes that will likely result in this team being a bottom-feeder for years to come.
It started when they dramatically overpaid Carr, handing him one of the richest quarterback contracts ever, despite his being a fringe top-10 talent at best. Then they turned around and refused to pay Mack, trading him away and, in doing so, losing one of the league’s best pass-rushers at a time when they’re more valuable than ever before. These choices strike me as incredibly poor salary cap management, and had the front office handled things differently, the Raiders could very well have stayed relevant rather than finding themselves where they are today.
The choice that makes no sense to me, however, is the hiring of Jon Gruden. If this were 2002, maybe it would make sense. But Gruden has been out of the game for years, and his most recent stint in Tampa Bay is quite uninspiring; agreeing to pay the man $100 million over the next 10 years seems like wishful thinking at best and downright lunacy at worst.
Wishful thinking at best because even if the Raiders had tried to make do with their roster and keep their top players, Jon Gruden couldn’t have led this team to contention in the AFC, let alone the AFC East alone. The conference is simply too talented. Downright lunacy at worst because Gruden is totally and completely ill-equipped to lead a team through a multi-year rebuild in 2018.
Gruden hasn’t had much success as a coach in well over a decade, and the game has simply passed him by. Growing up, my dad and I would watch Monday Night Football games and chuckle as he called games from the booth, occasionally offering incisive commentary like “I really like this guy.” It was always a bit odd to hear Mike Tirico, a career color commentator and Gruden’s Monday Night Football co-host, provide far more credible insight than a former Super Bowl-winning head coach. Gruden struck me as a funny guy best suited for the booth at this stage in his career, not one who should be coaching a modern NFL team, and certainly not one who should be leading a talentless, rebuilding squad like the Raiders.
Will Jon Gruden succeed in Oakland? I certainly hope so; it was cool to see them rise to prominence a few seasons ago, and I would love to watch Gruden lead them back into contention. But I’m not counting on it.
Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.