The hype was real when Jon Gruden announced he would be returning to coaching after a decade-long hiatus. Fans around the league were excited that one football’s most entertaining personalities and intelligent minds was returning to the sidelines. No fans were more excited than Gruden’s new (old) team, the Oakland Raiders.
Who could blame Raider fans for their excitement? Gruden brought an impressive coaching resumé, which included an appearance in the AFC Championship Game with Oakland and a Super Bowl win with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s also famous for his segment on ESPN, “Gruden’s QB Camp,” where he interviewed all the top QB prospects and analyzed them. This had Raiders fans thrilled that a QB guru would soon be working with their young star QB, Derek Carr.
While Gruden’s return was a big story in the NFL that had many believing that the Raiders would soon be Super Bowl contenders, what has transpired in the months following his hire has somewhat quelled those beliefs. Fans, writers, and analysts are all universally asking the same question; what the hell is Jon Gruden doing?
Let’s begin with Gruden’s comments about analytics, or to be more specific, his lack of interest in them. Jon Gruden is still a bigger fan of the old-school football methods, and while I can respect that, he had me scratching my head when he said that he wanted to bring the game back to 1998. I hate to break it to you Jon, but that was 20 years ago, and the league has gone through some tremendous changes over that time frame. Case and point, the catch rule.
Next was free agency, where Raider fans were hoping that Jon Gruden would make some impressive moves that would significantly improve the team. We’re nearly a month into free agency, and he’s actually done quite the opposite. The Raiders defense is still not good enough, and the offense doesn’t look much better. Instead of bringing in young impact players, Gruden has opted to sign aging veterans well past their prime.
Gruden began free agency by signing Doug Martin and Jordy Nelson, two moves that would have been great five years ago. He also signed two tight ends primarily known for their blocking and a fullback, which are barely used in today’s league. On defense, he signed role players such as Rashaan Melvin, Marcus Gilchrist, and Tahir Whitehead, who are solid, but not elite. The biggest head scratching move made by Gruden was signing a long snapper to a contract average just over $1 million a year(!).
To make room for Nelson, Gruden released Michael Crabtree, who is younger and arguably has more talent than Nelson at this stage in his career. Gruden also released Raider fan favorite and All-Pro punter Marquette King, who reportedly rubbed the new Raiders’ coach the wrong way with his flamboyant personality and on-field antics. The list goes on, but you get the idea. Jon Gruden is having quite the offseason.
While Gruden’s second tenure with Oakland Raiders has gotten off to a seemingly rocky start, he still has a chance to rebound in the NFL Draft this month, where he owns the tenth overall pick. With the way things are going right now, he cannot afford to screw up that pick. However, if he nails this draft, then this offseason could still be salvaged as a win for the Raiders.
As a Chiefs fan, I love seeing what’s unfolding in Oakland right now. That being said, I still respect Gruden as a coach, and I know come Week 1, he will have his team motivated and ready to compete. We might all be asking what the hell this guy is thinking, but one thing is certain, do not count out the Raiders. Not yet at least.