Jon Gruden

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.