Jon Gruden

Gruden, Mayock think they gambled, won with Raiders NFL draft picks

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ALAMDEDA, Calif. —The headlines on the Raiders in the last week or so are all Mayock-related. Scouts banned from the building. Mayockian … Clelin Ferrell over-draft at number four overall. Mayockian … Patience (I’ll explain). Mayockian … Makeup as important as talent, a scouting trait from the Belichick tree. Mayockian.

Now it’s Friday morning, the day after the Ferrell-Josh Jacobs-Johnathan Abram makeover, and I’m in the same chair in Mayock’s office that Gruden was in 24 hours earlier when just the two of them hatched the exact plan for their three-choice first round:

• At number four, try to trade down for value, but whether at four or as low as they’d like to risk going, 13 to Miami, be sure to procure Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell.

• At number 24, trust the board and the draft research. Know that Josh Jacobs was very likely to be there, and resist temptation to use draft capital to trade up.

 At number 27, be patient again and let Abram, the hard-hitting Mississippi State safety, fall to us. If he doesn’t, there will be options we like.

The phone never rang at four. Mayock and Gruden wished it had, but they never got a call. So they stayed there and picked a solid guy who won’t be the edge-rusher Josh Allen or Brian Burns will be; Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will take his leadership and practice habits and edge-setting and hope he can be an eight to 12-sack guy. No guarantee though. Ferrell at 13, with an extra first-rounder from 2020, would have been the dream; Ferrell at four, with no extra compensation, was acceptable.

Mayock had a chance to go to 16, Carolina’s slot, and ensure getting Jacobs. Nope. He thought Jacobs would last, and he didn’t want to sacrifice a good pick. A few minutes later, Mayock went to the draft board in the draft room on the second floor of the Raiders’ facility. He wrote down seven names in red marker. He said they’d have at least two left by the time they got to pick 24.

There were not two left then. There were four. And the two Gruden and Mayock wanted above all were Jacobs and Abram.

Interesting thing happened when the emotion of drafting Jacobs died down. Now it was pick 25. Baltimore on the clock. Ravens GM Eric DeCosta surely would have dropped down two spots for a fifth-round pick, knowing it was highly likely he’d get the same guy at 27 he could get at 25. Mayock wondered if they should make the trade. Gruden pushed. Mayock said he thought Abram would be there at 27; let’s sit. Mayock ignored the ringing phone, saw Marquise Brown and Montez Sweat go at 25 and 26, and then Gruden the Golden Retriever was back.

“Can I call? When can I call?”

Funny story about Abram. At the Senior Bowl, Gruden and the Raiders were coaching the North Team. Abram was on the South, but he was not playing because of a shoulder bruise. Abram’s a football junkie and he hung around the North practice, watching Gruden and his staff coach.

“Who the hell are you?” Gruden said the first day.

“Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State.”

“Number 38! Mississippi State! I am your biggest fan!” Gruden said.

Abram was at Gruden’s practice every day the rest of the week, just watching.

On Friday night, Gruden said: “I wanted the safety. I wanted this safety. Physical, tough, smart, loves football. I didn’t want just a safety. I think it’s hard to teach tackling now. They don’t practice it. You gotta find some guys that are really eager and interested in making tackles. This guy’s a throwback Raider safety. He reminds me of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson and Charles Woodson and some of the guys we’ve had walk through here. The middle of our defense, we need to strengthen that. Man, was I happy to get him.”

When Ferrell, Jacobs and Abram came into the facility Friday afternoon, it was easy to see why Gruden and Mayock zeroed in on them. Ferrell got emotional talking about being a leader on a storied franchise. Jacobs said he wanted to play special teams, just so he could be on the field more. Abram sounded like a guy who’d taken an overnight class in Silver And Black 101.

“This place … what a rich history, what a culture, what an honor to be part of this franchise,” Abram said. “But the Silver and Black’s in need of a rebirth. Lotta great things can happen here. Antonio Brown’s here. We got a franchise quarterback. We got Vegas around the corner. It’s an amazing time in the history of this place. And we get to write the new history.”

Now a day-two postscript. Raiders were due to pick third in the second round, 35th overall. When the day started, two of the Mayock’s seven red-markered players were still on the board. Great, Mayock and Gruden thought; we’ll probably get one of them at 35.

Both red guys were there at 35. Mayock gambled, trading from 35 to 38 with Jacksonville and netting a fourth-rounder.

Both red guys, still there at 38. Mayock gambled, trading from 38 to 40 with Buffalo, netting a fifth-rounder.

At 40, they were still there. No more gambling. Mayock drafted the third of the red-markered guys, Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen.

What I found interesting, sitting with Mayock for 45 minutes as he digested his first night, was how much this GM job seemed like his calling. He did football games on TV, he dissected the draft on TV, and no one knows if he’ll be great at this or just okay; it’ll take years to know. But what I saw was a guy who had patience, which is the calling of good GMs. They’ve got to be willing to lose a guy they want to get the max value on a pick. Mayock showed that several times in this draft.

“I’m gonna give you a great quote that Ozzie Newsome said to me at the Senior Bowl,” Mayock said. “I’ve known Ozzie forever. He congratulated me on the job. I said, ‘Do you have any advice?’ He said, ‘Mike, having an opinion is a hell of a lot easier than having to make a decision.’ I thought that was so well said back then. And then I really felt the weight of it last night.”

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Why Jon Gruden still loves the Khalil Mack trade

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Raiders coach Jon Gruden did notice his franchise won the award for best sports transaction at the prestigious MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, for the (previously) reviled deal of all-pro linebacker Khalil Mack to the Bears. The winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics, Richard Thaler, loved the deal because he doesn’t love mega-bucks non-quarterbacks, and like to maximize high draft choices. (The deal: Mack and a second-round pick to Chicago for two first-round picks and third- and fifth-round picks.) “I do know we got that,” Gruden said last week. “I think it was the only award we got last year.”

Interesting reaction, further, from Gruden. He’s never backed down from claims that the Raiders couldn’t afford to build a deep roster by paying two players gigantic money. In this case, that would have been, combined, paying Derek Carr and Mack, on average, about $47-million a year. So instead of keeping Mack and paying him, Gruden opted for the cost-controls of five first-round picks over the next two drafts, with the bigger money going to Antonio Brown ($19 million a year, average), Trent Brown ($17 million), Tyrell Williams ($11 million) and Lamarcus Joyner ($10.5 million).

Follow my math here. The 10 key Raiders right now—Carr, the four big free agents this year, and the five first-rounders over the next two drafts, averaging about a $3.5 million per player per year—will be a weight of about $99 million a year over the next three to four seasons. If the Raiders had kept Carr, Mack and wideout Amari Cooper and signed all the market contracts, that would be three players for about $65 million per year, on average.

“If we did come up with the money to make the [Mack] contract happen last year, we wouldn’t have any of these men we’re talking about now,” Gruden said. “We would not have Trent Brown. We would not have Antonio Brown. We wouldn’t have Lamarcus Joyner. We wouldn’t have [linebacker] Vontaze Burfict and we wouldn’t have Tyrell Williams. And we wouldn’t have the three first-rounders that we’re talking about.

“So, you have to consider all of it like the Nobel Prize winner did and digest it for yourself. I’m not gonna sit here and say that I didn’t cry for three days. I wanted to coach Mack and Mack knows it. But that trade allowed these acquisitions that we’re talking about today to even happen.”

It’ll be a fascinating experiment in roster management by Gruden and his new GM, Mike Mayock. But it’s damn hard to find Khalil Macks, even high in drafts.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Antonio Brown’s a great fit with Raiders due to Jon Gruden’s street cred

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SEATTLE — Quite a weekend. You probably needed much of Sunday to digest the Antonio Brown trade. I know I did. So much to unpack, really.

I think of Pittsburgh’s trade of Brown to the Raiders for third-round and fifth-round picks the way I think of a college class. You get the syllabus on day one, with 15 compartmentalized lectures, all of them with tributaries that make the class so involved and complex.

With Brown, there are so many angles.

Here is a look at just a few of them, including why Brown is a great fit in Oakland. (Read about more angles of the trade here).

• Talent always wins. John Elway got trashed as a selfish guy coming out of Stanford in 1983, saying he wouldn’t play for Baltimore. Eli Manning got trashed the same way in 2004 saying he wouldn’t play for the Chargers. Deion Sanders invented a persona (Prime Time), found a way to moonlight with baseball as the best cornerback in football, then cashed in multiple times using one team against another in free agency.

Add Antonio Brown to that list now. Brown seemingly eviscerated his market in the last 10 weeks, since going AWOL from the Steelers in the final game of the season, then making a series of one-more-bizarre-than-the-other statements on TV and social media. But as one team executive told me Sunday, “The best players, even the a——, always have a market.” Elway found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Manning found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Sanders found multiple teams and broke the bank, and is the most accomplished multi-sport athlete of this time. Brown is a strange guy, but strange guys with six years straight of 100 receptions are going to have options. In this case, one good one.

• Gruden’s a good landing spot. The Raiders have been a willy-nilly trade-and-dump team in Gruden’s 14 months in office. With some reservations—mostly monetary—I’ll say this is a win. “One thing I know,” said Rich Gannon, who was a league MVP playing for Gruden in his first Raider stint, “is Jon loves these kinds of players. He’s got street cred with them. He’s done it with Andre Rison, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, John Jett, Keyshawn Johnson … He’ll tell Antonio, ‘I’ll get you your 1,500 yards, your 120 balls, and here’s what you have to do for me.’ There are things Antonio will have to be accountable for. But honestly, I don’t think Jon will have a problem with him. And remember: Jon came up in the league coaching this position. He’ll be coaching Antonio a lot during the season.”

Bold prediction, though Gannon is a big Gruden guy. I do wonder two things: How will Brown handle losing, if the Raiders continue on that path? (Steelers regular season wins per year since Brown entered the league in 2010: 10.5. Raiders: 6.2.) And what happens if there’s a quarterback shakeup this year or next, and Derek Carr leaves and a rookie steps in? Is Brown going to be a steadying force in an unstable situation to help turn the team around? Those are legit questions. Brown was a great player and his work ethic a good example for young players. He’ll have a lot of young kids looking up to him now, and he can’t be the incendiary device he was in Pittsburgh.

• Brown’s a classic Raider. Over the years, so many players the rest the league either didn’t want or thought were kaput found their way to Oakland. Some flourished, some withered. But there’s always been a WELCOME sign in the Black Hole for players like Brown. Right now there’s so much pressure on Gruden to show he’s worth $100 million, and to breathe life into a lousy team, and to show Las Vegas it’s getting a premier team. The marriage, on the surface, makes sense. The football world’s first reaction when it looked like Brown was headed to Buffalo was, What a bummer. Brown with the Bills—that’s no fun. But Oakland is another story, as is Vegas in 2020. Now the players in this drama—Brown and Gruden most notably, and Tomlin righting the shaky ship at the confluence of the Three Rivers—have to play their parts.

Read more from Football Morning in America here