ALAMEDA – Head coach Jon Gruden has stated plainly that his Raiders have a ways to go to be consistently competitive. He has mentioned how recent draft class disappointments have hurt the team’s front line and its depth.
He traded Khalil Mack for draft picks that won’t help the 2018, and there are reports he’s open to shipping more first-rounders out for future draft picks.
We haven’t heard, however, the dreaded “R” word. Rebuild.
Not that Gruden cares what the media thinks. He wants the locker room believing the Raiders are trying to win right now and as many times as possible after that. It’s harder after personnel decisions already made. It’ll be harder with as many as 10 rookies making contributions on the 53-man roster.
Whether they go on a post-bye-week run or not, this roster must get fleshed out through the NFL Draft and younger free agent selections. Whatever you want to call it, Gruden and the Raiders are playing a long game.
There are plenty of reasons why the Raiders are 1-5, but here they are. Had the early season gone better, the Raiders would’ve been in better position to keep rolling with veterans on short-term contracts. Gruden insists, however, that the Raiders won’t accelerate the use of young players if losses keep piling up.
“We are going to continue to try to get some young guys experience, but most importantly, we're playing our best players, just so you know,” Gruden said. “We're not just playing rookies for the heck of it.”
The Raiders are playing lots of young players, and a bunch of older ones. They have the NFL’s oldest roster after signing tons of veterans on short-term deals this offseason to patch holes in the roster.
Reggie McKenzie did that in 2013 and 2014, trying to Band-Aid a roster that needed several years to get right. He was able to use smart bombs in later years, adding Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Michael Crabtree to enhance a young foundation built through the draft. It worked. The Raiders got better, but couldn’t sustain it.
Gruden came in, got his hands on the roster and considered it worthy of a radical reconstruction. It can improve with quality draft picks and proper salary cap allocation.
He obviously wanted to execute the grand plan while winning games, but that hasn’t happened.
Now it seems clear the Raiders are building for future seasons, without wins to make the process easier.
It isn’t easy on veterans without long-term years left on their contracts. NFL careers don’t last, and each moment must be maximized. It’s fair to say many veterans on the current Raiders roster won’t be around in 2020 when the team hits Las Vegas. It’s not fun to build toward a better future you won’t be part of.
Quarterback Derek Carr has already been through a ramp up. He went 3-13 and then 7-9 and then 12-4, and he would hate to slide back down to base camp.
“This being my fifth year, you want it now,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “You want everything now. I know our fans want it now. Our players, our team, our coaches want it now and trust me, we are trying to do it now. But we've got to take this bye week, look at what we can do to play better right off of this bye week. What can we do to win that game, and that's where our mindset has to be.”
That’s where it will stay for the character members of the locker room, who are employed to win the next football game. That comes against Indianapolis after a bye week.
"I try to keep things in perspective, and focus on today,” center Rodney Hudson said. “My focus is learning from this game and trying to win the next one. I’m not going to worry about anything else other than that.”