Jon Gruden: Khalil Mack trade catalyst for Raiders' big 2019 offseason


Jon Gruden: Khalil Mack trade catalyst for Raiders' big 2019 offseason

PHOENIX – The Raiders spent big in free agency, and acquired superstar receiver Antonio Brown without sacrificing significant draft capital. They still have all four picks in the top 35 of the 2019 NFL Draft, positioning themselves to expedite a long-term rebuilding process if they acquire the right talent.

That wouldn’t be possible without Khalil Mack.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden traded the All-Pro edge rusher for a compensation package including two first-round picks. And, you know, they didn’t pay out boatloads of cash.

The trade was widely panned – criticism came strong and steady from this website – because Hall of Fame talents simply aren’t dealt. They’re drafted, developed, re-signed or franchise tagged until production dips.

The Raiders took a different tact. Before rebuilding the roster, they stripped it to the studs. Gruden doesn’t look back at the decision with regret, and doesn’t care what people think about it now.

He’s primed and ready to use the assets acquired to improve a deficient Raiders roster.

“I don’t have time to think about who thinks it’s right or wrong,” Gruden said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. “We didn’t have much of a choice. If we did come up with the money we’re talking about (to pay Mack), we would not have the men we’re talking about now. We would not have Trent Brown. We would not have Antonio Brown and Lamarcus Joyner or Vontaze Burfict or Tyrell Williams.

"We would not have any of them. We would not have the three-first round picks that we’re talking about. You have to consider all of it and digest it for yourself.”

That’s a hefty comment to digest, and one that’s partially true. The Raiders certainly could’ve paid Mack, and acquired high-priced talent in free agency. But they couldn’t have done as much, and time will tell if what they acquired with Mack-trade assets were worth a significant loss.

It wasn’t something Gruden envisioned doing when returning to the Raiders, but he believes it necessary to attain and sustain success.

“I’m not going sit here and say that I didn’t cry for three days,” Gruden said. “I wanted to coach Mack, and Mack knows that. I wish him the best. But we have a lot of work to do with this football team. That trade allowed this acquisitions that we’re talking about today to even happen.”

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The Amari Cooper trade played a part in this as well. The Raiders moved him to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick, and didn’t have to pay him huge sums in this offseason -- or the next.

Gruden absorbed short-term pain for possible long-term gain. Those are tough choices that can be made with Gruden’s unprecedented job security. There’s no worry of being fired two years into a 10-year deal, and working with an owner in Mark Davis committed to letting him run the show.

The Mack and Cooper trades can't be graded just yet, which is why they remain talking points today. A's or F's are coming soon, as the Raiders turn salary-cap space and draft picks into a foundation for sustainable success.

“We made some trades people didn’t like last year, but it was all part of the assembly process,” Gruden said. “It’s painful to lose Jared Cook and Kelechi Osemele and Mack and Cooper. It’s painful and I hate it. It’s part of the assembly we have decided upon, one that we believe gives us the best chance to win. We needed the free agents we signed. We need these draft choices. We have to keep building and keep digging and we’ll get what we deserve in the end.”

How Raiders' 2019 draft class is laying bedrock for sustained success

How Raiders' 2019 draft class is laying bedrock for sustained success

The Raiders assembled quite a collection of talent during last year’s NFL draft. Everyone knows that by now.

First-round safety Johnathan Abram, however, doesn’t want you to forget about those who came directly after.

“Don’t forget Alec Ingold. He’s the man,” Abram said on the Raiders Talk Podcast. “And don’t sleep on A.J. Cole, either. That guy can punt. He’s the real deal.”

Abram’s right. The Raiders even got significant contributions from undrafted players in 2019. Ingold’s the long-term solution at fullback, and Cole’s a specialist off to a good start.

The 2019 rookie class was highlighted by rookie of the year candidates in feature running back Josh Jacobs and 10-sack sensation/defensive end Maxx Crosby. Both guys were runners-up for the offensive and defensive awards, making the Raiders one of two teams in the last 15 years with top-two finishes in both, per the Associated Press' Josh Dubow.

This group showed great depth. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen excelled after assuming a starter’s role following the Gareon Conley trade. Hunter Renfrow proved a quality slot receiver all season but found great form and chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr at its end.

Tight end Foster Moreau was a significant contributor as a run blocker and red-zone receiving target.

The Raiders' rookie class was awesome, despite No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell not quite living up to his draft slot in where he moved around the defensive line and got really sick before midseason. Abram was a non-factor in 2019 after missing 15 games with a shoulder injury.

Members of this Raiders rookie class believe they’re the bedrock of the Raiders rebuild, and 2019 ended with the arrow pointing up. They understand that fact, even if it goes unspoken.

“We talk about it here and there, but it’s more of something we just know,” Crosby said. “We know what we’re here for and how good we can be. Me and John and Josh and Cle and everybody else, we’re all close. For us, we know what Gruden brought us here to do. We’re grinding away and preparing to get in the playoffs and go win some games and eventually win a Super Bowl.”

[RELATED: Raiders safety Abram learned 'valuable lessons' after injury]

The Raiders draft class is recognized among last year’s best, if not right at the top. The group was first in sacks and total yards from scrimmage. They were first in receptions and rushing yards.

It has growth potential, with high ceilings and improvement all around. Ferrell vowed to return a completely different player. Abram will be back and healthy in 2020.

And while offseason rankings don’t mean much, Moreau took umbrage with an NFL Media list placing the Raiders rookie class at No. 7 in the league.

That could fuel fire down the line as the Raiders try to build a roster capable of sustained success. The group had high hopes, with expectations even higher with a season’s experience in hand. It doesn’t just fall on the higher picks. The entire group sees good days ahead.

“That was the best part of it,” Abram said. “No matter what round we came in, we put all that behind us the day we showed up at the facility. We were all hand-selected and brought here for a purpose. We just have to get the job done.”

Are Raiders willing to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60M contract?

Are Raiders willing to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60M contract?

It's February and those Tom Brady-Raiders rumors aren't going anywhere.

The 42-year-old quarterback, who will be 43 when the 2020 season starts, will become a free agent when the new league year starts in March. While conventional wisdom dictates that Brady will return to the New England Patriots, along with a souped-up supporting cast, the Raiders reportedly are set to pursue the six-time Super Bowl champion should he make it to free agency.

It likely will take a hefty sum to lure Brady away from Foxboro, Mass., and longtime sportswriter Larry Fitzgerald Sr., -- who also is the father of Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. -- dropped this nugget on Twitter on Friday.

It's worth noting, obviously, that Fitzgerald didn't say who told him that or give any reason to believe this is a legitimate rumor.

But, that number -- $30 million -- likely is around what it will take in reality for Jon Gruden to have a chance at luring Brady to Las Vegas, which he absolutely should try to do if TB12 will hear him out. The Raiders are slated to have around $55 million in salary cap room entering the offseason. While they'd prefer to get Brady a touch cheaper price tag in order to spend on a defense that needs severe upgrades, the Raiders, in theory, can afford to hand over the king's ransom to Brady if that's what it takes. 

Of course, two years and $60 million is a lot to give a quarterback who could lose his fastball and battle with Father Time at any moment. 

[RELATED: AB won't close door on Raiders return]

The smart money is on Brady returning to New England, Derek Carr being the starter in Las Vegas and Gruden using his cap money to improve his defense. But if Brady is thinking about leaving the Patriots, the Raiders know they'll have to put their money where their playoff hopes are.