Antonio Brown trade: Should Raiders pursue star wide receiver from Steelers?


Antonio Brown trade: Should Raiders pursue star wide receiver from Steelers?

Jon Gruden is an Antonio Brown fan.

That was crystal clear in December 2018, before the Raiders and Steelers clashed at Oakland Coliseum. Gruden heaped praise on the five-time All-Pro receiver back then, even going so far as to say it wasn’t just an empty compliment.

Gruden believes Brown can do it all because of incredible work ethic.

“They move him around everywhere,” Gruden said back in early December. “You don’t know where he’s going to be. He can run every route you dream up. I say that about other receivers but he can run double moves, he can run by you, he can run crossing routes, he’s very good after the catch.

“What’s the greatest thing about this man, I’ve told all of our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness in him. He’s the hardest working man, I think, in football. Hardest working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice, I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”

Brown doesn’t want to practice with the Steelers anymore. Or play for them, for that matter. He requested a trade on Tuesday morning, hoping to play for someone else during the 2019 season.

It’s uncertain if the Steelers will make a move. They have played hardball with superstars before. Just ask Le’Veon Bell about that.

Let's also make something crystal clear: It's uncertain if the Raiders have interest in a Brown trade. We just don't know, and the Silver and Black couldn't talk about that while he's employed by the Steelers. 

But ... several fan bases are freaking out over the prospect of seeing Brown different colors. Count Raider Nation in that group.

The Gruden compliment provides hope to fans wanting Brown, though it doesn't guarantee the Raiders will have interest in a trade. Gruden compliments so many and doesn’t employ them all.

The Raiders certainly have the means to acquire Brown. They have the draft capital in every round to make a deal, and a solid working relationship with the Steelers after making two trades with them last year.

They can afford Brown’s contract, which includes $12.65 million, $11.3 million and $12.5 million base salaries, respectively, over the next three years.

Brown will be 31 next season, but Gruden has gotten tons from veteran receivers, including top-tier talents Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. Before you poo-poo that comparison, Brown is on that elite receiver level.

The Raiders are also in need of a positional overhaul at receiver, with only Jordy Nelson guaranteed to return from last year’s crew. Brown would step in as a clear-cut No. 1 receiver, something few, if anyone, in a relatively week free-agent receiver class could do.

The Raiders could still select a receiver high in the draft who could develop while helping as a second or third option.

There’s certainly a strong case for exploring Brown’s addition and what it might take to land this talent, but we haven’t hit the cons list.

The Raiders are more than a top receiver away from legitimate contention. They could be better served by addressing more needs with the trade capital and funds required to get Brown in Silver and Black.

[RELATED: Weighing pros and cons of adding Antonio Brown]

We’ve also seen in recent weeks that Brown can be a temperamental, mercurial sort who might not be good for a young locker room and a team that could lose a lot more before a roster rebuild can add wins.

There’s plenty to weigh on the Brown front, but it’s all relative to what the Steelers want in return -- if they’ll even trade him in the first place.

Why Raiders will keep close eye on NFL franchise tags in 2019 offseason


Why Raiders will keep close eye on NFL franchise tags in 2019 offseason

NFL teams can start tagging players Tuesday. Don’t expect the Raiders to slap one on any of their prospective free agents during this two-week tagging window, but they will keep a close eye on others who do.

There’s a glut of top-flight edge rushers set to hit the market, and though most won’t reach it thanks to franchise (and, far less likely) transition tags. There are backup plans enacted when teams can’t reach a long-term pact with an elite player.

As a quick refresher, players who sign and play on the tag get a lofty sum (it varies based upon the tag designation) for one year of service. It’s a tool teams use to retain a top player’s rights – the Raiders could’ve used one on Khalil Mack this offseason had they played hardball and retained his rights without a long-term contract – but it’s not a long-term solution.

It’s typically a security blanket to keep a star player, and tags could get applied in volume this offseason on edge rushers especially. Dallas (DeMarcus Lawrence), Houston (Jadeveon Clowney), Seattle (Frank Clark) and Kansas City (Dee Ford) could all essentially take pass rushers off the market. Other teams can sign franchise players, but it costs a pretty penny and draft compensation.

The Raiders wouldn’t go that big to sign a veteran free agent, especially after being unwilling to lock Mack down last summer.

Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah, New England’s Trey Flowers and Minnesota’s Anthony Barr are also possible tag targets, though those guys seem less likely to receive a designation.

The more guys who get tagged, the more competitive things could get for remaining veteran free agents. There are plenty available in the NFL draft – the Raiders could snag one with the No. 4 overall pick – but adding a veteran leader up front might help a young defensive line.

The Raiders might go after tag prospects at other positions, so they’ll want as few as possible to open options when free agents can sign with other teams in mid-March.

[RELATED: Raiders less affected by Jaylon Ferguson's NFL Scouting Combine ban]

For those who don’t think the Raiders are out of the tag business on spec, only Jared Cook could be considered a tag candidate. He’s coming off a career year, but he’ll be 32 soon and the franchise tag for tight ends is approximately $10.9 million. That’s too steep for one year of Cook, who could end up leaving Oakland after two solid seasons for the Raiders.

The tag window opens Tuesday and closes March 5, and the Raiders will keep an eye on what the tags do to shrink the available free-agent talent pool.

2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. first-round picks for 49ers, Raiders


2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. first-round picks for 49ers, Raiders

No team will change the fortunes of the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft quite like the Oakland Raiders, and that much is clear in the latest mock draft from ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

In his second mock draft of the year, Kiper Jr. projected the Raiders would select three different players in the first round than he did a month ago. Oakland has three selections after trading edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper, both of whom were first-round picks themselves. 

Meanwhile, the Raiders' counterparts across the Bay are projected to maintain their focus on the edge. Here's how Kiper Jr. thinks the first round will shake out for the 49ers and Raiders. 

49ers, No. 2: Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "Two former first-round picks along the defensive line (Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas) have struggled in San Francisco, but neither has the pure pass-rushing ability of Allen, who had 17 sacks and five forced fumbles last season. Allen would fill a glaring need."

Analysis: San Francisco ranked in the bottom-third of the league in sacks (37) in 2018. There are options in free agency, but adding a cost-controlled top prospect would help the 49ers preserve their already abundant salary-cap space and allow them to address their pass-rushing deficiency immediately. Allen appears as pro-ready as any player in this draft, and is a strong consolation prize for missing out on Nick Bosa.

Raiders, No. 4: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "Expect coach Jon Gruden and new [general manager] Mike Mayock to target a pass-rusher with one of their three first-round picks. Gary (6-6, 283) has some versatility to kick inside and play tackle, but he has a high ceiling as an end. When he's locked in, he can dominate a game."

Analysis: Kiper Jr. had Gary seventh on his big board a couple weeks ago, and projected him to be selected ninth in his first mock draft.  Gary said last week he is "the best player in the draft," and although that confidence probably isn't why he's moved in Kiper Jr.'s eyes, the Raiders could certainly use some bravado on the edge after trading Mack just before the season.

Raiders, No. 24: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "We know that Jon Gruden loves playmakers -- I heard him talk about them for years. And Murphy is one of the best defensive playmakers in this class, a ball hawk who had seven interceptions over two seasons at Washington."

Analysis: Murphy might have been the best college cornerback in 2018, and he was a first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus' estimation. Kiper Jr. projected Murphy as the third CB off of the board in his latest mock draft, so the redshirt sophomore could represent great value for Oakland if he falls to the back end of the first round.

Raiders, No. 27, Brian Burns, Florida State

What Kiper Jr. is saying: "This match is all about helping the Raiders improve their pass rush, as the 6-5, 235-pound Burns is a pure speed edge rusher. He needs to get a little bigger, but time in an NFL strength and conditioning program should help. "

Analysis: Two edge rushers in Silver and Black? After the Raiders posted the fewest sacks by a team in the last 10 years, that'd be music to Mayock and Gruden's ears. Last year, Burns recorded three fewer sacks (10) by himself than Oakland's entire pass rush.