What Exactly Is Jon Gruden's Plan for the Raiders?

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We are now deep enough into the Jon Gruden experiment for him to not only have torn down the last good roster this team had, but to also tear down the first phase of rebuild in the wake of his initial tear down. Maybe we can call this a meta tear down; a tear down of a tear down. Leave it to Gruden to continue showing us new things during his return to the NFL.

On Tuesday, the team released Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson, leaving just one of their five offensive linemen left from the year before (Hudson was a Reggie McKenzie holdover not acquired by Gruden). Richie Incognito (brought in by Gruden) and Gabe Jackson (not brought in by Gruden) were released and Trent Brown (brought in by Gruden) was traded back to the New England Patriots. Hudson signed an extension a little more than a year ago, and his release will trigger more than $15 million in dead money.

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden

Outside of acquiring Yannick Ngakoue, yet another punchless attempt at recreating the pass rushing void left behind by the traded Khalil Mack, the Raiders are in a dreadful position as they approach the 2021 season. It is difficult to present a level-headed case for how they got better in any way. Their best offensive weapon, Josh Jacobs, has no one to pave the way in front of him. Despite having a top 10 quarterback who is incredibly affordable, there looks to be no ability to strike while the iron is hot.

This, as the division continues to surge around them.

It’s about now that we should probably start wondering what, exactly, the plan is in Las Vegas. Gruden is 19–29 over the past three seasons, a fair evaluation period that would likely get most other coaches posting similar records fired. He traded away the best assets the franchise had and bragged about replacing them with a slew of veterans like Vontaze Burfict, Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner, Tyrell Williams and Antonio Brown, none of whom remain on the roster.

Some of the people who read this never believed in Gruden in the first place. Perhaps he was mostly bluster, and after years of threatening to leave the television booth, the rapidly evolving NFL called his bluff and left him looking stale.

Others will defend Gruden, saying he’s making the best of a bad situation. Jerry McDonald, who has covered the team since 1995, floated on Tuesday the long-whispered idea that the team is having cash flow issues, making some of these inexplicable roster moves a necessity. This is a palatable excuse, especially because Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock seem like independently bright people who wouldn’t make these kinds of decisions without a nudge from the owner’s suite.

And cash problems would indeed be a difficult organizational hurdle to clear. Though they would be increasingly strained by paying a head coach $10 million per season on a guaranteed contract that lasts a decade. Something isn’t adding up here.

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If Gruden was brought in to overcome this predicament, he doesn’t seem up to the task. If there is no predicament, then the Raiders are really devoid of an excuse and need to answer for the state of things.

The wayward path the franchise has taken since Gruden arrived back in 2018 has taken us from this roster wasn’t good enough, let me get my guys in here, to the guys I brought in here aren’t good enough. Coaches and schemes have been scapegoated. Valuable, prime years of affordable athleticism (the one thing Gruden deserves credit for getting back in the Mack deal) are being squandered.

And now, year four begins with significantly less hype and optimism than any of the years prior. Maybe this is exactly the way Gruden wants it; an underdog position from which to inspire a stunning comeback.

Or, maybe it’s just what it looks like from the outside: A mess of one man’s creation, who no longer has anywhere else to point the finger.