‘Unfinished business’ brings Gruden full circle

‘Unfinished business’ brings Gruden full circle

ALAMEDA – Charles Woodson’s a full-fledged member of the media now, fully allowed to ask questions in press conferences. The legendary Raiders defensive back and current ESPN analyst piped up with a good one Tuesday afternoon during Jon Gruden’s introduction as Silver and Black head coach.

“All of us here want to know,” Woodson yelled from the back, “is there a no-trade clause in your deal?”

That was a valid query, and topical considering how Gruden left the Raiders. Late owner Al Davis traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first-round picks, two second-rounders and $8 million cash.

It was a transaction no one saw coming, even those in Al Davis’ inner circle. It broke East Bay hearts, and remains what many consider Al Davis’ greatest mistake. You all know the story of Gruden going to the Buccaneers and beating the Raiders roughly a year later in Super Bowl XXXVII. You all know the Raiders went in the tank after that. Gruden coached in Tampa Bay through 2008 before heading to the broadcast booth.

Mark Davis reeled him out with a 10-year, $100 million contract to coach the Raiders a second time. Gruden told Woodson there’s a no-trade clause in his deal, though the monstrous contract acts as one even if he was joking.

Not like Mark Davis would ever deal Gruden after spending six years convincing him to re-up.

Gruden wanted to come back at the right time and place. That was now. That was in Oakland, a special place he saw only in the rearview. He thought the trade to Tampa Bay left his Raiders tenure incomplete, on the verge of something special yet unable to see it through.

That’s way Tuesday felt so surreal.

“I hope people understand the emotion inside of me,” Gruden said. “I feel unfinished business. I also feel a lot of loyalty and I feel a lot of responsibility to get the Raiders going again and it’s been a while since we’ve consistently performed at a high level, and that’s really all I care about. I’m going to do everything I can to get this team right again.”

He has some work to do in that regard. The Raiders are fresh off a 6-10 season where the coaching staff was fired, a talented offense proved inept and swagger was lost.

That’s for days to come, when Gruden plans to close the blinds, lock the doors and start solving problems.

Tuesday was a reconnection with his Raiders roots.

“I never wanted to leave the Raiders,” Gruden said. “I never thought I’d be back, but here I am and I’m ready to get to work. There are four major reasons that I am here coaching today. Number one, I love football. I love the players that play it. I love the preparation, I love the journey.

“I love football, and I love the city of Oakland. I had a son here and some of my great memories in life are in Oakland and I want to give them two of the best years of football that I can possibly help deliver.”

Gruden will help the Raiders navigate a complicated transition to Las Vegas in 2020. They’ll play two more seasons in the East Bay before moving to Sin City, simultaneously striving to engage a scorned local fan base while selling PSL’s, naming rights and advertising in their new Vegas digs.

His mere presence will take care of that. Gruden wouldn’t look too far into the future, focusing more on what he can do to help the Raiders win right away. Greenbacks were incentive to return, but there are plenty of those in broadcasting. There’s a football geek inside only coaching could extract, he’ll scratch the itch here in Oakland and over several years in Las Vegas as he writes his coaching career’s final act.

“The timing is right,” Gruden said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with the contract. I just want to be a part of the Raiders again. I want to finish my coaching career as an Oakland Raider and I can’t wait to get started.”


Raiders' possible Coliseum finale brings anything but Christmas cheer

Raiders' possible Coliseum finale brings anything but Christmas cheer

For all the time, care and diligence the NFL has put into keeping Eric Reid from testing positive for anything except basic bodily fluids, it could have applied a few minutes to the problem of the weekend.
Namely, flexing the Raiders’ game on Christmas Eve to another day and time. Say, like Sunday at 2 a.m.
You know the story by now – because of the happy confluence of construction deadlines in Nevada, local politics in Oakland and the general malaise that wraps itself around the football team like a Velcro skin, Monday night’s game between the gentlemen and the Denver Broncos has that worst of all possibilities.
A meaningless game that might have nothing, but meaning or might not. A celebration of football and secular-religious festivity that might turn into a stadium-wide brawl, or might not. A night of family bonding in which children want to talk about Santa while the adults would prefer to concentrate on Jon Gruden, or might not.
Monday night, and the last, maybe, Raider game ever in Oakland – a referendum on how many ways the Raiders can kill buzz on a night in which football really doesn’t belong anyway.
It still isn’t a guarantee that the Raiders will leave Oakland for good after Monday’s game, though the threat is clearly there since the city of Oakland decided to gamble a year’s rent to win hundreds of millions of dollars. All the Raiders have to do is find somewhere that will take them in 2019, a elaborate house hunt that might well end up in a figurative manger, if we must.
But for the moment, the spectre that this is the anti-est of climaxes is the thing that sells this game, with everything from empty sections and dispirited tailgaters to drunken protests and burning jerseys in the scrum.
And the NFL, which can move games from one country to another at the drop of a divot, decided that this king-hell bummer, scheduled at the worst conceivable time on the least attractive day, will show it all – the uncertainty, the angst, the bitterness, the betrayal, the way the stadium sausage is made.

I mean, who books this stuff, the White House?
First, the day itself. The NFL used to avoid Christmas and Christmas Eve like it feared divine retribution. It played the 1950 championship game in Cleveland on a Christmas Eve (the game drew less than 30,000 in an 80,000-seat stadium) and then went another two decades before playing the AFC first-round playoff games in 1971 on Christmas Day, and because people liked the two-overtime Kansas City Chiefs-Miami Dolphins game so much, the league stopped avoiding the Christmas holidays.
Because the NFL is, after all, bigger than Jesus.

[RELATED: How Raiders can broaden their search for new home stadium in 2019]
Okay, enough sectarianism. This isn’t really about playing on Christmas Eve anyway; the league has played 26 games on The Night Before Christmas in the last two years and the nation is no worse off than it would have been anyway, which is still pretty damned bad.
This is about the Raiders, and the last game that might not be. There isn’t a single story line that comes from this game that is good. Oakland depressed or Oakland enraged, empty seats or felonies on the half-shell.
It is more likely that Raider fans who believe this is the last waltz will skip the whole enterprise. Going back to 1981, there have been nine teams that have moved to another geographic area, and the only one that left a visible scar in the stadium was Cleveland in 1995 – and that town got a new team in four years.
But San Diego left 15,000 seats unbought for the Chargers' finale in 2016, as did St. Louis the year before. Houston drew only 15,131 to its last game before the Oilers changed names and relocated to Tennessee, and the previous final Raider game in Oakland in 1981 drew 10,000 below capacity in a 23-6 loss to the Chicago Bears.
In other words, people don’t do wakes unless they have to, and they certainly don’t see the value in going to a wake on Christmas Eve. In short, while the other events that make this franchise the hot mess it is were beyond the league’s control, scheduling this game on this night wasn’t.
But that’s Roger Goodell’s problem, and Mark Davis’ problem, and Libby Schaaf’s problem, and maybe even chief of police Anne Kirkpatrick’s problem. However this turns out, even if the Raiders sign that one last lease, this will be just one more septic backup, only with tinsel.
So ho, ho, and against our better judgment, ho. Current events eat history, and the future saddens more than it cheers. Meanwhile, the NFL has only two more opportunities to make sure Eric Reid's urine is clear.

Happy holidays, if that’s your idea of a good time.

2019 NFL draft order: Raiders move on up, still stuck behind Cardinals


2019 NFL draft order: Raiders move on up, still stuck behind Cardinals

There are only two three-win teams remaining this season. The Raiders and Arizona Cardinals have felt victory less than anyone, including a 49ers team that has two wins in as many weeks.

The 49ers took a step back in relation to the No. 1 overall pick with two straight quality performances.

The Raiders, by contrast, held serve with a disappointing performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Only in the interest of securing high draft picks is that a good thing. It’s somewhat important considering the state of their other two first-round picks. They’re way down in the draft order with the Bears winning the NFC North and Cowboys leading the NFC East.

In all, two draft pick slots improved, while another is stuck way down.

Let’s take a look at where their draft order sits after Week 15 action:

No. 2 overall (Last week: No. 3)

How it was earned: Owner Mark Davis joked that the Raiders are doing a fine job of securing a high pick on their own. He wasn’t joking. The Raiders continue to lose at an alarming clip, which could set up a top-two pick if they lose out in games against the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. One warning: they’ll be locked into the No. 2 pick unless they pick up a game on Arizona.

The Cardinals own the strength of schedule tiebreaker that helps determine draft order, so they’d stay in front with a two-way tie at the bottom with the Raiders.

No. 24 overall (Last week: No. 24)

How it was earned: The Raiders got this pick by trading Amari Cooper to Dallas and it hasn’t worked out well. It didn’t get better even after the Cowboys saw their five-game winning streak end against Indianapolis. The Cowboys still have a great chance to win the NFC East, make the playoffs and keep this draft slot low.

No. 27 overall (Last week 26)

How it was earned: Khalil Mack dominated the Green Bay Packers with 2.5 sacks, stats integral to winning the NFC North. He has 12.5 on the season now, more than the entire Raiders team. Not rubbing it in, just point out a fact that has helped the Bears go from worst to first and drive the Mack’s trade compensation value down.