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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Jon Gruden era comes to end in Las Vegas, leaving questions on what’s next

Questionable trades, draft picks and free agent signings have the Raiders organization in limbo  

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

Jon Gruden’s email revelations led to his resignation as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Oct. 11. From 2011 to 2018, Gruden’s emails reportedly contained racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments on his behalf after an intial investigation on the Washington Football Team.

Who is Jon Gruden?

Gruden’s coaching stint in the NFL began with the Raiders from 1998 until he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. Ironically, that same season he won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay against his former team, the Raiders. Gruden coached Tampa Bay from 2002 until he was fired in 2008. In 2018, the Raiders’ owner Mark Davis signed Gruden to a 10-year, $100 million dollar contract. 

Gruden’s well known for his offensive mind as a quarterback guru. He was a beloved character to the Raider Nation, the man known as “Chucky” for his striking resemblance to the fictional demonic doll in the horror film, “Chucky.” Gruden was well known around the league as a fiery, military head coach who could motivate his players and get the best out of his quarterbacks. Gruden’s persona fit in perfectly with the Raider brand, known for their past as being a tough and gritty football team who dominated from the late ‘70s to the mid ‘80s.

Leaked emails

During an investigation on the Washington Football Team for workplace misconduct, shocking emails between Raiders’ very own Gruden and Bruce Allen, former president of the Washington Football Team, were discovered. While working with ESPN as an NFL analyst from 2009 to 2018, Gruden sent emails containing explicit and discriminatory language. DeMaurice Smith, an executive director of the NFL’s Player Association, was targeted and insulted with racial slurs. Aditionally, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, was insulted with homophobic slurs. Gruden’s language insulted women referees and many league officials as well.

The Washington Football Team has been in turmoil since the summer, where it was discovered that the team was under scrutiny for unethical practices within the teams culture. As a result, the organization was fined, which prompted an investigation where the emails were discovered. 

Gruden second tenure with the Raiders

In 2016 The Raiders finished the season 12-4 and ended a 14-year playoff drought. The following year, after the Raiders finished 6-10, head coach Jack Del Rio was fired immediately. It was announced shortly after that Jon Gruden would come back as the Raiders head coach after a 16-year absence from the team. Raiders’ fans were ecstatic as Gruden was the definition of a Raider. With the arrival of Gruden under a 10-year, $100 million dollar contract, he surprisingly went into rebuild mode that sent shockwaves around the league.

Gruden’s shocking trades   

Upon his arrival, the Raiders traded cornerstone franchise players, such as Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. Defensive end Mack was drafted with the fifth overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft and wide receiver Amari Cooper was drafted with the fourth pick overall in 2015. Those players were fan favorites who changed the culture within the Raiders organization. Gruden traded one of the best defensive ends, who was the first player ever to make an All-Pro team in two different positions. The perennial Pro Bowl pass rusher was sent to Chicago for two first round picks. Amari Cooper, a talented wideout with high potential, was traded to Dallas for a first round draft pick. 

The Raiders then traded a third round pick to the Steelers for speedy wide receiver Martavis Bryant. In a series of bizarre decisions, Bryant was cut from the team during training camp and a valuable third round pick was wasted. Gruden’s most notable trade was for Antonio Brown, in which he sent the Steelers a third and fifth round pick for Brown’s services. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the trade was a disaster, as Brown never suited up to play a single game for the Silver and Black: another third and fifth round pick wasted. The Raiders under Gruden’s control then traded a sixth round pick to the Packers for receiver Trevor Davis and Davis was cut from the team just after a few months. Gruden had been essentially throwing away valuable draft assets since his arrival. 

Gruden’s questionable free agent signings

With Gruden at the helm, controlling the team’s operations, made erratic free agent signings. In 2018, the team signed Jordy Nelson for two-years, ($14 million). Nelson was cut from the team after his first-year. Gruden then went after linebacker Tahir Whitehead who signed for three-years ($19 million) and cut after his second-year. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin was signed for one-year ($5.5 million) and only played in seven games. Free-agent Tight end Darren Waller, was signed for 2-years ($1.3 million). Eventually, his contract was extended as he became a top tight end in the league — one of the bigger acquisitions throughout Gruden’s tenure. 

In 2019, the head scratching free agent signings continued. Offensive Tackle Trent Brown, whom the Raiders made the highest paid O-Line player at the time, (signed him for four-years, $66 million) was eventually traded to the Patriots after two years. Gruden then went after Wide Receiver Tyrell Williams who signed for four-years ($44 million). He was injury prone and only appeared in one game and eventually cut. Lastly, Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner signed for four-years ($42 million). He was cut from the team after two years. 

In 2020, Raiders’ free agency spending spree continued. Linebacker Corey Littleton was signed for three-years ($35 million). Up next, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski was signed for three-years ($21 million). He is still on the roster, but currently on the bench. Gruden desperately needed pass rushers after trading away the best pass rushers in the league. Gruden went after edge rusher Carl Nassib and signed him for three-years ($25.3 million). Nassib is currently on the Raiders roster playing exceptional football. Gruden then went out and paid a high amount for a quarterback with the position already filled by Derek Carr. Marcus Mariota was signed for two-years ($17.6 million). Mariota has not started one game for the Raiders, however, he is still the backup to starter Derek Carr. The last free agent signed in 2019 was defensive tackle Maliek Collins signed for one-year ($6 million). He’s currently on the roster, however, he hasn’t made a major impact for the team. 

Gruden’s final year, 2021, the Raiders made a huge free agent splash by signing Edge pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue two-years, ($26 million). Ngakoue has been the Raiders best free agent signing since Gruden’s return, he has two sacks in six games thus far. The last free agent signed under the Gruden tenure, running back, Kenyan Drake, signed for two-years ($11 million). This move was a head scratcher that caused confusion as they already have stout running back Josh Jacobs. 

Gruden’s pattern is obvious: sign veteran free agents hoping they pan out instead of spending on high profile players. The problem here is that Gruden spread the money around and overpaid players who either underperformed or were not needed. 

Draft picks

Gruden was in charge of selecting draft picks for the Raiders. Most were shocking picks that baffled a lot of Raiders’ fans. In 2018, he drafted Kolton Miller in the first round. Miller has been a stud for the offensive line as he is their best player in protecting Derek Carr. P.J. Hall (second round) was considered to be mid to late tier talent and surprisingly was taken in the second round. He is no longer on the team. Brandon Parker (third round) is currently on the Raiders roster but seems to struggle when he is needed. Arden Key (third round) started for the Raiders and did not play to his potential as he was cut from the team after a few seasons.

In 2019, the Raiders drafted Clelin Ferrell in the first round. He was a starter for two seasons and is currently on the bench.The Raiders shocked the world when they drafted Ferrell with the number four overall pick as he was considered to be third round talent. Then in the same round, they selected Josh Jacobs who is a stud for the Raiders as he is currently their workhorse running back. Still in the first round, the Raiders selected Johnathan Abram who is currently a starter. These three picks were part of the package deal they got for trading away Mack and Cooper. In round two, the Raiders took Trayvon Mullen Jr., who is currently the Raiders best piece on the secondary. Maxx Crosby was drafted in the fourth round and is currently the Raiders best pass rusher. He is considered to be a diamond in the rough by his production on the field as a fourth round pick. Pass rushers in the fourth round rarely produce the way Crosby has. So far since 2019, Crosby leads the team with 22 sacks. 

Moving on to 2020, Gruden and the Raiders selected Henry Ruggs the third (first round), Damon Arnette (first round), Lynn Bowden Jr., (third round), Bryan Edwards (third round) and Tanner Muse (third round). Ruggs is a starter on offense and is considered to be one of the fastest wide receivers in the league who has shown potential. Arnette has been a disappointment for the secondary so far, and he has been placed on the bench after blowing coverages on defense. Bowden was traded to the Dolphins in a surprising move, as he never had the chance to play for the Raiders. Edwards is currently a starter and a star on offense. He is reliable and brings value to the offense. Muse was eventually released and joined the Seahawks. As you can see, Gruden had more misses than hits in drafting players, contributing to the lack of success in his tenure.

2021 was Gruden’s last draft with the team. The Raiders selected Alex Leatherwood, Tre’von Moehrig, Malcolm Koonce, Divine Deablo, Tyree Gillespie, Nate Hobbs and Jimmy Morrissey. It’s too early to consider these players as hit or miss. However, this is the last class that was selected by Gruden. Only time will tell if they’ll pan out. 

Quarterback development

Since the arrival of Gruden, Derek Carr has improved as the team’s signal caller. Carr’s numbers have gone up each season under Gruden. In 2018, Carr completed 68% of his passes and reached 4,000 passing-yards for the first time in his career. He passed for 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a passer rating of 93.

In the 2019 season, Carr’s numbers improved from the previous year. He completed 70% of his passes and again reached 4,000 passing-yards. He passed for 21 touchdowns and with eight interceptions. He had a passer rating of 100.

In the 2020 season, Carr’s number continued the improving trend. He completed 67% of his passes and passed for 4,103 yards. He threw 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a passer rating of 101.

In the 2021 season, Carr has been playing at an MVP level with 6 games into the season. He’s learned to control the line of scrimmage, read defenses, change plays and scan the field to make the best possible decision once the ball is snapped. 

With Gruden’s departure has he left the Raiders roster in limbo?

In the wake of Gruden’s resignation, the Raiders have been left in a mess. When signed to be the head coach in 2018, he changed the roster that had cornerstone players to have one of the youngest rosters on the rise. Additionally, Gruden traded away what some argue was the best offensive line in football. Some say his draft picks have been questionable, with many being traded or cut and the majority have underperformed with the exception of a few starters on the roster. Gruden did leave behind the improvement of Derek Carr, who looks confident and aggressive in the pocket and his numbers have been trending upward. The team currently sits in second place at 4-2 in the AFC West division. 

Did Gruden regress the Raiders by trading away their star players and drafting poorly? Or will his departure benefit the team with the current roster they have? Only time will tell, but what is certain is that Las Vegas has a lot to fix once again.

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

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