Jon Gruden

Jon Gruden Defends Antonio Brown

We heard Friday that new Raiders receiver Antonio Brown is expected to rejoin the team shortly, a report that came on the heels of a great deal of Brown-related drama this week. We learned that the foot injury that has been plaguing Brown stemmed from a cryogenic chamber mishap, and we also learned that Brown has been staying away from team practices after being barred from wearing the helmet that he has used throughout his career.

After Oakland’s preseason victory over the Rams last night, head coach Jon Gruden was predictably asked a series of questions about Brown’s status, and Gruden was 100% supportive of his enigmatic superstar. He said (via Grant Gordon of NFL.com), “[w]e’re gonna support him. And whatever his decision is, we’ll stand by it. But we’re confident he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders for years to come.”

Gruden also indicated that the foot injury, which was said to be a result of Brown’s failure to wear proper footwear when he underwent cryogenic therapy, was not actually AB’s fault. Gruden said, “I don’t know what anybody’s writing or anybody thinks, but this foot injury wasn’t his fault. This was a total accident. It really wasn’t his fault and it’s a serious injury. I know some people are smarting at it, but it’s really not a laughing matter. The guy was hurt. He’s innocent, he didn’t do anything wrong.”

With respect to the helmet issue, Gruden added, “the helmet thing is a personal matter to him. He has a strong feeling about what he’s worn on his head and we’re supporting him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot. And we hope Antonio is back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. I’m excited. I got some plays for him, I hope we can start calling them.”

A ruling on Brown’s grievance against the league is expected to be issued soon, but if Brown is forced to wear a different helmet, he will try to hold the league liable for any head injury he may suffer, as a source with knowledge of the hearing tells Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic. The source said, “I think it’ll be interesting if the NFL forces Antonio to wear a different helmet. And he does play and he doesn’t retire as some people have reported he will do. And then he suffers a really severe injury. I’d hate to be the NFL. Because now you’ve forced him into wearing a different type of helmet. And I think at that point, though, the liability will be dramatic.”

Of course, the NFL wants Brown to play in a helmet that is believed to be more resistant to head injuries than the one he has always worn, so it seems that the league would have a strong argument if Brown was made to switch and suffered a head injury. On the surface, it sounds like it would be difficult for Brown to prove that the change was a proximate cause of any injury he may sustain.

Nonetheless, Brown is pulling out all the stops to get what he wants, and Gruden and Raiders fans will just have to continue to hope that he shows up soon.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, the team could force the issue by sending Brown the notorious five-day letter (which, as the name implies, would require Brown to return within five days of the letter). If he doesn’t return, the Raiders would be able to shut him down for the season and absolve themselves of any obligation to pay him, but given Gruden’s comments, it does not sound as if Oakland is preparing to take such an aggressive stance at this point.

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Isaiah Crowell To Visit Raiders

The Raiders have made some splash moves in free agency but still have openings at running back. Isaiah Crowell will make a trip to Oakland as a potential solution, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Jon Gruden, in particular, wants the Raiders to sign Crowell, Rapoport adds. So this partnership appears to have a good chance of happening. Crowell’s visit, his first in this free agency period, will occur Thursday.

The Jets released Crowell earlier this offseason, doing so after one season. Crowell did well on a per-carry basis in New York, matching his career high with 4.8 yards per carry. But the Jets gave the 2018 free agent acquisition a career-low 143 carries. Crowell, 26, finished with 685 yards. The Jets replaced him with Le’Veon Bell, who was also on the Raiders’ radar. Although, the Silver and Black did not appear to make a serious run at the longtime Steeler.

Crowell has 27 career rushing touchdowns and surpassed 850 ground yards in his final two Browns seasons, doing so despite the team often trailing in a 1-31 stretch.

Marshawn Lynch‘s status with the Raiders is up in the air, and despite Gruden indicating he was in favor of a Doug Martin return, that has not come to fruition. Jalen Richard has yet to sign his second-round tender, but the fourth-year passing-down back doing so would appear likely. DeAndre Washington remains on the team as well.

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Latest On Marshawn Lynch, Raiders

The Raiders are still waiting to see how veteran running back Marshawn Lynch recovers from his groin injury to decide if they bring him back in 2019, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch writes

Lynch, who will turn 33 before the 2019 season kicks off, is expected to have more of an interest in returning to his hometown team now that the team will for sure be playing their games in the Bay Area. Head coach Jon Gruden said the decision is one that will likely play itself out before the draft.

“I think the coming weeks will give us a better indication where is physically,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 agenda. We have to find out officially how he has responded to the injury. We’ll know something here in a couple of weeks.”

Though his season was cut short by that groin injury, Lynch still managed to average 4.2 yards per carry while gaining 376 yards on the ground. The five-time Pro Bowl selection ranks 29th all time in rushing yards and 16th in rushing touchdowns.

The Raiders are sure to be in the market for a running back as both Lynch and Doug Martin are free agents heading into 2019.

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Jon Gruden Discusses Raiders’ Plans For Draft, Free Agency

The Raiders are armed with three first-round picks heading into April’s draft, providing the organization with plenty of flexibility. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will have to decide how they’ll want to use their early-round picks, but it sounds like the team is certainly open to making some deals.

“I think there’s a lot of potential for trades, and I think that’s one of the things I’m excited about [with] Mike Mayock,” Gruden said during his appearance on “The Game Plan” podcast on the Raiders Podcast Network (via Raiders.com). “What he brings to the table, he’s got great resources around the NFL. He’s been in every building, he’s on a first-name basis, everybody knows Mike and I think he’s going to be on the phones quite a bit with the two picks you talked about. Who knows, we may move up with the No. 4 pick, we may move back with that pick. We’ll see how it all unfolds.”

In the first round, the Raiders have their own pick (#4), the Bears’ pick (#24), and the Cowboys’ pick (#27). Otherwise, the team has seven selections between the second and seventh round.

Of course, the organization is also focused on free agency. While Gruden seemed to indicate that the team will be active, he also cautioned that they’ll be targeting a specific grouping of players.

“We’ve been doing nothing but studying free agents,” Gruden said. “Guys [whose] contracts are up, obviously we aren’t looking to add players that are at the end of their career. We’re looking for blossoming young players, those guys usually don’t get to free agency. The pickings are slim for everybody, but there are a couple diamonds in the rough. We’ll see where the market goes, but you don’t want to spend all your money that you have on a few free agents, you want to try and keep some of that money available in case a trade might develop during the draft.”

After signing a 10-year, $100MM contract last offseason, Gruden’s team disappointed during his first season at the helm. The team ultimately finished the season 4-12, their worst showing since 2014.

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Extra Points: Gruden, Raiders, Rams, Browns, Chiefs

Jon Gruden seemed to indicate the Raiders wouldn’t be overly aggressive in free agency this offseason during a recent podcast interview, per Scott Bair of NBC Sports. “Obviously, we’re not looking to add players at the end of their career. We’re looking for blossoming young players. Those guys usually don’t get to free agency, so the pickings are slim”, Gruden said, adding “we’ll see where the market goes, but you don’t want to spend all the money you have on a few free agents. You want to try to keep some of that money available in case a trade might develop during the draft.” Gruden separately again emphasized the possibility of making a trade, saying “I think there’s a lot of potential for trades.”

Here’s more from around the league on this Friday night:

  • The Rams are making another change to their coaching staff. So far this offseason they’ve lost Zac Taylor to the Bengals, promoted Jedd Fisch and Shane Waldron, and hired Wade Phillips’ son Wes to be their tight ends coach. Now, they’re hiring away Eric Henderson from the Chargers to be their new defensive line coach, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Henderson had been serving as an assistant defensive line coach with the Chargers. Before that, he had been an assistant with Oklahoma State. The Rams haven’t made any announcement, but Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic was able to confirm that their incumbent defensive line coach, Bill Johnson, won’t be back with the team next year (Twitter link).
  • Browns receiver Antonio Callaway had his marijuana charge from last October dropped recently, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Callaway had maintained all along that he had no idea the small amount of marijuana was in his car, and apparently he was right. Callaway had previously tested positive at the combine before he was drafted, so his citation turned into somewhat of a big deal.
  • Earlier this week, we heard that the Chiefs intended to franchise tag pass-rusher Dee Ford. The team could be facing a fight with Ford though over which position he’ll be classified as, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. Ford has played outside linebacker in old defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme, but Ford is a pass-rusher first and foremost and will want to be classified as a defensive end for tagging purposes. As Florio points out, because the tag is valued based on what the top players at a given position are being paid, it’s the difference of several million dollars. Newly-hired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo runs a 4-3 defense so Ford will be a defensive end in 2019 anyway, but Florio writes that Spagnuolo intentionally declined to talk specifics about positions in his defense during recent comments to reporters, perhaps because of an impending battle between Ford and the club.

London A 2019 Option For The Raiders?

With the Raiders’ relationship with Oakland dissolved and a year left before they can complete their move to Las Vegas, the team is broaching out-of-the-box options for home games in 2019. One of those options could include playing in London, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer (Twitter link). 

Glazer called the potential move “out of left field,” but mentioned that other owners have discussed the possibility with the team. The NFL has long toyed with the possibility of a franchise calling London home, and this would be the greatest test run the league could hope for.

What the move would look like for scheduling purposes is yet to be determined, but it is sure to be a hectic travel situation with the team playing its games in the AFC West. One possibility that Glazer mentioned would have the Raiders playing four consecutive home games, followed by four straight road contests.

One person who would not be happy with playing the games in London would be Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, according to Des Bieler of The Washington Post. When the team played the Seahawks in London this year, the coach said:

“I get claustrophobic. My son was a weightlifter, and he won a powerlifting competition in Belarus. I had to fly 14 hours. I had to fly home 14 hours. I had vertigo for a month. I couldn’t even lay down, the house was spinning. I am hoping I don’t get vertigo. I’m not a great traveler. I’ll be honest with you. I hate it. I’m not good. I’m concerned. I’m more worried about that than our goal-line offense right now.”

Though it may seem like an outside shot, the fact the Raiders have discussed the move with other owners suggest the team is seriously considering the move and would have approval from at least some of the 31 owners needed to make the move. The team has also been linked with a host of other locations, including Levi’s Stadium and AT&T Park.

West Notes: Raiders, Hill, Ekeler, 49ers

The long-anticipated Reggie McKenzie departure leaves the Raiders in search of a replacement, but Jon Gruden is not certain to be involved in the interview process that will lead to his new decision-making partner/lieutenant.

I know Mark (Davis) is going to accumulate a list of names and candidates, and I’m sure we’ll discuss those people later this week,” Gruden said (via ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez). “Right now, I don’t have any idea. … I’m not revealing any candidates because I don’t know of any.”

Jaguars player personnel director Chris Polian, Lions exec Jimmy Raye III and former Gruden Buccaneers coworker Mark Domenik have been loosely connected to the Raiders’ vacancy thus far. The team may want an executive who can push back against Gruden when necessary, per SI.com’s Albert Breer. College scouting director Shaun Herock is now filling in for McKenzie as GM, and Davis views Herock as a key organizational piece going forward. Gruden stopped short of proclaiming McKenzie’s right-hand man, player personnel director Joey Clinkscales, would have a long-term role. But Clinkscales remains in his post following McKenzie’s firing.

Here is the latest from the West divisions:

  • With a home game against the Chargers and a road tilt in Seattle, the Chiefs have a tough back-to-back assignment coming up. Their top wide receiver likely will not be 100 percent for those games. Tyreek Hill said Sunday, via NBC Sports’ Peter King, his foot was “bad.” Hill left Sunday’s overtime win because of injury but returned, and Andy Reid expects the deep threat to play against the Bolts on Thursday. The Chiefs possessed a top-flight skill-position quartet, powering Patrick Mahomes‘ MVP candidacy, this season. But they are now without Kareem Hunt and Sammy Watkins, the latter likely out until the playoffs. Hill has not missed an NFL game due to injury. A Hill absence would make Kansas City vulnerable against a Chargers team that would move into an 11-3 tie atop the AFC West with a win. That said, the Chiefs would still hold the divisional-record tiebreaker and keep the top spot.
  • Chances for a Thursday recovery for Austin Ekeler aren’t as good. The second-year Chargers running back suffered a bruised nerve in his neck, per Eric Williams of ESPN.com, and although he played through similar discomfort earlier this season, Ekeler not playing appears to be the most likely scenario. “It’s football, yeah, but there’s a lot of life after football, too,” Ekeler said Monday. Melvin Gordon is expected to return from his MCL injury, however.
  • The 49ers drafted N.C. State’s Kentavius Street shortly after he tore his ACL in a pre-draft workout with the Giants, but the rookie defensive end may be on the verge of practicing, Kyle Shanahan said Monday. Street is on the 49ers’ NFI list and will not play in a game this season, though, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports (on Twitter). Still, practice work would help as Street prepares for a hopefully healthy 2019 offseason.
  • In case you missed it, Doug Baldwin is inactive for tonight’s Seahawks-Vikings game. Baldwin, who’s battled a knee injury most of this season, is now dealing with a hip problem.

Latest On Raiders, Reggie McKenzie

On Monday afternoon, the Raiders released a statement to confirm the firing of longtime GM Reggie McKenzie.

We are grateful for everything Reggie has done for this organization as a player, executive and member of the Raider family,” the statement read. “The Raiders will immediately begin a search for a new front office executive.”

Curiously, the statement indicates that the Raiders will look “for a new front office executive,” which may mean that the club will not give anyone the title of GM for 2019.

Here’s the latest out of Oakland:

  • Those in the building say that Gruden actually liked McKenzie, even as Gruden picked apart the roster that he built, Albert Breer of The MMQB tweets. Things weren’t outwardly contentious between the two men, Breer hears, and he notes that McKenzie’s decision to set high asking prices for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper actually paid off. Before each deal, there was speculation that McKenzie was looking to sandbag the efforts, but that does not appear to be the case in retrospect.
  • The Raiders may view executives such as Jimmy Raye III, Mark Dominik, and Chris Polian as candidates to become the new GM or chief of personnel, according to Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). And, despite previous rumors linking Redskins exec Bruce Allen to the post, Pelissero hears that Allen is not “on the front burner” for the Raiders at this time.

Raiders Owner On Mack Trade, Gruden

Raiders owner Mark Davis is taking responsibility for the team’s 1-8 start, even though many are pointing fingers at head coach Jon Gruden

I always look in the mirror, and the buck stops with me,” Davis told ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez. “Where this team is right now is my fault. We haven’t been able to build a 22-man roster. We haven’t been able to give this team a chance to win because the reconstruction failed. We failed from 2014 on to have a roster right now.”

Over the course of a 45-minute interview, Davis discussed Gruden, GM Reggie McKenzie, the team’s widely panned trade of defensive star Khalil Mack, and much more. Here’s a look at the highlights:

On Gruden’s role in the Mack trade:

Jon wanted him. Everybody thinks that Jon’s the one who wanted to get rid of him. Jon wanted him badly. Why wouldn’t you want this guy? Reggie wanted him badly. And I wanted him badly, too. But, if in fact we were going to give the type of money that we were going to give to him, and we had Derek on that type of a (contract), how were we going to go ahead and build this football team, with all the holes that we had?

On what prompted the team to send Mack to the Bears: 

My thought was, “Listen, he signed a five-year contract, if he’s the type of guy that I think he is, he’s going to honor that contract.” And he’s going to come in and play for the $13MM for this year and then we’ll work for him during the year and get it. Word came back through certain players that know him and talk to him and know me as well, that he wasn’t going to come in. He was going to do the Le’Veon Bell (holdout). At that point, I said, F’ it. The guy hasn’t talked to anybody. We’ve got to do something.

On Mack’s agent, Joel Segal:

It might not have been the right decision, but the other point to this whole thing is that Segal is also the agent for Amari Cooper. And we knew the same situation was coming up the next year. It wasn’t just one layer of chess; it was two layers of chess. But to blame Jon, for Khalil Mack not being here, is absolutely not the truth. It was a decision that was made and it wasn’t made easily … I don’t have any bad feelings toward (Mack). I wish he would have talked to Jon and Reggie and wanted to at least honor the fifth year of his contract.

On the future of quarterback Derek Carr:

Derek is taking a lot of s— right now. He is the franchise quarterback right now. He doesn’t have Amari Cooper. He lost (Martavis) Bryant to a knee injury today. Guys have been getting hurt. Who’s he throwing to? Jordy Nelson and Seth Roberts, which are good guys. But they’re not putting the fear of God in anybody. The tight end (Jared Cook) is playing his ass off. You look at the quarterback and he’s playing behind a battered offensive line … so I don’t know what you can put on Derek and I don’t think it’s fair to put all the blame on him.

On McKenzie’s future:

Reggie and I need to sit down and talk and figure out how we are going to go about the future. We’ve got to look in the mirror and figure out, where the hell did we go wrong in trying to build this thing? We failed. I have failed. But at the same time, we wouldn’t have been in the great position we were in without Reggie McKenzie being here.

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Jon Gruden’s Evaluation Methods Have Created Tension

Reports last week suggesting that 2018 would be Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie‘s last with the organization were hardly surprising. Once Oakland hired Jon Gruden to be its new head coach, it was clear that Gruden would be the primary decision-maker with respect to roster construction, which owner Mark Davis confirmed back in April. As such, most assumed that Gruden and McKenzie would not be coexisting for too long.

But regardless of how one feels about McKenzie’s and Gruden’s relative abilities to evaluate talent, a report from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com this morning regarding Gruden’s evaluation methods may be a cause for concern for Raiders fans. Per Rapoport, Gruden essentially has his own staff that helps him judge talent and make decisions, and he listens primarily to those within his circle (none of whom are scouts and evaluators weaned under McKenzie).

That setup — which Gruden currently has no plans to change, even in 2019 and beyond — has created a disconnect in the building that several sources say they have never really experienced before. It appears that there is a close-knit group of “Gruden’s guys,” and then there is everyone else, and while the factions do come together to make sure all voices are heard, those outside of Gruden’s circle believe they are not really being listened to.

It was Gruden and his group that spearheaded the signing of several older free agents, the jettisoning of many previous draft picks, and the much-debated trade of Khalil Mack, which has only intensified the feelings of disconnect. And it appears that Gruden’s most trusted confidant is Director of Football Research Dave Razzano, a longtime NFL scout who became a controversial Twitter voice with hot takes like “Jake Locker should be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft” and “Von Miller will be a bust.”

McKenzie reportedly turned down a chance to interview for other GM jobs this past offseason, and even if he does not secure a GM post in 2019, he will surely be working in someone’s front office. The real question is whether Gruden’s approaches to the game after a long absence, which have raised more than a few eyebrows, will ultimately lift the club to new heights or send it spiraling into another extended period of questionable leadership and mediocrity.

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