Raiders' Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden need to keep striking gold to catch Chiefs


Raiders' Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden need to keep striking gold to catch Chiefs

The Raiders have been chasing the Kansas City Chiefs for years now. Watching Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes win a Super Bowl didn’t motivate that pursuit.

The Chiefs have won four straight AFC West titles. They are rabbits. The Raiders, Chargers and Broncos are greyhounds circling the track, never quite capturing their prey.

Kansas City even ruined the Raiders’ return to the playoffs in 2016. The Silver and Black finished 12-4 and lost the division title on a tiebreaker because Reid bested Jack Del Rio twice that year.

Reid did that with Alex Smith. He drafted Patrick Mahomes a year later and sat him a season before unleashing the Texas Tech product into the NFL world in 2018. Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns and won the MVP that year. He hoisted the Lombardi Trophy the next.

He’s the first player to do all that before age 25. So, you know, he’s going to be around a while.

Mahomes and Reid should be a problem for the eight years remaining on Jon Gruden’s monster decade-long contract.

The Raiders have been searching for a way to beat the Chiefs over a game and an entire season. It remains a primary objective, though the journey seems arduous. Mahomes has Reid cooking up plays in the lab, finding new and inventive ways to connect with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins or get Damien Williams going on the ground.

The defense has been just good enough to let Mahomes win important games, and while NFL roster turnover’s as certain as a western sunset, having an elite coach and quarterback will help mitigate important losses and the cumulative effect of having lower NFL draft picks. This league’s built for parity, but Chiefs seem set for a long run at the top.

That doesn’t mean Kansas City will own the AFC West as New England has for nearly two decades. There’s room for upward mobility if Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock play their cards right.

Despite the fact the Raiders were in the playoff after midseason, the 2019 campaign proved the Raiders aren’t there yet. Let’s not forget they’re in the midst of a major roster rebuild. Stacking two more NFL draft classes like last year’s and the Silver and Black will open a realistic championship window.

That’s how good the 2019 class was in its first year. They got massive contributions from early picks and later-round prospects, with a foundational group filling needs at several premium positions.

The Raiders have two first-round picks in 2020, with last year’s No. 27 overall pick Johnathan Abram returning after playing just one game last year. They also have three picks in the third round, creating opportunities to land impactful talent.

They must do better on the free agent market and in trades, with some massive swings and misses there. Trent Brown might’ve been the best veteran acquisition, with picks wasted on Martavius Bryant, Antonio Brown, Zay Jones and Trevor Davis. It’s tough to say Lamarcus Joyner or Tyrell Williams were worth big salaries in 2019, but both will be around in 2020 to improve on last year’s results.

Eventually, this discussion would change to the Raiders’ red-hot-button topic at quarterback. Derek Carr separates Raider Nation like Republicans and Democrats, with little desire among both factions to reach across the aisle.

The Raiders will look for upgrades at quarterback and every other position this offseason, but that list could well be very short. I’m not going to start a Derek Carr column with my 606th word. That would be burying the lede. That’s for another time, but I’ve been consistent with my opinion the Raiders should continue building around Carr during this offseason. If he can’t get a good thing going in 2020, then maybe make a change. Let’s not forget the 49ers came really close to winning it all with Jimmy Garoppolo, a very good quarterback nowhere near Mahomes’ level. It can be done with someone of Garoppolo/Carr quality.

[RELATED: How Maxx Crosby built foundation for excellent Raiders rookie season]

Unless, of course, Gruden and Mayock find something special. Reid had Smith going strong, but that didn’t stop him from taking Mahomes.

The Chiefs have an elite talent behind center now, and that certainly complicates the quest to catch and then consistently beat a Super Bowl champ who resides in the AFC West.

Raiders set to use rest of Khalil Mack trade assets in 2020 NFL Draft

Raiders set to use rest of Khalil Mack trade assets in 2020 NFL Draft

The Raiders traded Khalil Mack just before the 2018 regular season and didn’t get anything in return to help that year’s roster. That was a main reason why that season went up in smoke and put the Raiders’ decision under fire.

Jon Gruden in particular became a punching bag the trade's detractors, without evidence of the trade's return coming for a year or more. 

The Raiders head coach is about to get a fat dividend check. 

The Mack trade will start looking a bit different next month, because the bulk of assets exchanged will be used either to acquire NFL draftees or as trade chips.

As a reminder, the Raiders traded Mack, a 2020 second-round draft pick -- coughing up that selection remains an eybrow raiser, but it got the deal done -- and a conditional 2020 fifth-round draft pick that is now a seventh-round draft pick to Chicago for first-round draft picks in 2019 and 2020, with a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2019 sixth-round draft pick.

The Raiders used the Bears’ 2019 first-round pick to acquire running back Josh Jacobs. That’s not a bad deal even as a straight swap, but there’s a lot more to account for when evaluating this deal.

Following where the 2019 sixth-round pick would require heading down a rabbit hole leading to Wonderland, so let’s just say it was traded to the Jets along with Kelechi Osemele for an asset that started a series of 2019 in-draft trades that helped acquire several members of an excellent draft class, including Trayvon Mullen and Hunter Renfrow.

Here’s what the Raiders have yet to use from the Mack trade:
2020 first-round draft pick (No. 19 overall)
2020 third-round draft pick (No. 81 overall)

Here’s what the Bears have yet to use from the Mack trade:
2020 second-round draft pick (No. 43 overall)
2020 seventh-round draft pick (No. 223 overall)

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Using those selections will give us a clearer picture of what the trade looks like, even though it’s imprudent to evaluate draft picks until they’ve played a few NFL seasons.

Raiders fans should have some level of confident coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will do the right thing with extra assets considering how well last year’s draft went, the Jacobs pick in particular.

This year’s No. 19 overall draft pick is an important one, likely producing the other headline name in a deal that will be remembered alongside shipping Mack to Chicago and the Jacobs pick.

[RELATED: Mack makes All-Decade Team, largely for work with Raiders]

Our latest NBC Sports Bay Area mock draft has the Raiders taking Alabama safety Xavier McKinney at No. 19, while Gruden and Mayock could be looking for a cornerback or a defensive tackle at that spot. It’s also a trade chip that could get the Raiders into the second round, where they currently don’t have a selection.

The Jacobs pick made fans feel a lot better about the Mack trade, especially with 2019 fourth-round draft pick Maxx Crosby proving a formidable edge rusher with 10 sacks as a rookie. Using their assets correctly might even make the Raiders come out ahead, or darn close to it, with young players on the roster and money Mack would’ve demanded spread out among several other veteran free agents who are good but not at Mack’s elite level.

Khalil Mack, Shane Lechler among ex-Raiders on NFL's All-Decade Team

Khalil Mack, Shane Lechler among ex-Raiders on NFL's All-Decade Team

Khalil Mack was the Raiders best player over the past decade. It’s hard to argue that, even with Charles Woodson making Pro Bowls in his last 30s.

The Silver and Black drafted him No. 5 overall in 2014, and he thrived in the four seasons before being traded to the Chicago Bears. He had 41.5 sacks in that span and was one of the NFL’s elite edge run defenders.

He made the Pro Bowl three times and was a first-team All-Pro twice as a Raider, including one year where he earned the distinction at two positions. He also won the NFL’s defensive player of the year award in 2016, when the Raiders made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Mack was an obvious choice for the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2010s, which was released by the league on Monday morning.

Mack wasn’t the only former Raider on the list. Punter Shane Lechler was rightfully included, though he played just three years for the Silver and Black in that decade. The Raiders’ first-round pick in 2000 was a fixture in Oakland from that time through 2012, when the native Texan left to play for Houston.

Oakland icon and former Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch also made the list, largely for his exploits with the Seattle Seahawks. He was with his hometown Raiders in 2017 and 2018 after coming out of retirement and returned to Seattle last year for their playoff run.

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All-decade kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson spent a year with the Raiders in 2017.

Center Rodney Hudson is the only Raider with a strong argument for inclusion ultimately left out. He’s at least equal to Alex Mack and Maurkice Pouncey, possibly better in some eyes, and may be the NFL’s best pass-blocking center.

[RELATED: Raiders must do better with No. 12 draft pick]

While Woodson was well past his prime in the 2010s, the future Hall-of-Famer made three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2011. He was featured on the NFL’s All-2000s roster but could well have been included here. Eric Weddle, Eric Berry and Earl Thomas were the safeties named to the all-2010s team, and it’s hard to justify taking any of them off the list.

Here's the complete All-2010s team:  

WR –
 Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones
TE – Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce
T – Jason Peters, Tyron Smith, Joe Staley, Joe Thomas
G – Jahri Evans, Logan Mankins, Zack Martin, Marshal Yanda
C – Alex Mack, Maurkice Pouncey
QB – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers
RB – Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson
Flex – Darren Sproles

DE –
 Calais Campbell, Cameron Jordan, Julius Peppers, J.J. Watt
DT – Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh
LB – Chandler Jones, Luke Kuechly, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Bobby Wagner, Patrick Willis
CB – Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman
S – Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle
DB – Chris Harris, Tyrann Mathieu

P –
 Johnny Hekker, Shane Lechler
K – Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker
PR – Tyreek Hill, Darren Sproles
KR – Devin Hester, Cordarrelle Patterson

Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll

NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco contributed to this report.