Coming off a disappointing 6-10 campaign during the 2017 season, the Oakland soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders changed the culture and environment around the team when they fired Jack Del Rio and wrestled Jon Gruden away from the broadcast booth. The price is get the Super Bowl winning coach out of retirement was steep, as the Raiders surrendered full control over personnel and dished out a 10-year, $100M contract, but it was a move that needed to be done to a lifeless franchise bound for Sin City with a star Quarterback.
First things first, Derek Carr is their guy and he’s damn good. The team committed long-term to their Quarterback and he regressed in 2017 due to injuries and the coaching staff he was surrounded by. Gruden coming in fixes Carr almost immediately. Chucky is a QB Guru and loves himself some Derek Carr. The investment in Gruden is worth it alone to get the most out of their franchise Quarterback and have a formidable coach on the sideline that can keep the Raiders in any game.
Now, free agency is underway and Gruden is beginning to shape his roster for the 2018 season and beyond. The big decision came yesterday when Gruden signed former Green Bay Packers WR Jordy Nelson to a two-year, $15M contract. Nelson brings leadership and stability to the wide receiver position in Oakland and Aaron Rodgers favorite target will be catching passes from another star QB in the league. Signing Nelson made Michael Crabtree expendable, and Gruden wasted no time in releasing the productive receiver. It’s a move that has many people scratching their heads, but it’s all about changing the dynamic and culture of the football team. Nelson comes in with a pedigree of success working with Rodgers and Mike McCarthy and winning a championship, he can serve as a mentor for the still fairly young and extremely talented Amari Cooper. Crabtree has had character issues and questions surrounding him in the past and I believe this move is all about changing the dynamic of the football team.
The next move the Raiders made that I am on board with is the signing of free agent running back Doug Martin to a one-year deal. Not only does this deal provide a reliable fallback plan if Marshawn Lynch were to retire, but Gruden met with Martin prior to signing him and came away impressed with him as a person and leader. We have all season the potential the muscle hamster showed during his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden knows he can get a productive back with something left in the tank, who will also be a great character addition to his locker room.
My favorite signing by Gruden’s Raiders thus far was scooping up Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead. The tackling machine will bolster a Raiders defense looking for a presence up the middle. The veteran spent his first six years in the league with Detroit and started all 16 games in ’17 recording 110 tackles, a sack and a pick. Gruden loves himself some Tahir Whitehead from all his games calling MNF he’s a real “Gruden Grinder” who will devour opposing running backs who try to go the middle against him. The Raiders also signed veteran safety Marcus Gilchrist to a one-year deal. The veteran will step in as a starter from the outset alongside Karl Joseph and bolster a unit that has often been tested and beaten in recent years. Gilchrist has 11 interceptions, 32 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and 437 tackles over his seven-year career so far.
The Raiders also made a series of smaller moves on the offensive side of the ball signing fullback Keith Smith from the Cowboys, veteran blocking Tight End Derek Carrier from the Rams and re-signed a pair of their own guys in blocking tight end Lee Smith and DT Justin Ellis. No matter how you look at it, the Raiders are turning a corner with their football operation and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Gruden and Carr in the playoffs next year for the black and silver.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank