Raiders coach Jon Gruden held his second media chat at the NFL owner’s meeting in Phoenix this week shedding light on the team’s recent moves and strategy heading into the draft.
By the middle of the 2018 season, most experts and fans thought it was a mistake that Jon Gruden had left his cozy seat in the broadcast booth for another stint as head coach in the NFL. The Raiders were 1-8 and Gruden had traded away arguably the games best EDGE rusher in Khalil Mack and his best wide receiver in Amari Cooper. Some seemed proven right in their assertion the game had clearly passed Gruden by.
Not so fast.
It’s hard to find anyone that works harder and has more enthusiasm for the game of football then Gruden and five months later the Raiders have dominated the conversation since the start of the NFL new year. With a bevy of acquisitions and the trade for arguably the best receiver in the game in Antonio Brown, the team seems to be making all the right moves. With four draft picks in the first 35 picks in the upcoming NFL draft, the Raiders now seem more organized, focused and ready to pounce.
This week, Gruden sat down with the media at the NFL Owner’s Meetings in Arizona and discussed the events of the previous year and how they have led the Raiders to this enviable position.
It’s hard to find anyone that works harder and has more enthusiasm for the game of football then Gruden and five months later the Raiders have dominated the conversation since the start of the NFL new year.
“We didn’t have much of a choice,” Gruden said about trading Khalil Mack. “I wanted to coach Mack, and Mack knows that. That trade allowed for these acquisitions to happen.”
Nevermind the financial details, which when explored show they might have been able to even with Mack on the roster (his cap hit for 2019 is just over $11 million).
Gruden also touched on the upcoming draft saying the Raiders would be open to moving up, trading down, or just staying pat and taking the player that falls to them – reiterating the Raiders have needs at multiple positions. But Gruden also stressed the importance of the continued development of last season’s rookie class as they enter the sophomore campaign.
“I want to see or second-year players play better,” Gruden said. “They got to play a lot last year and I want to see them play great this year.” Defensive linemen Arden Key and Maurice Hurst were singled out as was the status and development of cornerback Gareon Conley.
“Getting Gareon Conley healthy and playing at his potential is priority one,” Gruden said.
It was another defensive back that Gruden talked glowingly about that seemed to spike his energy level. Newly signed cornerback/safety Lamarcus Joyner had Gruden wide-eyed and full of excitement.
“When I was in Tampa I coached a guy named Ronde Barber and he perhaps may have been my favorite player I’ve ever coached,” Gruden said. “He wasn’t the biggest guy, he wasn’t the fastest guy, but when he put the helmet on something happened to that guy.
“Joyner to me is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Ronde, as a slot corner. I think he’s the best. I think he’s got a chance to really be dynamic in there, his leadership – when you meet Lamarcus Joyner, trust me, he’ll be your favorite guy you’ve met in a while – there’s something about this guy that’s special.”
One subject brought up by the media gaggle was the loss of last year’s leading receiver, tight end Jared Cook.
“It’s sickening to think we lost that guy,” Gruden uttered woefully. “It’s one of the things I don’t like about free agency. Youcan’tt keep all the guys you want.”
On the subject of Mike Mayock, the Raiders new general manager, Gruden wasn’t shy about heaping praise on the rookie GM.
“It’s a people business and when the trade was happening with the Steelers, I know Omar Khan, he knows Kevin Colbert, everybody’s got cell phones today and you’re communicating,” Gruden said. “But he’s (Mayock) such a great communicator and he has so many connections in the league it helps to get deals done. He’s not afraid, he’s got the guts, and he’s got the knowledge to pull the trigger and that’s what I really like.”
While some still insist Gruden and the Raiders don’t have a plan, it sure seems like their executing one now.