Jon Gruden

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.”

AFC Notes: Anthem, Jets, Raiders, Broncos

Among the most divisive issues facing the NFL today are national anthem protests. That division is also felt among the owners themselves, who are currently in Orlando for the annual owner’s meetings.

Outspoken on the subject for more than a year, Texans owner Bob McNair issued another statement on the issue on Sunday, saying, according to The Washington Post’s Mark Maske (Twitter link):

“We’re going to deal with it in such a way, I think, that people will understand that we want everybody to respect our country, respect our flag. And our playing fields, that’s not the place for political statements.”

Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, however, falls on the other side of the argument, according to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert (Twitter link).

“I can’t speak to how other people run their teams, but I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea.”

Despite McNair’s seeming assuredness, the owners do not appear to be near to a solution. The issue is sure to permeate throughout the meetings.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • Sticking with the Jets, wide receiver Robby Anderson had his court date moved from Monday to Aug. 6, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini. The new date will now take place while the Jets are at training camp. The charges, stemming from a January incident, include three felonies: second-degree felony harm to a public servant or family, third-degree felony fleeing/eluding police while lights/siren active and third-degree felony speeding. After being arrested, Anderson threatened to sexually assault the wife of the arresting officer, according to reports. Anderson was allegedly clocked at 105 mph in 45-mph zone speeding away from police while running multiple red lights.
  • Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations John Elway said the team doesn’t know who it plans to take with the No. 5 pick in 2018 NFL Draft, 9 News’ Mike Klis writes. “You know we’re wide open, to be dead honest with you,’’ Elway said. “Who knows how it’s all going to fall. The Jets have already moved (from the No. 6 pick up to No. 3) and there’s going to be other teams that may be moving around, too, so we’re going to go through and have those discussions. I will tell ya, it’s funny how people think they know who you’re drafting because I don’t know who we’re drafting, yet. We’re going to do our homework and eventually get there.’’ 
  • Raiders owner Mark Davis said with the hiring of new head coach Jon Gruden, he plans to be done with the football side of the organization, NBC Sports’ Scott Bair tweets. “It was a six-year process to get Jon to be the head coach,” Davis said. “This year, he finally came on board. That allows me to see a long-term process working out on the football side. … I play devil’s advocate on certain things, but those guys make the decisions.”

 

 

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Case Keenum
  4. A.J. McCarron
  5. Sam Bradford
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Colin Kaepernick
  8. Josh McCown
  9. Mike Glennon
  10. Drew Stanton
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. Chase Daniel
  13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  14. Brock Osweiler
  15. Tom Savage

There were many difficult calls when putting this list together, but ranking Kirk Cousins as the No. 1 QB available was not among them. Cousins is the best quarterback to reach free agency in recent history and he’ll become the highest-paid player of all-time – at least, for some period of time – in mid-March. Who will make history with Cousins? That’s anyone’s guess right now. The Browns have more cap room than any other team, but a recent report from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com listed the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings as the final suitors for Cousins. Of those four, the Jets have the most money to work with, but they’re concerned about the Vikings winning out and Cousins’ desire to win could point him in another direction. If the Broncos and Cardinals want in on the Cousins sweepstakes, they’ll have to get creative with the books.

Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.

Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.

There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.

What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.

Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.

Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.

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Jon Gruden On Crabtree, Lynch, Cable

With a non-guaranteed $7.7MM salary, Michael Crabtree is among this year’s potential high-profile salary cap casualties. However, in a recent interview, Raiders coach Jon Gruden indicated that Crabtree is a part of the team’s plans. Michael Crabtree (vertical)

I got to bump into Crabtree. Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career,” Gruden told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group.

Crabtree, 31 in September, turned in the weakest numbers he’s had in a healthy season since 2010. His 58 catches for 618 yards and eight touchdowns is nothing to sneeze at, but it was a drop-off from his 89 grabs for 1,003 yards and eight scores in 2016. Still, Gruden believes that he can get Crabtree back on track, which would make him worth his current contract. Alternatively, the Raiders could ask Crabtree to take a minor pay cut.

Here’s more from Gruden’s sit down with McDonald:

Do you think Marshawn Lynch will be on the roster this year?

I don’t know. I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ballcarrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. that’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.

What excites you about this roster?

I think we’ve got a great young quarterback. I think that’s enough to be excited about. I think a lot of our center. I think the quarteback-center (Rodney Hudson) battery is as good as I’ve ever had in football. I’m really excited about the two guards (Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson), obviously. That’s the strength of this team. And Khalil Mack, I think he’s a proven superstar football player. I think the excitement around working with Amari Cooper is just certainly pretty cool. 

Does Tom Cable’s hiring mean the Raiders will be a zone-scheme team when it comes to running the ball?

No. I think Cable’s background is one of the outside zone, the inside zone, but he’s also a very versatile coach. He’s proven that. He can run gap schemes. He’s going to run what we’re good at running. If we have a good back, and some good linemen and a tight end and a fullback, we’ll have a good running game with Tom Cable. But we’ve got to get the components in place so he can be all he can be. That’s something we’re working on right now. He’s a versatile coach, certainly he’s an expert in the zone scheme and I’m excited about that, but there’s a lot of ways he’s run the ball in his background. 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lynch, Gruden Have Met Multiple Times

Though it had been reported that Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch had been “blowing off” new head coach Jon Gruden, the veteran back’s agent Doug Hendrickson dispelled those rumors on Twitter on Friday. Marshawn Lynch (Vertical)

Hendrickson tweeted: “To all the couch potato non verified media ppl speaking on Marshawn Lynch-get a real job and check sources! #beastmode.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Michael Gehlken confirmed as much with his sources (Twitter link).

Lynch is signed through the 2018 and possesses a cap number of $6 MM. Though some have speculated the pair might butt heads, it appears the two are working to find a fit for the running back in the team’s new system.

After a year away from football, Lynch returned to the gridiron with the Raiders and produced 891 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 207 carries. Though Oakland suffered a disappointing campaign, the five-time Pro Bowl back proved he had plenty left in the tank.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL: Raiders Complied With Rooney Rule

When the Raiders seemingly agreed to hire Jon Gruden without interviewing any other candidates, black or otherwise, many wondered if the team would face sanctions for violating the Rooney Rule. The NFL investigated the matter and concluded on Friday that the team did comply with the rule, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Jon Gruden (vertical)

The ruling is sure to draw eye rolls from many around the game. In Gruden’s introductory press conference, owner Mark Davis insinuated that he had reached agreement with the coach on Christmas Eve. Two minority candidates Oakland tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin – were technically interviewed before Gruden signed a contract, but it seems that the job was already taken by the time they met with team brass in the New Year.

I felt pretty confident that he was all-in,” Davis said of the Dec. 24 discussion. “And that’s the term that we were using in our discussions and everything, are you all-in? And I never wavered from all-in. And this time he didn’t waver, either.”

First implemented in 2003, the Rooney Rule stipulates that at least one minority candidate must be interviewed for all head coach or senior football operations positions in the NFL. It’s possible that there will be changes to the rule in response to the Raiders’ conduct.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders Notes: Gruden, Bennett, Cable

On Friday, the Raiders announced the hiring of Rams quarterbacks coach Greg Olson as the team’s offensive coordinator. The 31-year NFL veteran coach, and Raiders offensive coordinator from 2013-14, won’t have to worry about calling plays. That duty instead will go to new head coach Jon GrudenBen Volin of the Boston Globe notes.

Gruden, who hasn’t coached in the NFL in nine seasons, has been preparing for the moment he would return to the sidelines for some time. He reportedly spends countless hours studying NFL and college plays and is expected to work closely with Derek Carr and the other Raiders quarterbacks.

Though he spurned advances for a role with Gruden, former quarterback Rich Gannon has full confidence that the former Super Bowl-winning coach won’t skip a beat.

“Jon has a system where he’s really going to count on the quarterback to be a big decision maker. He’s going to have a lot more flexibility and freedom at the line of scrimmage to change protections, to change plays. It’s going to be a fun offense to watch. He’s got a quarterback that can do it. That’s a big reason why he decided to come back.”

From the sounds of it, Carr will have more responsibility than ever before as he hopes to rebound from a disappointing 2017.

Here is more news from Oakland:

  • Gruden interviewed one person for the vacant offensive line coach position and had another meeting set up for Monday but dropped everything once the Seahawks fired Tom Cable, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur reports (Twitter link). After being fired as head coach in Oakland in 2010, Cable moved to Seattle and served as offensive line coach for seven seasons. Under his direction, Seattle established itself as one of the best running teams in NFL. His return could reunite him with Marshawn Lynch, should the Raiders retain the veteran back.
  • The Raiders continued to clean house on former head coach Jack Del Rio‘s staff, reports ESPN’s Adam Caplan (Twitter link). Among the expected departures are cornerbacks coach Rod Woodson, running backs coach Bernie Parmalee, assistant special teams coach Tracy Smith, wide receivers coach Rob Moore and safeties coach Brett Vieselmeyer.
  • Former Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett didn’t have to wait long to find a new gig. He will be joining the Raiders as the team’s new receivers coach, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports (Twitter link). A former Packers running back, Bennett has spent 23 of his 25 seasons in the league as a player and coach in Green Bay.

AFC Notes: Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins

Now that newly-hired Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has begun filling out his staff, a lot of his work will now shift to the personnel side of the franchise. Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Journal-Review previewed many of the decisions that Gruden and the front office will have to work through this offseason.

Gehlken starts by stating that the team is likely to move on from number one wide receiver Michael Crabtree and cornerback Sean Smith. Releasing both players would save money and allow the team to continue to get younger at both positions.

However, a more difficult decision may lie with soon-to-be 32-year-old running back Marshawn Lynch. His salary will jump from $1.35MM to $4MM in 2018. On March 18, he will receive a $1MM roster bonus if he is still on the roster. Lynch’s season was rather inconsistent and running backs that play into their 30’s don’t have the best track record, but it would still be difficult to move on from a talent like Lynch.

“You know, I’ve never met Marshawn Lynch,” Gruden said. “Even as a broadcaster, I asked for Marshawn Lynch in production meetings and I never got to meet him. So I’m anxious to sit down with Marshawn and meet him. We’ll talk about his future and the Raiders. I can’t wait. He came back to the Raiders for similar, I think, reasons that I did.”

In recent seasons, the Raiders have used free agency as a primary source of getting key players, and while the defense has been arguably the main area of concern, Gehlken passes along that Gruden is also is looking to bring new ideas to the offensive side of the ball.

“We are going to have to look at our roster carefully and see, do we have a fullback? Who is the feature back? Who are the receivers?” Gruden said Tuesday. “A lot of things have to be determined, and I think you have to have an offense that is adaptable, that is versatile and can adjust to a number of certain areas. That is what we need to do. Get through today, lock the doors and get to work.”

Here’s more stories from around the AFC:

  • In news from another AFC West club, the Broncos recently inked former head coach Gary Kubiak to a larger front office role. However, Kubiak could still draw interest from teams looking for a new offensive coordinator, speculates Mike Klis of 9News. Though Klis mostly shuts down that notion because the former Super Bowl winning coach is currently under contract for one more year in Denver, which would force a prospective team to pay up a draft pick in order to pry him away.
  • The Broncos also have a decision to make regarding star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The 30-year-old pass catcher has two years remaining on his current deal should his $4MM option for next season be picked up before the first day of the 2018 league year, reports Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post (Twitter link). However, if the Broncos do decline the option, the final two years would voided and he would become a free agent this offseason. This would also result in $3.1MM of dead money. His salary figures for the next two years are $12.03MM and $17.5MM, respectively. The Broncos need to get younger at the wide receiver position and could be served well letting Thomas walk as he enters the wrong side of his 30’s.
  • The Dolphins offensive line could undergo somewhat of a makeover this offseason and one part of that could come from one of their veterans switching positions. Ted Larsen played in the team’s final eight games at left guard after missing the first half of the season with an injury. However, the 30-year-old would like to switch to right guard in 2018, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Larsen told Jackson “That’s my preference, I played there since 2014.” Jackson notes that fellow starting guard Jesse Davis has shown no reservations about changing roles, so it’s a real possibility that Larsen could have his wish granted in training camp. Although, the writer did add that the team will likely bring in some competition through the draft or free agency. Miami is also not likely to hold onto right tackle Ja’Wuan James for his $9MM 2018 salary figure. Veteran tackle Jermon Bushrod was injured at the end of the year and will be a free agent this offseason as well. This could open up a spot for a prospective high round draft pick with the Dolphins currently holding the 11th overall selection.

Did Raiders Follow Rooney Rule?

Did the Raiders violate the Rooney Rule with the hiring of Jon Gruden? That’s what the Fritz Pollard Alliance is asking the NFL. Jon Gruden (vertical)

As soon as we learned of the reports, we formally requested that the NFL thoroughly investigate the matter to conclusively determine whether the Rooney Rule was violated — and if it was violated, to impose an appropriate punishment,” Fritz Pollard Alliance counsel Cyrus Mehri and N. Jeremi Duru said in a statement.

During Gruden’s introductory press conference, owner Mark Davis said that he spoke with Gruden on Christmas Eve – while Jack Del Rio was still employed as the head coach – about returning to Oakland. No deal was signed at that point, but Davis intimated that an agreement was in place. This all took place more than a week before any minority candidate was interviewed for the job.

I felt pretty confident that he was all-in,” Davis said. “And that’s the term that we were using in our discussions and everything, are you all-in? And I never wavered from all-in. And this time he didn’t waver, either.”

The Raiders technically did interview a pair of black coaches in Oakland tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin and they feel that is enough to satisfy the Rooney Rule. However, Davis’ comments could be damning, because he appears to be saying that the Gruden hire was already a done deal before they met with GM Reggie McKenzie.

If the NFL finds that the Raiders were in violation of Rooney Rule procedure, the Raiders could face hefty fines and/or the forfeiture of draft picks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Gruden, GM Share Raiders Roster Control

Earlier this month, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie turned down an opportunity to interview for the Packers’ GM vacancy. That was our first indication that McKenzie would maintain at least some control over Oakland’s 53-man roster, despite the arrival of Jon Gruden as head coach. Reggie McKenzie (vertical)

At Tuesday’s introductory press conference for the new (/old) head coach, Gruden confirmed that the two will “work together” to make roster decisions. McKenzie, meanwhile, was upbeat about the new arrangement.

Since taking over as Raiders GM in 2012, the team has gone a combined 36-60, including three seasons with four victories or less. But, in 2016, the team turned a corner and made the playoffs with a 12-4 record. The Raiders fell short this year, but they still wanted to keep the 2016 NFL Executive of the Year in the fold.

McKenzie and Gruden both say they’re excited to collaborate on building the team, but it will be interesting to see how well the two men will handle roster disagreements. McKenzie has been at the helm for five years, but one has to wonder if the $100MM man will have the upper hand on most matters.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.