Jon Gruden enjoying Josh Jacobs' success after Khalil Mack trade criticism

Jon Gruden enjoying Josh Jacobs' success after Khalil Mack trade criticism

ALAMEDA -- Jon Gruden and the Raiders were hammered for trading star pass rusher Khalil Mack last season. 

After all, who in their right mind ships out a perrenial All-Pro pass rusher in the prime of his career? 

Gruden gambled, wanting to recoup picks to rebuild the Raiders. Fourteen months later, the Raiders coach might be the one getting the last laugh thanks to running back Josh Jacobs. 

The Raiders secured two-first round picks from the Bears for Mack. The first they used to select  Jacobs. The other will come in 2020. The Bears went 12-4 last season thanks to Mack, a last-place schedule and a knee injury to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that contributed to Green Bay's disappointing season. 

Chicago has fallen back to Earth in 2019, setting the Raiders up for a potential top-10 pick should the Bears continue to flounder down the stretch. 

Meanwhile, Jacobs has been a revelation for the Silver and Black. The Alabama product has rushed for 923 yards and seven touchdowns through the first 10 games, rewarding Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock's belief that he was their feature back of the future. 

After Mayock claimed he told Gruden that Jacobs was their man after the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Levi's Stadium, Gruden was quick to point out they only were able to draft Jacobs because they had the pick in the first place. 

"He's doing all the interviews taking credit for Jacobs," Gruden said Wednesday with a smile. "He can have all the credit, but Jacobs wouldn't be here if we didn't have the picks. So, I don't care who drafted him. We all were united in picking Jacobs, but he deserves all the credit certainly. We like to rib each other on a lot of things. But it doesn't matter. [Jacobs} is here, he's ours, he's a great prospect and he's off to a great start. I'm really happy for him, he's a great kid that has given us every ounce of energy he has."  

Much was made about Gruden and Mayock's relationship in the lead up to the draft. But the general manager and head coach were united in their selections, leading to one of the most impactful draft classes in recent memory. 

It starts with Jacobs, defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby, as well as cornerback Trayvon Mullen, but it could have been even better. 

"If [safety Johnathan Abram] had been healthy we kind of saw him as an impact player," Gruden said. "It was a great collaboration [with Mayock]. We all look at the film. Coaches, scouts and we try to get a consensus on who we want to pick. But we needed a feature back. We didn't have one. We got one in the first round and we're going to try to add some pieces next year with all the picks we've assembled. That's one way to get better. You have to give Mike credit. He's done a nice job."

[RELATED: Why Raiders believe improved pass rush here to stay

Trading away Mack was a bold move. Gruden was given the keys to make the tough decisions needed to build the Raiders back into a perennial contender. 

Jacobs is a big part of Gruden's vision for what his Raiders will become. 

Ten games into the back's NFL career, Jacobs has shown that Gruden's gambit was worth the risk. 

Nick Kwiatkoski explains why Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Nick Kwiatkoski explains why Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Nick Kwiatkoski doesn’t have a massive social media following, but a tweet the veteran linebacker sent out on March 16 quickly went viral.

It didn’t include a single word. It contained a picture of Allegiant Stadium and nothing more, but it was a clear sign that the Las Vegas Raiders had landed their first unrestricted free agent while representing their new market.

Sources later confirmed Kwiatkoski agreed to join the Silver and Black on a three-year, $21 million contract, showing the Raiders were serious about upgrading a long deficient linebacker corps.

The deal came together quickly, on the first day of free agency’s open negotiating window, because Kwiatkoski loved what the Raiders had to say. He would join the Raiders as a full-time, three-down middle linebacker.

“I felt that I’ve earned that spot, and that’s something I looked for in free agency,” Kwiatkoski said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, available in its entirety on the Raiders Talk Podcast. “When they told me that, it was very appealing.”

That wasn’t the only reason the former Chicago Bear signed with the Raiders.

“They called very early and, when I spoke to them, it was very clear there’s an excitement around the whole organization with the move to Las Vegas,” Kwiatkoski said. “That was one of a number of reasons why I [made my decision]. When we played them in London last year and I just loved the mentality they brought to the game where they come right at you. With their defensive scheme, I thought I’d fit right in. I gave it some time and took some other calls, but I ended up thinking the Raiders were the best fit for me.”

There was some thought he’d fit in well as the Bears’ middle linebacker, but that prospect was eliminated when Danny Trevathan signed a contract extension on March 9. Kwiatkoski proved worthy of a starting gig after taking over following Trevathan’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 9.

There was no going back after an excellent eight-game stretch that included 58 tackles, two sacks and interception. Especially, not with teams ready to court him on the open market and make him a major player.

While those numbers look solid, the clip below shows exactly what the Raiders are getting in Kwiatkoski, and he doesn’t even record a stat.

Kwiatkoski put Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook on his back during a Week 4 win over the Vikings, blowing up a play with raw power and aggression.

“That’s an example of how I enjoy playing. I like being physical, going downhill,” Kwiatkoski said. “That’s how I have always played, and I plan on continuing to do that.”

He’ll do that with the Silver and Black, while paired with fellow free-agent addition Cory Littleton.

“He’s a great linebacker,” Kwiatkoski said. “To be able to line up with him and call him my teammate is going to be fun.”

The former LA Ram is a true sideline-to-sideline presence and an excellent coverage linebacker, a perfect complement to Kwiatkoski’s strength going downhill as a run defender and blitzer. The former high school safety, who converted to linebacker at West Virginia, also is confident in coverage and running a defense from the middle linebacker spot.

[RELATED: Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Chicago’s fourth-round draft pick back in 2016 always has worked hard and capitalized on opportunities when presented, helping him earn a lucrative deal with a Raiders team counting on him to be a consistent playmaker. Earning this opportunity certainly is a point of pride as he moves on to the next chapter of his career.

“There were definitely times where I got down on myself after certain things happened, but to see how it has all played out … for me, no matter what my role was or what the situation was, I just put my head down and kept working,” Kwiatkoski said. “For that to all payoff is really gratifying. You can only control what you can control, and that’s what I focused on. I never lost sight of my goals. No matter what my role was, I was determined to work like a starter and play each day like it’s my last. For it to work out the way it has, with this new opportunity, it’s really gratifying.”

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

The Raiders took on a bit more salary in free agency than they were legally allowed, but restructured center Rodney Hudson’s massive contract to get back under the NFL salary cap.

The team’s cap and contracts people got creative with the deal, obtained by ESPN on Wednesday morning, to provide relief in 2020 and push increased cap hits down the road where they have more flexibility.

The Raiders converted $11.6 million of Hudson’s base salary into a signing bonus, freeing up $9.28 in cap space for 2020. His cap hits will go up $2.32 million in subsequent seasons, which includes two voidable years at the end of the deal to spread out his cap hits.

The Silver and Black had to do that now to get Carl Nassib’s deal in while staying under the cap. He’s set to make $25 million over three years, with a $7.75 million cap hit in 2020, per

After factoring in the Nassib deal, the Hudson restructure and some other small additions, OTC reports the Raiders have $5.214 million in cap space. They might have to make another cap adjustment down the road, with $9.408 million required to pay their draft picks as currently slotted. They won’t have to make that move until later in the spring and summer, when they start signing draft picks.

[RELATED: Ranking Raiders' offensive players ahead of 2020 NFL draft]

The Raiders own the Nos. 12 and 19 overall selections, with three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Hudson signed a long-term contract extension last season worth $33.7 million over three years, with $24.4 million guaranteed. Moving money around helps the Raiders stay right with the cap without hurting future standing and keeping all the talent the Raiders currently employ.