‘Unfinished business’ brings Gruden full circle

‘Unfinished business’ brings Gruden full circle

ALAMEDA – Charles Woodson’s a full-fledged member of the media now, fully allowed to ask questions in press conferences. The legendary Raiders defensive back and current ESPN analyst piped up with a good one Tuesday afternoon during Jon Gruden’s introduction as Silver and Black head coach.

“All of us here want to know,” Woodson yelled from the back, “is there a no-trade clause in your deal?”

That was a valid query, and topical considering how Gruden left the Raiders. Late owner Al Davis traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first-round picks, two second-rounders and $8 million cash.

It was a transaction no one saw coming, even those in Al Davis’ inner circle. It broke East Bay hearts, and remains what many consider Al Davis’ greatest mistake. You all know the story of Gruden going to the Buccaneers and beating the Raiders roughly a year later in Super Bowl XXXVII. You all know the Raiders went in the tank after that. Gruden coached in Tampa Bay through 2008 before heading to the broadcast booth.

Mark Davis reeled him out with a 10-year, $100 million contract to coach the Raiders a second time. Gruden told Woodson there’s a no-trade clause in his deal, though the monstrous contract acts as one even if he was joking.

Not like Mark Davis would ever deal Gruden after spending six years convincing him to re-up.

Gruden wanted to come back at the right time and place. That was now. That was in Oakland, a special place he saw only in the rearview. He thought the trade to Tampa Bay left his Raiders tenure incomplete, on the verge of something special yet unable to see it through.

That’s way Tuesday felt so surreal.

“I hope people understand the emotion inside of me,” Gruden said. “I feel unfinished business. I also feel a lot of loyalty and I feel a lot of responsibility to get the Raiders going again and it’s been a while since we’ve consistently performed at a high level, and that’s really all I care about. I’m going to do everything I can to get this team right again.”

He has some work to do in that regard. The Raiders are fresh off a 6-10 season where the coaching staff was fired, a talented offense proved inept and swagger was lost.

That’s for days to come, when Gruden plans to close the blinds, lock the doors and start solving problems.

Tuesday was a reconnection with his Raiders roots.

“I never wanted to leave the Raiders,” Gruden said. “I never thought I’d be back, but here I am and I’m ready to get to work. There are four major reasons that I am here coaching today. Number one, I love football. I love the players that play it. I love the preparation, I love the journey.

“I love football, and I love the city of Oakland. I had a son here and some of my great memories in life are in Oakland and I want to give them two of the best years of football that I can possibly help deliver.”

Gruden will help the Raiders navigate a complicated transition to Las Vegas in 2020. They’ll play two more seasons in the East Bay before moving to Sin City, simultaneously striving to engage a scorned local fan base while selling PSL’s, naming rights and advertising in their new Vegas digs.

His mere presence will take care of that. Gruden wouldn’t look too far into the future, focusing more on what he can do to help the Raiders win right away. Greenbacks were incentive to return, but there are plenty of those in broadcasting. There’s a football geek inside only coaching could extract, he’ll scratch the itch here in Oakland and over several years in Las Vegas as he writes his coaching career’s final act.

“The timing is right,” Gruden said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with the contract. I just want to be a part of the Raiders again. I want to finish my coaching career as an Oakland Raider and I can’t wait to get started.”


Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

Monday, Sept. 10 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 7:20 p.m.

Jon Gruden goes head-to-head against protégé Sean McVay in primetime, in the season opener and on a Monday Night Football telecast Gruden was on for nine seasons. That's must-see TV. 

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Sept. 16, at Denver, 1:25 p.m.

The Broncos might be the AFC West’s worst team. The Raiders have to make hay a mile up, a chore made easier with an early-season game. They avoid snow this year. 

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Sept. 23, at Miami, 10:00 a.m.

The Raiders beat the Dolphins in Florida last year. It’s hard to say Miami’s much better than they were a year ago. This road win’s attainable, even in the first of four morning kickoffs.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Sept. 30, vs. Cleveland, 1:05 p.m.

The Browns should be better, but that remains a game you’ve got to win. Hue Jackson’s return to Oakland adds intrigue to these proceedings.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Oct. 7, at L.A. Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders will have a huge home-field advantage in Carson, as they do each time they play the Chargers in Southern California. That should help against a formidable opponent that has had trouble staying healthy in recent years.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Oct. 14, vs. Seattle (at London’s Tottenham Stadium), 10:00 a.m.
The Raiders won’t make their combine their London trip with an East Coast game to make things easier from a travel perspective. Gruden doesn’t want to be away from home that long. How the Raiders handle a long flight to the United Kingdom will go a long way in determining a victor.

Prediction: W.


Sunday, Oct. 28, vs. Indianapolis, 1:05 p.m.

The Colts still stink, even if Andrew Luck is back healthy and throwing for this one. These are games (especially at home) the Raiders have to win.

Prediction: W.

Thursday, Nov. 1, at 49ers, 5:20 p.m.
A Thursday night game offers plenty of time to get primed in the parking lot. It also guarantees a traffic mess heading into Levi’s Stadium. What could possibly go wrong? This should be a good matchup on the field, with two young quarterbacks leading the charge.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Nov. 11, vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders have lost two of their last three home games to the Chargers. They have to handle business at home, even against a talented squad led by Philip Rivers and Joey Bosa.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Nov. 18, at Arizona, 1:05 p.m.

The Cardinals are mired in a rebuilding mode, well behind the Raiders at this stage.

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Nov. 25, at Baltimore, 10:00 a.m.

Michael Crabtree will be supremely motivated for this one, after the Raiders essentially exchanged him for Jordy Nelson. He’s pretty dangerous in those situations.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Dec. 2, vs. Kansas City, 1:05 p.m.

The Chiefs will be a great litmus test, to see if the Raiders can handle big-play threats better than they have in recent seasons.

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Dec. 9, vs. Pittsburgh, 5:20 p.m.

The Raiders defense better be ready to go against Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and the Steelers scoring machine in the Oakland Coliseum slate’s best matchup. To make matters better, this one's in primetime, on Sunday night. 

Prediction: L.

Sunday, Dec. 16, at Cincinnati, 10:00 a.m.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will go up against the team he helped run recently. Guenther should be an expert on stopping Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense. That will help the Raiders here. 

Prediction: W.

Monday, Dec. 24, vs. Denver, 5:15 p.m.

Marquette King’s coming back to Oakland. He’s looking forward to this one. So is Bruce Irvin. All this plays out on Monday Night Football, the Raiders' fourth primetime game and third at Oakland Coliseum. 

Prediction: W.

Sunday, Dec. 30,at Kansas City, 10:00 a.m.

Arrowhead Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Raiders in recent seasons. Jack Del Rio could never figure how to play well there. Can Jon Gruden buck that trend?

Prediction: L.

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

This NFL Draft should be interesting at the top. Quarterbacks should dominate early proceedings, with teams ready to select as many as four passers in the top 10.

That would suit the Raiders just fine. Derek Carr’s their franchise quarterback. They don’t need another one.

Many other teams do, meaning Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen could all be taken quickly.

“That will really reshape the draft, particularly if there's a run on quarterbacks very, very early in the draft like many of us expect,” NFL Network analyst and former Raiders cornerback Bucky Brooks said in a conference call. “…I think the fascination for me will be what do teams do to put themselves in a position to get a quarterback, what blue chip players find themselves in a bit of a free-fall because these quarterbacks come off the board.”

The Raiders obviously aren’t considering a quarterback at the top. They’ll likely get one of, if not the best players at his position falling farther than they would in a normal year.

We’ve gone over possible selections at No. 10 overall. If you missed it, check it out here.

Quality abounds in that group, with top players at key positions of need. That includes linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive back (and maybe edge rusher) at that spot.

While having four quarterbacks go before the Raiders picks shoves top players down to No. 10, leaving one on the market would make that selection incredibly valuable.

The Raiders could offer that pick to a quarterback starved team willing to trade up to get their passer of the present and future. We’ve outlined candidates for the Raiders should they trade down in the first round, and carry on with extra selections.

The Raiders have 11 as it stands, with one pick in the first four rounds, two in the fifth, four in the sixth and another in the seventh. That’s plenty to package and trade up to land a coveted player in this draft.

The Raiders aim to get the most value from the No. 10 pick, either with an elite draft prospect or the bounty that comes from trading it. One catch: The 49ers could be thinking the same thing at No. 9, a spot earned with a tiebreaking coin flip at the NFL Scouting Combine. They also have similar needs, though they aren’t exactly the same, but should deter the Raiders too much from getting the player or trade they covet.

That’s due to the top-flight quarterbacks they have no intention of drafting.