Raiders' Darren Waller will get huge opportunity to replace Jared Cook

Raiders' Darren Waller will get huge opportunity to replace Jared Cook

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wasn’t happy about losing Jared Cook to the Saints. The veteran tight end was Derek Carr’s top target a season ago, someone Gruden moved freely across the formation to great effect.

Gruden may not have liked Cook signing elsewhere, but he knew full well it was coming. The Raiders weren’t going to pay competitive market value for a soon-to-be 32-year old, even coming off a career year.

Cook’s market was subdued somewhat, and he still signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with $8 million guaranteed in 2019. The Raiders weren’t going there, and didn’t try too hard to keep him around.

They have restocked offensively, acquiring Antonio Brown in trade and Tyrell Williams in free agency. Cook would’ve fit well with those two, but the Raiders still let him walk.

Gruden called it “sickening” to lose players like Cook, but are ready to move on without him.

“We lost a really good player, man,” Gruden said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. “It’s sickening to think that we lost that guy. That’s what I don’t like about free agency. You can’t keep all the guys you want. (Losing Cook), that’s a lot of production to replace.”

They have several tight ends under contract, including block-first starter Lee Smith, versatile backup Derek Carrier, first-year player Paul Butler and a potential Cook clone in Darren Waller.

Waller has speed and athleticism to spare, traits showcased after he was signed late last season off Baltimore’s practice squad. The 26-year old converted receiver has been suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy but seems committed to making the most of his chance with the Raiders.

“This Darren Waller is very interesting,” Gruden said. “We’re going to give him the chance of a lifetime. So, if you’re listening out there Darren, let’s go brother. I really think he’s intriguing. It will be an interesting training camp for him.”

It’s still possible Waller has some competition, even after Gruden’s nice words. The Raiders could look to the draft for help there. Iowa’s Noah Fant is an interesting prospect and a dynamic receiving talent and could be an option with one of the Raiders’ later first-round picks. San Jose State’s Josh Oliver is another athletic option. So is San Diego State’s Kahale Warring.

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The Raiders will keep their eyes peeled for value and fit at this position.

“We’ll keep looking,” Gruden said. “Stepping in for Cook, those are some big shoes to fill.”

Raiders know changes are 'necessary evil' as awful stretch continues

Raiders know changes are 'necessary evil' as awful stretch continues

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have been blown out in three straight games. The latest rout came Sunday in a 42-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The first two happened away from the friendly confines of the Coliseum. This one happened here in the East Bay, the second-to-last time the Raiders will play in Oakland.

That means something to head coach Jon Gruden, who doesn’t want the fire to go out in Oakland without the Raiders making a final stand. The Raiders have one more chance to impress here next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Gruden vowed to turn over every rock he can to produce a better effort than what the home fans saw this past Sunday.

That’s especially true of a defense that allowed 35 points -- the other seven came on a fumble returned for a touchdown -- and an incredible 552 yards to the Ryan Tannehill-led Titans.

The coverage was poor. The pass rush was bad. Tackling was subpar. Those facts have flown below the radar, with all the ire aimed at quarterback Derek Carr and his decision to throw it away on 4th-and-goal from the 1.

Poor defense is a major problem, though yards allowed have been an issue most of the season. Opportunistic and clutch play got the defense by in victories but has been absent in defeat. Against the Titans, that unit may have reached a new low.

“It’s like getting punched in the stomach. It knocks some wind out of you,” Gruden said. “Anytime a team takes the ball the length of the field that many times, it’s hard to do in this league. We’ve done a pretty good this year offensively of sustaining some long 80-yard drives, but sometimes you got to win the game of field position, you’ve got to force a three-and-out. We weren’t able to do that yesterday from the jump and very, very concerned about it and we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to get it right.”

One problem: there aren’t many changes left to make. It’s hard to imagine any promoted practice-squad players making a quantifiable difference. There’s enough depth to make some changes at linebacker. We’ve seen snaps dwindle from certain defensive linemen. The secondary could get shaken up a little bit. All that, however, might be shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship.

[RELATED: Gruden says Jacobs, Brown could possibly return to Raiders]

That won’t stop Gruden from trying. He refuses to wave a white flag on the season, even if better options aren’t crystal clear.

“[Recent play] is sickening. [Changes are] tough, but it’s a necessary evil,” Gruden said. “Right now, we’ve got to play better, and we’re going to play better, and there will be changes. There will be changes. What happened yesterday will not happen again. I can’t allow it to happen.”

Josh Jacobs, Trent Brown could possibly return to Raiders this season

Josh Jacobs, Trent Brown could possibly return to Raiders this season

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders aren’t playing for the playoffs anymore. Postseason dreams were essentially dashed by Sunday’s 42-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The Raiders have a snowball’s chance in a well-stoked campfire of making the postseason, but that doesn’t mean coach Jon Gruden’s going to shut everything down and go into evaluation mode. That won’t be the case after three blowout loss, especially with the last game in Oakland coming up Sunday against Jacksonville.

That’s why he won’t rule out a possible return for injured stars Josh Jacobs (fractured shoulder) and Trent Brown (pectoral strain). Shutting them down would eliminate the prospect of injury aggravation, but Gruden kept the possibility of a return starting against the Jaguars.

“We’re going to try to win this game. Absolutely,” Gruden said. “We’re never going to put a guy out there that can’t play, but we’re going into the last game in the history of the Oakland Raiders and it’s an emotional time. We’re going to try to win the game. We’re not eliminated from the playoffs and we’re going to try to win every single time we strap it on.”

Jacobs and Brown are the team’s best offensive players regardless of position -- Rodney Hudson might be in that group as well -- and certainly increase the odds of winning an emotional game that will close out the Raiders’ playing days at Oakland Coliseum. They relocate to Las Vegas before the 2020 season.

Jacobs made an impassioned plea to play the Titans. He even took a painkilling injection to prepare for play, but the Raiders ruled him out nonetheless.

“He sat in my coach’s office. He wanted to play, and he got really emotional about not playing,” Gruden said. “He doesn’t want to let his teammates down. I don’t know where he’s going to be this week, but if he’s ready to go and he’s cleared to play, he’ll play. He’s a great back and a great centerpiece for our team moving forward.”

Brown has been playing through one injury or another most of the year, but this latest ailment prevented him from going against the Titans. Repairing a torn pectoral muscle can involve extensive rehab he and the Raiders would certainly like to avoid.

[RELATED: Carr, Raiders know 'nobody cares' about cause of fatal skid]

Brandon Parker, one of last year’s third-round draft picks, stepped in for Brown and was okay save an ill-timed holding call. He wasn’t a dead weight up front, which might help the team continue if Brown remains unavailable.

“He did good,” Gruden said. “I was really pleased with the line. I mean our offensive line played a good game yesterday. Parker had a holding call, a costly one, on third down that nullified a potential first down, but other than that he played good football.”