Where does McKenzie fit with Gruden set to join Raiders?


Where does McKenzie fit with Gruden set to join Raiders?

The Raiders have employed a static, linear power structure since Mark Davis took control. The owner sits on top, with general manager Reggie McKenzie below that in charge of all personnel decisions. The head coach rests below that.

Dennis Allen had say, but no influence in roster creation. Jack Del Rio was more of a lesser among equals, with a louder voice and certainly greater say in personnel. He could obviously decide who started, who played and how much.

Acquiring talent, however, was still McKenzie’s call. And the Raiders power rankings never changed: 1. Owner, 2. General Manager, 3. Head Coach.

Jon Gruden should rearrange that order.

He’s expected to be the Raiders next head coach, with a formal announcement likely coming next week.

The popular and respected personality walks loud and carries a big stick.

History suggests Gruden will have personnel control, a power he held over seven seasons in Tampa Bay. Al Davis ran the show during his first stint with the Raiders (1998-2001), though Gruden had significant say on how things went. He wanted greater personnel control, a point of contention as between him and the famous owner/GM.

Mark Davis has great respect, maybe even reverence for Gruden. He’ll pay the once-and-likely-future head coach a king’s ransom. Great power should come with that.

We won’t know how much until we hear from Davis and Gruden after a formal pact. That must be noted here, and recalled throughout this piece.

We can say with certainty that McKenzie’s influence will be dulled. That will be a blow. McKenzie signed a four-year contract extension in July 2016 that lasts through the 2021 NFL draft.

That doesn’t mean that he’ll want to be here. Or that Gruden will want him to stay long term.

McKenzie’s a respected pro and college scout and would be useful in any regime, but will he want to contribute if Gruden’s truly running the show? Will some of his loyal staff be let go in favor of Gruden’s trusted personnel people, with Reggie powerless to stop it?

Those questions are yet to be answered. While the transition from Del Rio to Gruden should be seamless, uncertainty reigns over the Raiders scouting department as currently constructed. The NFL draft is less than four months away and some continuity would help during that event, making it likely McKenzie sticks around a while at least. 

McKenzie seemed poised to remain in his exact role even during a disappointing 6-10 season where the coaching staff was under fire and his recent draft picks underperformed. He was, after all, Davis’ right hand man and a trusted resource. Will he want to carry on with Gruden in that spot?

McKenzie did lots of dirty work getting the Raiders right with the salary cap, ridding the roster of bloated contracts and bad apples. He deserves credit for a franchise-altering 2014 draft class that reaped Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson. He signed some quality free agents, and built offensive line strength that brought the Raiders back to relevance.

McKenzie also swung a missed on the 2016 draft class, and the Raiders got zero return from this year’s crop in its first season.

Getting Gruden, however, is worth more to Davis than all that. He moved mountains to get his guy -- Davis has done all the hiring and firing of coaches recently -- and is on the cusp of doing exactly that. Gruden being here suggests there's a new sherriff in town.

Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season


Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season

The Raiders are taking some time off during the dead period of the NFL offseason. Even early bird Jon Gruden is slapping the snooze button these days, spending some quality time with family before training camp cranks up later this month.

Coaches and players are still finding time for work, sometimes while they’re on vacation. The Raiders want to hit the ground running this preseason, with many motivated to show well in silver and black. That’s especially true for a large class of new Raiders, many of whom hope to silence detractors.

Here are five newcomers with plenty to prove in 2018:

5. CB Rashaan Melvin

Lists like this are normally reserved for guys coming off injuries or down years. Melvin doesn’t fit that mold. The 28-year old had his best year in 2017, often shutting down top receivers as Indy’s top cornerback. He allowed a paltry 60.3 passer rating when targeted, with three picks, 10 passes defensed and just two touchdowns allowed.

Those stats didn’t produce a robust free-agent market. Melvin ended up signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Oakland, and is now working to show he’s not a one-year wonder and can stay healthy for 16 games. An ovation-worthy encore would surely earn a long-term, bigger-money deal.

Melvin made his motivation clear on Twitter a few weeks back.

4. WR Jordy Nelson

Nelson had a down year in 2017. It started well, with six touchdowns in the first four games he played. Then all-world Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down, and things hit the skids. He averaged just 9.1 yards per reception, and didn’t score after that early flurry.

That led some to say Nelson lost a step at age 32 he would not recover. The Packers asked him to take a massive pay cut, and ended up releasing him in March. The Raiders swooped in quickly with a two-year deal and plenty of guaranteed money.

Nelson has been praised for his attention to detail and position-group leadership, and will fit into the starting lineup with Amari Cooper and Martavis Bryant. He had four straight 1,000-yard seasons prior to last year. His worth won’t be defined by a monster statistical year. Reliability, leadership and red-zone performance will show if Nelson’s still got it.

3. RB Doug Martin

The veteran rusher has had an uneven career. Excellent production has come in spurts, with dominance in 2012 and 2015. The last 1,400-plus yard season was followed by two seasons of 2.9 yards per carry, which led Tampa Bay to cut his this winter.

He met Gruden for lunch at a Florida golf course, and the exchange convinced Gruden the 29-year old was ready to work and prove he had plenty left in the tank. His work was praised during the offseason program, though practice in pads and preseason play will offer stronger evidence of 2018 effectiveness. Showing well in camp could lead to an increased role behind starter Marshawn Lynch. Gruden likes using multiple backs in his offense, and could make steady contributions in the run game.

2. MLB Derrick Johnson

The longtime Kansas City Chief was let go by the team that drafted him in 2005, but it was not the end of his NFL journey. Some thought he’d call it a career at age 35, especially after suffering an Achilles’ tendon tear in Dec. 2016, but he found a new home in Oakland and a strong bond with Gruden. The Raiders need stability in the middle, and Johnson will provide on-field leadership. There’s no doubt about that.

Johnson must prove capable of being a three-down linebacker effective against the run and pass. Marquel Lee is available should the Raiders require a platoon, but Johnson doesn’t want that. The Raiders need his expertise inside at all times.

1. Head coach Jon Gruden

Gruden isn’t a newcomer, but it’s been nearly two decades since he roamed the silver and black sidelines. He hasn’t coached since 2008, but returned to the Raiders in January after nine years in the broadcast booth.

Gruden has said several times he has something to prove to his critics. That might be a self-motivational tool. There aren’t many in the East Bay, where the fan base as rallied behind him and players have loved the intensity and passion he brings to practice and meetings.

Some assume his old school tendencies and his “bringing it back to 1998” comment this offseason implies he is resistant to change or offensive innovation. That’s not the case, not by a long shot. We’ll see lots modern offense Gruden studied as an ESPN broadcaster and in his downtime at his Tampa offices, with new wrinkles unveiled as game plans dictate.

Gruden has made a solid impression in his return to coaching but, as it always is in his line of work, effectiveness will be determined by wins and losses. He won’t be graded off one-year alone, especially without solid roster depth, but Gruden wants to start fast and re-establish Raiders winning ways.

Raiders CB Gareon Conley files countersuit against woman who accused him of rape


Raiders CB Gareon Conley files countersuit against woman who accused him of rape

Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley has filed a lawsuit against the woman who accused him of rape in April 2017.

A Cuyahoga County grand jury declined to indict him on criminal charges stemming from an incident in Cleveland less than a month before the 2017 NFL Draft.

Conley deemed the allegations false at the time, and maintained his innocence throughout the process.

His accuser filed a civil suit against Conley on April 6, 2017, seeking $25,000 in damages.

Conley has chosen to file a counter lawsuit, seeking compensation for damage to his reputation, draft stock and endorsement opportunities.

According to court documents obtained by TMZ, he lost an endorsement deal with Nike because of the accusation. He reiterated his innocence in court filings, saying he turned down his accusers advances.

The Ohio State product was considered a top 15 talent heading into the draft, but was ultimately selected No. 24 overall by the Raiders despite the rape accusation.

He missed most of his rookie season with a shin injury that required surgery. He was cleared for full football activity this spring.