Raiders

Jon Gruden, Raiders expected Antonio Brown drama -- but not like this

Jon Gruden, Raiders expected Antonio Brown drama -- but not like this

Antonio Brown reported to Raiders training camp in a hot-air balloon. The team’s film crew documented Brown’s big ride through the Napa Valley, which came ready with a tagline befitting his transportation: “Float like a butterfly, sting like AB.”

Spectacle fits Brown well. The eccentric superstar receiver enjoys production value, and his grand entrance became a hot topic during a July 26 press conference with general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden at the Napa Valley Marriott.

“I expect a lot more drama from No. 84,” Gruden said. “I really do.”

Well, duh.

Gruden was referring to the guy who, just five months earlier, forced his way out of Pittsburgh after being benched for the Steelers' Week 17 game, said hell no to Buffalo and got a big, fat pay raise from the Raiders.

Brown leveraged his Hall of Fame talent to force a trade to a place he liked, offering a pay rate he deemed appropriate, with a pseudo-threat succinctly expressed to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington.

“If they want me to play, they’re gonna play by my rules,” Brown said in an interview released March 2. “If not, I don’t need to play.”

That hard line worked perfectly this spring. He’s apparently using it again this summer.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Friday that Brown told the Raiders he will not play football again unless he’s allowed to wear a helmet that is prohibited from use, is no longer certified and won't be again because it is more than 10 years old.

Brown has filed a grievance that was heard by an independent neutral arbitrator Friday, per a league source. The arbitrator was appointed by the NFL Players Association and the league, and both the union and the league were represented, while Brown participated by phone. The arbitrator has not ruled on the grievance, though a decision could come next week.

What happens if the arbitrator rules against Brown wearing a no-longer-certified helmet? Will he take his gold-jacket-level skills and go home? Will he take his $50 million contract, with nearly $30 million guaranteed, and light it on fire over a helmet?

Can't imagine that.

Gruden might have expected more Antonio Brown drama. He and the Raiders couldn't have anticipated all this, though.

When he made the not-so-bold drama prediction, Gruden knew Brown would hit the non-football injury list for peeling, infected feet that we can’t un-see. Gruden knew about Brown’s helmet gripes and comically haphazard attempts to use his preferred model, which were expertly chronicled by intrepid NFL Media reporter Mike Silver in an epic Twitter thread Friday.

Threatening to quit over equipment, and, per Silver, staying away from Raiders training camp in part to voice displeasure with new helmet rules, is a headache immune to aspirin.

It can’t be what Gruden needs or wants while trying to fortify an improved yet still deficient Raiders roster that must play together to surpass relatively low expectations. The Raiders have been in contact with Brown, sources say, and there's a belief that he'll be back in camp soon, possibly early next week. There are, however, no assurances for an unpredictable sort like Brown. 

The NFL generally operates on a talent-tolerance scale. The better a player you are, the more you can get away with in the league.

There’s little debate that Brown is the very best, at worst ranking high among other elites. Teams are willing to handle a great deal for dynamic, game-changing production.

The Raiders don't mind his let-everybody-in social media presence. They permitted his personal trainer to roam the sidelines during camp. They allowed his masseuse to watch at least one OTA practice. Even on the day he practiced despite his foot issues, Brown had his work cut short as planned and was seen playing with his children while practice was held.

All that was fine because, when it comes time to work, Brown is awesome. He elevates those around him and constantly pushes for better. He never downshifts on the practice field, and he has a track record of doing the same in games. He works out hard away from the team, and he put serious effort into building chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr this offseason.

Brown isn’t doing any of those positive things right now. He can’t practice because of his foot issues. He can’t set a new standard for accountability around camp, as he promised in his introductory press conference, if he isn’t here while fighting to wear the helmet he wants.

You can’t blame Brown for trying or resorting to threats, though. He used it this offseason, and got out of Pittsburgh and received a raise. Positive results often induce repeat behaviors.

This helmet situation might not be so easily fought and won, considering player safety is involved and individual teams have been charged with policing the rules.

However it pans out, Brown now has become a training-camp distraction, and “Hard Knocks” will detail all of it in future episodes if the Raiders allow it into the final cut.

[RELATED: AB's desire helmet deemed just 'adequate' by lab]

It also must be noted that this could be a soap-opera turn with a happy ending, if Brown returns healthy and produces come the regular-season opener.

That ultimately remains uncertain, but we can say for sure that Brown has stolen focus from Raiders training camp and created tons of drama. Even Gruden might have underestimated exactly how much his new star receiver would bring.

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 34-14 loss to Vikings

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 34-14 loss to Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS – Positives for the Raiders were tough to spot after the Vikings dismantled Oakland 34-14 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Jon Gruden's squad was down three scores after three Vikings series, and results barely got better from there. The Raiders struggled in all three phases of the game, exposing some real weaknesses and showing they aren’t currently on par with an upper-echelon NFL team.

This loss wasn’t due to poor preparation or a litany of major mistakes. The Raiders just got beat -- they were out-executed by a superior team.

Let’s take a look at the Raiders report card from this loss to the Vikings:

Rushing offense

It’s tough to run a ton when you’re down so big so fast. Josh Jacobs only had 10 carries in this one, without much production beyond an 18-yard run. The offensive line had a rough time against Minnesota’s defensive front, with few clean holes to work through.

The Silver and Black had 88 yards on 20 carries, but the backs couldn’t make a significant contribution in this game. Jacobs needed to be a real factor to win this contest, and a negative game script took him out of it.

Grade: C

Passing offense

Derek Carr’s passing line isn’t half bad. He completed 27 of 34 passes for 242, two touchdowns, a pick and a 103.7 passer rating. That doesn’t look bad, but it also doesn’t reflect the passing game’s struggles. They weren’t able to work the ball downfield, with most of Carr’s passes thrown five yards or fewer in the air.

Tyrell Williams wasn’t a real factor. Darren Waller played well as the primary target, but the Raiders couldn’t protect Carr well – Kolton Miller had a rough game – and couldn’t generate the explosive plays required to make a comeback attempt.

Grade: D

Rushing defense

The Raiders' run defense walked into Sunday’s game with heads held high. They left with tails between their legs after Dalvin Cook ran wild for 110 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. The Vikings churned out 211 yards on 38 carries, and never even passed in the fourth quarter. That’s how dominant the run game was throughout this game, which leaves the defensive front to do some soul searching heading into Week 4.

Grade: F

Passing defense

Kirk Cousins didn’t have to do much to win this game, with Cook running strong and the Raiders unable to score points. The pass rush was non-existent, with Cousins hit just three times and never sacked. Adam Thielen had 55 yards and a touchdown, making safety Curtis Riley look bad on one big play. Free safety is a real issue for this team, and it might require a personnel change.

Grade: C-minus

[RELATED: Raiders defense preaches accountability after ugly loss

Special teams

The Raiders never started a drive beyond their own 25-yard line, and lost the battle for field position. Former Viking Daniel Carlson was booed relentlessly in his first trip back to Minnesota, and it seemed to rattle him on a 51-yard attempt that hit the upright. Dwayne Harris is sorely missed in the kicking game.

Grade: D-minus

Overall

The Raiders just got beat, plain and simple. It was tough to excuse, showing real weaknesses that may crop up against quality competition down the line. There’s plenty to fix but it has to happen fast. A prolonged losing streak could send the season down the drain shortly after it started.

Grade: F

Raiders defense preaches accountability after terrible Week 3 showing

Raiders defense preaches accountability after terrible Week 3 showing

MINNEAPOLIS – The Raiders entered Sunday’s game in Minnesota as the NFL’s fifth-ranked run defense. They’re going to fall far down the list after coming face-to-face with Dalvin Cook.

The explosive running back had 116 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries, the featured piece of a Vikings attack that churned out 211 yards on the ground. The Vikings were so comfortable with a massive lead and an efficient run game that they didn't attempt a pass in the fourth quarter of a 34-14 blowout win at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Raiders only forced two punts. They never took the ball away and couldn’t sack Kirk Cousins.

Defensive leaders took the performance personally. They weren’t downtrodden after a rough showing. They were pissed, and vowed to take immediate action to fix it.

Even if it means some uncomfortable conversations are on the way. Some guys may get called on the carpet this week, with everyone being held accountable for their play.

“It has to be addressed,” defensive end Josh Mauro said. “If it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter because sometimes change is going to be hard. There are a lot of guys who have a lot of pride and put in a lot of work, so feeling comfortable losing like that is unacceptable.”

Mauro and linebacker Tahir Whitehead huddled up after the disappointing loss and discussed that very fact, that this type of performance simply won’t stand. The Raiders believe they’re far better than they showed on Sunday, and won’t tolerate a repeat of what happened here.

“This is something you can’t just move on from,” Whitehead said. “It’s a long road ahead. If we don’t get this corrected, then it is going to be a long season. We need to hold each other accountable and make sure nobody is comfortable after this loss because there is a lot of things that need to be fixed.”

The Raiders weren’t good during a 4-12 season where losing was all too common. Expectations are heightened with an influx of talent through the draft and free agency, and giving up 34 points while getting beat on execution (and a few costly penalties) won’t be tolerated.

“We experienced a long season last year,” Whitehead said. “I am not trying to go through the same thing, and many others on this team will say the same thing. The only way you fix it is by digging deeper. You can’t start pointing fingers because it is a long season. We need to start coming together even tighter, especially being on the road the next few weeks.”

This is the first of five games played away from Oakland. They face Indianapolis next week and head to London immediately for a home game against Chicago. Then comes a bye week followed by game at Green Bay and then Houston.

They’ll go 0-5 during this season-defining stretch if the defense repeats this performance. The veterans understand more is required to get back in the win column.

“Guys are just trying to do too much,” Whitehead said. “This creates gaps in the defense and that’s when big plays happen. We have to get back to the drawing board and make those corrections to move forward. You can’t go out there and keep making the same mistakes over and over again. In this league, you can’t win games when you allow big plays. We need to make sure we are just doing our job.”

[RELATED: Derek Carr believes Raiders' recent offensive woes won't persist long]

Coaches can demand more and hold feet to the fire, but the message also needs to come from inside the locker room.

“It starts with the players,” Mauro said. “The good teams are able to hold each other accountable. We are going to come back and execute a lot better next week.”