Jon Gruden must still think he’s on TV, where you can talk like a coach without actually having to be one.
Three days after trading away two-time All Pro, three-time Pro Bowl selection and former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, Gruden told the disbelieving media in Oakland and the disbelieving players in his locker room that, “We’re going to do everything we can to win’’ this season.
Apparently in his judgment the first order of business in that regard was trading away his best player. This leads me to four words – are you KIDDING me?
In this era of all out passing, every team in pro football is searching for two things – a quarterback who can throw accurately and often and someone they can count on to disrupt those quarterbacks so effectively it causes others around him to do so as well. The Raiders had one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the game in Mack, who has averaged over 10 sacks per season in his first four years in the league, registered over 10 each of the past three seasons and made guys around him in silver-and-black look far more formidable than they are when left to find their own route to the quarterback on their own.
Apparently that reality led Gruden to conclude Oakland couldn’t afford the $90M in guaranteed money Mack wanted after the signing of the Rams’ Aaron Donald established the ceiling for such players. To boil it down, the Raiders concluded its better business to pay $100M to a 57-year-old coach who hasn’t blown a whistle in 10 years than pay the best pass rusher in the game to make officials blow their whistles to avoid quarterback decapitations. If this is logical, it must be Oakland.
Coaches have value of course. What might Bill Belichick command on the open market, for example? But Jon Gruden is no Bill Belichick. His overall 11-year record as a NFL head coach produced only 54% wins and if you look further, you find that after winning a Super Bowl with a team Tony Dungy built in Tampa, Gruden went 45-51 with them his final six years before being sent packing. That led Raiders owner Mark Davis to conclude Gruden is worth $100M but Mack wasn’t worth $90M? My conclusion? Pennywise and pound foolish.
Gruden then made matters worse when he claimed he didn’t want to make the trade and was not involved in the negotiations to the point he didn’t even know he was giving up a second round pick to get two 1s and a 3 for Mack. If that’s true it’s a bad look. If it’s not true it’s worse. Bet on the latter.
Gruden insists rookie Arden Key is the key in all this insisting this is “Arden Key’s time.’’ This is the same Arden Key who was projected as a top 5 pick but slipped to the third round last spring when it was learned he’d been in marijuana rehab before his final season at LSU and had a subpar year in which he looked like a guy who’d been training on Oreos upon his return. Maybe Key is the answer but this could all go up in smoke for the Raiders. Literally and figuratively.
In summation, Jon Gruden says his team is doing everything it can to win by trading his best player away over money the team clearly could afford to spend and now relying on an allegedly reformed pot head to replace him but he never really wanted to trade Mack in the first place and didn’t even know what was going on until he was gone. The Raiders are paying the guy $100 million guaranteed to be in the dark more than a mushroom?
Gruden has been away from the NFL for a decade. During that time much has changed about the game. Gruden may have watched more film than a Hollywood movie critic but watching film is not the same as coaching football. Especially defensive football, which was never his specialty.
The world of pro football is littered with once successful coaches who return after a long layoff only to find out the game has left them behind. Time will tell if Jon Gruden is the latest in that long line that included Mike Ditka, Joe Gibbs, George Seifert, Hank Stram and many others. But what the trading of Khalil Mack tells us is he either doesn't understand the value of a disruptive pass rusher in today's game or he thinks they grow on trees. So welcome to Jon Gruden’s Oakland, where their young quarterback, Derek Carr, took less money believing it would go to keep Khalil Mack his teammate and now has to worry that one of these days Mack will end up on top of him.
Maybe this will all prove to be mad genius on the part of the Raiders’ $100 million whistle blower but I wouldn’t count on it