Jon Gruden

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2018 Season Likely To Be Reggie McKenzie’s Last With Raiders

When Jon Gruden took over as coach of the Oakland Raiders, the writing was on the wall for GM Reggie McKenzie. Now there’s more confirmation the two sides will be heading for a split, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports there is virtually no chance McKenzie is back in 2019.

Sources told La Canfora it’s a “near certainty” that there are “new decision-makers in place in Oakland well before the 2019 draft.” The final nail in the coffin appeared to be the decision to trade away Khalil Mack. Comments made by both Gruden and McKenzie following the trade made clear that it was Gruden’s imperative to deal the defensive end.

Gruden has been remaking the team in his vision ever since he became coach, and while nothing has been formally announced, it’s been clear for a while that McKenzie’s power has been reduced. Gruden will likely begin to bring in his own front office people shortly after the season ends.

It will be a critical and potentially era-defining offseason for Gruden in 2019. He’ll be doing it essentially all on his own and will receive all the credit, and the blame, for whatever transpires. What he does with the picks acquired in the Mack trade will determine how the trade, and his decision making, are viewed down the line. McKenzie, a fairly well respected executive, should land on his feet with another organization sooner rather than later after he’s eventually cut loose.

Extra Points: Mack, Rams, Rodgers, Luck

We previously heard that the Rams had made a bid on Khalil Mack, but the Raiders rejected the offer because the picks were going to be too low. Tonight, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported (via Twitter) that Los Angeles ultimately offered Oakland a first- and third-round pick.

However, the Rams didn’t see much of a future with Mack, especially after handing Aaron Donald a lucrative $135MM extension. Schefter notes that the team would have turned around and traded the impending free agent (presumably after he inked his franchise tag) this offseason. The team was trying to go “all in” on the upcoming campaign, with the hope that they could pair Mack with Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers.

Instead, Mack was dealt to the Bears, who then signed the pass rusher to a six-year, $141 million deal. The 27-year-old had a big game in his debut with Chicago, collecting three tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a pick-six.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFL…

  • Raiders coach Jon Gruden sat down to discuss the Mack trade with ESPN’s Lisa Salters, noting that the star player “obviously” didn’t want to be in Oakland. “Obviously, Khalil Mack didn’t want to play here,” Gruden said (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com). “That’s what’s being missed here. He was under contract, Lisa. He was under contract. He never showed up for an OTA, never showed up for a training camp and it was obvious he wasn’t going to show up for the season. Don’t forget that. We have to get ready to play and I want players that want to be here, that want to help us put this thing back in high gear.”
  • Aaron Rodgers sat out three series during last night’s contest before leading the Packers to a comeback victory over the Bears. While the quarterback may have tossed three second-half touchdowns, he’s not a sure-thing for next weekend’s game against the Vikings. Head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t give any indications as to whether the team would start Rodgers or backup DeShone Kizer on Sunday. “We do have some information and no decision has been made,” McCarthy said (via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com). “We’re still collecting all the information.” NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Rodgers is pushing to play, and the team will continue to monitor the swelling in his knee as the week goes on.
  • We learned earlier today that Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson was going to miss several weeks as he recovered from a concussion. Fortunately, it sounds like reinforcement is around the corner, as coach Bill O’Brien told ESPN’s Sarah Barshop that cornerback Kayvon Webster is trending in the right direction as he recovers from an Achilles injury (Twitter links). However, the defensive back won’t be ready for next week, and the team will consider moving safety Kareem Jackson to cornerback as they deal with the injuries.
  • In an interview with Rapoport, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck discussed a “previously secret injury” to his right shoulder that he suffered while snowboarding. The injury occurred after Luck had suffered a labrum tear in 2015, and the quarterback ended up hurting his AC joint in his throwing shoulder during the snowboarding accident. For what it’s worth, Luck is convinced that the indiscretion didn’t do anything to slow his eventual rehab from labrum surgery. “I’ve seen more doctors than I can count on two hands over the past two or three years,” Luck said, “and the consensus — unanimous — is that the AC is not an issue, nor did it have an effect. The labrum is an issue.”

Raiders GM Discusses Khalil Mack Trade

Last weekend, the Raiders were the talk of the NFL after sending star linebacker Khalil Mack to the Bears. While owner Mark Davis and head coach Jon Gruden were the two pushing for the trade, it’s uncertain how much general manager Reggie McKenzie had to do with the deal.

Gruden clearly has the ear of his owner, emphasized by the organization dealing off many of McKenzie’s draft picks. There have been rumblings that the Raiders could be preparing to part ways with the general manager, although Gruden was clear it was an organizational decision to trade off Mack.

For what it’s worth, McKenzie didn’t sound like he was entirely on board with a Mack deal. In an interview with Scott Bair of NBC Sports BayArea, the general manager provided some insight into the trade. The whole interview is worth reading, and we’ve collected some of the notable soundbites below:

On how he was handling the entire ordeal prior to the trade:

“My whole thought process was to get Khalil (signed). It was at the end, in the final hour, that it just hit. It hit hard and heavy. It was not a plan to trade him at all.”

On negotiations with Mack, who ended up signing a six-year, $141MM ($90MM guaranteed) deal after being dealt to Chicago:

“There were some things that weren’t meshing between the two proposals. That made it hard to go into details. We were trying to figure out ways to get it done, but it wasn’t going to look like what Khalil wanted.”

On whether quarterback Derek Carr‘s five-year, $125MM extension impacted negotiations with Mack:

“We knew we had two great players in that [2014] draft a long time ago. We knew this thing was coming. We were trying to plan for this. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. That scenario did not weight heavily in our decisions.”

On the perception that the organization is unwilling to pay their own players:

“We will pay top dollar. We couldn’t get around giving Khalil what he wanted. We will pay top dollar to top players. We just could not get it worked out with Khalil. When it seemed like it was going that way, we decided to make a move with the trade. We will be able attract players. …We’ll find a way to continue to play good football. We’re not worried about the outside perception of free agency. We will get free agents in here when its time to do that and we will keep our own. Sometimes you can’t keep them all. That’s just the way it goes.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Ravens, Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos

Undrafted rookie kicker Kaare Vedvik wasn’t going to make the Ravens due to the presence of Justin Tucker, but his leg proved so impressive this offseason that it was reported multiple teams were interested in trading for him. Those hopes appeared to be dashed, at least temporarily, when Vedvik was rushed to the hospital with very serious injuries just before roster cuts.

Vedvik can’t really remember what happened to him, but it appears police are suspecting some sort of foul play as he suffered serious head trauma. Ravens coach John Harbaugh thinks it “cost him a chance to kick in this league” and added “there were plenty of trade talks” involving Vedvik according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN. It’s an unfortunate situation all around for the Norway native who was shaping up to be a very good story. Here’s to hoping he makes a full recovery.

More from around the AFC:

  • It’s been a long road back to the field for Chiefs All-Pro safety Eric Berry. Berry, who suffered an Achilles tear that cost him the entire 2017 season, is now suffering from a heel injury that may cause him to miss Week 1 according to Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star. Heel and Achilles injuries can be closely related so it makes sense why the team would want to be cautious, but being without Berry for any period of time would be a huge blow to an already weak Kansas City secondary.
  • The Raiders’ trade for Martavis Bryant ended in disaster. The team surrendered a third round pick for the oft-troubled receiver, and he ended up never playing a down for them. Facing yet another suspension, the team cut him this past weekend. Despite all that, Raiders coach Jon Gruden is somehow still open to bringing Bryant back, saying “perhaps we’ll get Martavis again next year and get the best out of him” adding that he’s a “great talent” and that the move “was a risk I think well worth taking” per ProFootballTalk.com.
  • Rookie running back Royce Freeman has been named the Broncos’ starter over incumbent Devontae Booker, according to Mike Klis of 9News. Freeman, a third round pick from Oregon, started the summer as the number two but leapfrogged Booker due to a strong preseason.

Latest On Raiders’ Khalil Mack Decision

Addressing the Khalil Mack trade for the first time, Jon Gruden said the Raiders’ salary cap situation indeed played into the choice to ship the team’s best player to Chicago. Particularly, Derek Carr‘s contract played a role.

While Gruden said (via the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Michael Gehlken, on Twitter) he was not involved in the daily communications between Mack’s agent and the team, he did indicate Carr’s $25MM-AAV contract — one the quarterback signed in hopes of leaving his team enough money to take care of teammates’ deals down the road — made it difficult to complete a Mack extension. And the Raiders weren’t particularly close on terms with their former superstar defender.

The Bears gave Mack a six-year, $141MM contract with $90MM in guarantees — raising the bar for defenders after Aaron Donald did so previously. Gruden confirmed (per Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area, on Twitter) the Raiders made an offer, and it was “not anywhere close” to the terms Mack received from the Bears.

Gruden said the 27-year-old phenom was part of why he accepted Mark Davis‘ offer to return to coach the Raiders, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter), but added the $90MM in guarantees was something the Raiders “could not do.” Rumors about the Raiders’ wherewithal to authorize such a guarantee surfaced late in the offseason, but nothing concrete emerged about Davis’ ability to construct a Mack extension. But it’s clear the Raiders were not willing to venture into the financial neighborhood the Bears were.

As for pulling the trigger on a trade now, when Mack was attached to a $13MM-plus fifth-year option and could have been franchise-tagged in the future, Gruden said he did not believe Mack was going to report and it was “time to move on.” Additionally, the Bears’ “unique” offer prompted the Raiders to make the deal, with the 55-year-old head coach adding there was no guarantee a proposal including two first-round picks would’ve been on the table in 2019 (Twitter links via The Athletic’s Vic Tafur).

The Raiders received interest from several teams on the Mack front — the Jets, 49ers and Browns are the known suitors who didn’t match the Bears’ haul — and ended up giving the Bears a second-round pick in the deal. Gruden said, via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link), he was not part of the discussion that sent a future Day 2 pick to the Bears.

With Gruden having cut or traded several of Reggie McKenzie‘s recent draft picks in recent weeks, and having criticized the 2015-17 classes during training camp — and on Sunday (Twitter link via Gehlken) — some understandable discord may be taking place in Oakland. Some around the NFL did not expect the Gruden-McKenzie partnership, one that featured Gruden siphoning much of the GM’s power, to last, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. However, Gruden said the Raiders came to this Mack decision “as an organization,” per Gehlken (on Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Bengals, Iloka, Kaepernick

The Bengals surprised many with their release of safety George Iloka, but it has been in discussion ever since the drafting of Jessie Bates III in the second round, according to Kat Terrell of ESPN.com (Twitter links). Despite Iloka’s past performance, the Bengals are ready to move ahead with the rookie and give him the playing time he needs to develop. The Bengals were also wary of using a roster spot on a veteran who doesn’t fit on special teams.

Iloka wasn’t a fit for the 2018 Bengals, but there are plenty of other teams who are interested in his services. He’s already on the radar of the Raiders and Cowboys, and it stands to reason that other teams will get on the horn with him in the coming days.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Broncos GM John Elway violated the gag order issued in Colin Kaepernick‘s collusion case when he spoke about the quarterback last week, his agent alleges. “Mr. Elway, clearly he violated the protective order that the NFL has been wielding like a club at me,” attorney Mark Geragos said on his podcast (via Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports). “And he’s apparently suffering from some real brain trauma.”
  • It was widely reported that Jon Gruden‘s deal with the Raiders will pay him a guaranteed $100MM over ten years, but Gruden says that’s not true (via Mike Florio of PFT). The truth may be somewhere in between. It’s believed that Gruden’s $100MM is not fully guaranteed, Florio hears. The structure of the contract is believed to be more along the lines of $25MM over the first five years, and $75MM over the final five years. If that’s the setup of the deal, then it’s possible that the final five years are not fully guaranteed or even largely guaranteed.
  • Former Texans offensive tackle Derek Newton filed a grievance seeking payment of a $500K roster bonus, according Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Newton was officially released in April 12 with a failed physical designation, but his roster bonus was due April 1. The Texans held Newton on the roster past the bonus date, but he didn’t pass the physical. Therefore, Newton is seeking $200K from the team. For now, that number is held against the Texans’ cap.

Raiders’ Mack Has Yet To Speak With Gruden

Is there real trouble brewing in Oakland? Defensive end Khalil Mack and Jon Gruden have not spoken once since the Raiders hired their new coach in January, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter) hears. 

[RELATED: Mack Won’t Show For Camp]

The Raiders are presently in a standoff with Mack, who is staying away from the team as he pushes for a new contract. Mack is obviously a big part of the puzzle in Oakland, so it’s shocking to hear that there has been no communication between him and Gruden over the last seven months.

Mack has averaged 12 sacks per season over the last three years. Last year, he graded out as the fifth best edge rusher in the entire league, per Pro Football Focus.

As it stands, Mack is slated to reach unrestricted free agency following the 2018 season. He’s scheduled to earn $13.846MM, per the terms of his fifth-year option. His deal accounts for nearly 8% of the Raiders’ salary cap, and he is likely seeking a deal that will give him a similar piece of the pie over a six-year span, even as the cap continues to increase. So far, talks have dragged.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Hackenberg, Cardinals, Colts

Some assorted notes from around the NFL…

  • Raiders coach Jon Gruden has never been a fan of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and he attribute quarterback Christian Hackenberg‘s recent release to the CBA’s limitations. “Everybody is an expert out there on Hackenberg and thinks he can’t play,” Gruden said (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com). “It’s unfortunate, this whole collective [bargaining agreement]. How do you develop a quarterback? I don’t know how you do it. … It is hard enough to get Connor Cook enough reps, let alone a fourth guy. It really depresses me how we can’t spend more time with these young quarterbacks, and it is really going to be an impactful situation on the NFL in the future.” The former second-round pick was released by the Raiders after having been acquired from the Jets several weeks ago.
  • First-round quarterback Josh Rosen is undoubtedly impressing in Cardinals‘ camp, but Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com believes Sam Bradford will still be the team’s starter heading into the season. The veteran has the upper hand when it comes to accuracy and throwing power, and while the team is planning on bringing him along slowly (Bradford suffered another knee injury last season), he’s expected to be atop the depth chart at the start of the season.
  • The Colts are curiously attempting to switch linebacker John Simon to defensive end. As Zak Keefer of IndyStar.com writes, this is an especially questionable move considering the team’s lack of depth at linebacker. So far, no one on the Colts sounds overly optimistic about the switch. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus didn’t give a glowing review of the 27-year-old, acknowledging that Simon lacks the size of a typical defensive end. “What you have to do is use your attributes, your strengths, use your get-off, all those things,” he explained. “He’ll figure it out as we go.”
  • Former Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage has been named the general manager of the Alliance of American Football league’s Phoenix franchise (via SBJ’s Liz Mullen on Twitter). The 53-year-old was also the Browns general manager between 2005 and 2008.

Mark Davis Addresses New Raiders Power Structure

This offseason’s provided the first taste of Jon Gruden taking some of Reggie McKenzie’s power within the Raiders’ organization. Mark Davis clarified the setup, confirming McKenzie won’t have as much responsibility as he once did.

In authorizing a 10-year contract for Gruden, Davis has confirmed the now-two-time Raiders head coach’s voice is the most important in the building.

They have roles to play. At this point in time, the role Reggie plays now is a little different than the role he played with Jack (Del Rio), a little different than his role working with Dennis (Allen),” Davis said, via Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“It evolves. (McKenzie) has built the team to where we are now, and we’re in pretty good shape with the cap and everything else. Now he has a head coach who’s going to be running this thing for the next 10 years. His vision is going to be most important building what type of team we’ve got.”

Davis added that McKenzie maintains control of Oakland’s salary cap. But Gruden appears to have a much bigger say about free agency targets than his McKenzie-era predecessors did. The Raiders have added several veterans who are north of 30 — like Jordy Nelson, Leon Hall, Dwayne Harris, Breno Giacomini and Shareece Wright — and others non-fifth-year UFAs (Doug Martin, Tahir Whitehead, Emmanuel Lamur, Marcus Gilchrist).

Jon’s the head coach and he’s going to be here a while, so it’s important that he gets the players he wants and builds a team he wants to build,” Davis said. “Reggie is there with his staff to find the players, and also to keep the (salary) cap and everything else in order.”

McKenzie constructed a roster that ended the Raiders’ lengthy playoff drought, with a 12-4 2016 showing, but that group underwhelmed last season and regressed to a six-win outfit.

Davis said he won’t meddle often in the personnel side and confirmed his goal of bringing Gruden back to Oakland took more than five years to come to fruition.

I’m done with the football side,” Davis said. “I got Reggie in place early. That was huge. But it was a six-year process to get Jon to be the head coach. I wanted him way back then, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I continually kept after Jon to see if he was interested. If he decided to come back, I hoped it would be with the Raiders. This year, he finally came on board.

That allows me to see a long-term process working out on the football side. Jon will be our coach for the next 10 years, or until he gets tired of me. With him and Reggie on the football side of the building, and (director of football administration) Tom Delaney of course, they really do a great job. From the football side, I play devil’s advocate on certain things, but those guys make the decisions.”