Gareon Conley

Jon Gruden, Gareon Conley give Trayvon Mullen advice before first start

trayvonmullenraidersap.jpg
AP

Jon Gruden, Gareon Conley give Trayvon Mullen advice before first start

ALAMEDA – Jon Gruden approached Trayvon Mullen this week in the Raiders training complex to deliver the rookie cornerback one simple message.

It’s your time.

The Raiders had just traded outside cornerback Gareon Conley to the Houston Texans for a 2020 third-round draft pick, leaving a vacancy in the starting lineup. Mullen gets the first shot to fill it. If the No. 40 overall draft pick does well, he could be there for years to come.

It’s his time.

“This means a lot,” Mullen said. “I’m going to prove to them that they can trust and believe in me, and that I’m going to make the plays that come to me.”

Ironically, that’s the same message Conley gave his friend and protégé on his way to Houston.

Conley said it’s time to step up, time to shine.

That’s why Mullen called the opportunity “bittersweet.” He’s getting a great chance to launch his NFL career, but losing a friend and mentor who, oddly enough, he’ll see on the opposite sideline Sunday when the Raiders face the Texans at NRG Stadium.

“That was a good feeling knowing I have an opportunity, but it’s tough losing a guy I could depend on in Gareon, someone who was helping me grow and get better,” Mullen said. “I have to put that aside and start making plays and help this team.”

Mullen hasn’t had many opportunities thus far. He played heavier snaps in the first two weeks and got beat in key moments but hasn’t played much defense since.

“He has been in every game and he’s played better,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s prepared himself, I think better. He’s healthy now. Remember he was hurt in training camp for a while, but I’m not going to make any predictions. We’ll get what we deserve at every position, including corner. I know he’s going to be tested and I’m anxious to see him compete.”

Mullen will get targeted a ton by fellow Clemson product and Houston quarterback DeShaun Watson, possibly while covering another Clemson product DeAndre Hopkins. Those elite talents are hard to handle, and Mullen might take some lumps early, but teammates like how he keeps getting up to compete.

“Trayvon is ultra-competitive,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “With a lot of corners, if they get beat in a practice, they get super mad and then they’re grabby, he just kind of stays even keeled but at an ultra-competitive level if that makes sense. Proven over time he’s not afraid to stick his face in there and hit somebody. He did it a lot in college and he’s done it for us in the short time that we’ve seen him be able to stick his head in there, he has no problem with the contact, which is a lost art these days at that position, and he has no problem doing it.

“He reminds me of just an old school, grimy, tough kind of corner. I think he’s…he’s a rookie so he’s going to have his plays where he wants them back, but at the end of the day I think he can be a really good player.”

Mullen has worked hard on his technique, on getting low and staying low, he says, and getting on the same page with fellow defensive backs.

[RELATED: Williams progressing well ahead of Texans game]

Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow has worked extensively against Mullen during their college days and shared some insight on how the cornerback will treat this starting chance.

“As I see it, Trayvon feels out his way and, when it’s his time, he goes and attacks it,” Renfrow said. “That’s what I think he’s going to do. That’s what I expect him to do. He’s a great player, and he’s reliable. That’s the most important thing. He’s going to be where he needs to be, and he’s going to go out and make plays.”

Raiders 'bummed' about Gareon Conley trade, wish him best with Texans

Raiders 'bummed' about Gareon Conley trade, wish him best with Texans

ALAMEDA -- Daryl Worley has been traded before. By the team that drafted him, no less. It doesn’t feel great. The cornerback got shipped from Carolina to Philly, and eventually landed with the Raiders after a run-in with the law cost him a shot with his hometown Eagles.

The veteran cornerback understands the business side of the NFL. That didn’t change his reaction to the Raiders trading Gareon Conley to the Houston Texans for a third-round pick on Monday.

Worley and Conley are tight, and even were roommates during this year’s offseason program. They played opposite cornerback spots since the start of last season and formed a strong friendship and working relationship.

Worley was definitely bummed to see Conley go.

“This hits close to home but, because we’re good friends, it hits in a different sense,” Worley said after Wednesday’s Raiders practice. “I know the NFL is a business as much as anyone because I’ve been through what he’s going through now. I’ve been there before. But at the same time, Gareon’s a great player and he’s going to make plays over there.”

He could make plays against his old team right away. The Raiders play Conley and the Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium. Houston head coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday in a conference call that Conley will play Sunday, setting up an oddity that will set good friends up on opposite sidelines so soon after the trade.

“It should be fun,” Worley said.

The Texans might have some inside info, with Conley knowing former teammates' tendencies and Raiders' schemes so well. O’Brien downplayed the impact Conley could have giving away the Raiders' trade secrets -- let’s be real, they’re going to pepper him for info -- saying Conley will be more focused on quickly learning a new system.

“I don’t think there is that much of an advantage because I think that Gareon is coming in here and is going to have to learn what we do,” O’Brien said. “Kind of how our scheme works, how we meet, how we walk through, just kind of how we do things and there’s not going to be a lot of time for anything other than that. I don’t think you can read too much into it. It’s pro football, that’s the way things work sometimes. Sometimes you make a trade and you end up playing that team the very next week.”

[RELATED: Could Raiders find pass-rush help in Jordan, Beasley?]

The Raiders would rather have not traded Conley to their next opponent, but Houston put the best offer on the table. That sets up a strange meeting on Sunday, for sure.

“If we have to, we’ll throw at him,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “I love Gareon. I really enjoyed our time together. There’s no state tax in Houston. He’ll really enjoy that. … There’s not bad blood or going at anybody. He’s just on their team now. He’s a really good football player and a good friend. I wish him the best, except this week.”

Why Gareon Conley trade makes sense for Raiders, might not be last one

Why Gareon Conley trade makes sense for Raiders, might not be last one

ALAMEDA -- Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley had a game he’d rather forget on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. It was his last in silver and black.

He was traded to the Houston Texans for a 2020 third-round NFL draft pick, a source said Monday, ending a relationship that didn’t seem long-lasting.

Conley’s an excellent cover man with speed, ball skills and all the physical traits one finds in a top cornerback. There were some inside the Raiders complex who thought he was at times disinterested and disengaged, wondering whether he was a perfect match for what they do defensively and the level of physicality required of Raiders cornerbacks.

Actions suggested a possible breakup before Conley's contract expired. The Raiders added two cornerbacks in the first four rounds of this year’s NFL draft despite having entrenched starters in Conley and Daryl Worley, a player the staff likes a great deal.

Conley has struggled this year. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Conley has allowed 18 catches on 26 targets for 266 yards and four touchdowns. That included a 74-yard score on Sunday against the Packers, where he also provided some lackluster run defense.

The Raiders decided to move on now, taking the best deal on the table from Houston despite playing the Texans next week.

The added selection gives the Raiders three in the third round next year. They also have two in the first and none in the second. The Silver and Black have the capital to go get just about anyone they want or can use the picks to move around the draft board and back into the second round if they choose.

They’ll stomach some awkwardness for the added draft capital, which could be used to add a player before the Oct. 29 NFL trade deadline.

“It’s tough. It’s difficult,” Gruden said in his Monday press conference. “But it does give us three third-round picks next year. Five picks really in the [top 96], and that’s an area that we wanted. We wanted to continue to add to our football team. We’re excited about the possibilities next year in the draft. It is hard, it’s hard trading anybody. We have some young guys that we want to have an opportunity and that’s the decision we made.”

The Raiders have options to help the team now and/or in the future by trading someone not firmly in their long-term plans. That’s what makes this a good move by Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock.

Conley’s not a perfect fit? Ship him for a pick that can help acquire someone who is. The roster turnover under Gruden has been significant, but he has the 10-year contract and owner Mark Davis’ unconditional support, so why not build a roster as he sees fit? It’s his decade. He can do what he wants with it.

We’ll know in time if it was a good move or not, once we see the tangible return from this selection.

We know for sure the Raiders are still in the midst of a rebuild, even if they’re far more competitive than last year. They’re in the playoff picture as we near the halfway point of the season, with a tough Texans team ahead and a schedule that gets far easier after that.

The Raiders need some help at several spots, including pass rusher, linebacker and maybe even receiver despite two trades already to fortify the position. The trade market could be an avenue for assistance, and this Conley deal could be the latest -- but not the last -- domino to fall in a busy year for Raiders trades.

[RELATED: Raiders turning to rookie to fill Conley's spot at corner]

There could be another deal (or two) before this trading period is done. Time will tell on that front, but Gruden and Mayock will keep a close eye on possible deals and will certainly discuss them with teams as we head toward Oct. 29.

“We’re going to try. We’re going to do what we feel like we can to improve,” Gruden said. “Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into making trades. We’re excited about having three third-round picks, two first-round picks in next year’s draft.”