Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden committed the most cardinal of sins

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the second quarter against Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the second quarter against Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Oakland Raiders HC Jon Gruden’s rough offseason maneuvering has been made all the worse by the fact that he committed the most cardinal of sins.

Suffice it to say, Jon Gruden’s encore performance with the Oakland Raiders hasn’t gotten off to a very smooth start. Like, at all. To say things are bad – and even worse than the 1-5 record might otherwise indicate – might be the understatement of the year.

Oh, it started off well enough, with Gruden rolling in like a conquering hero, to the cheers and adoration of the Raider Nation.

Surely, with Gruden back at the helm, so too, would a return to those halcyon days of his first run with the organization, right? We would see a franchise that has had exactly one winning season since the last time he stalked the sidelines – more than fifteen years ago – get back on the right path again quickly. Right?

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Gruden certainly did nothing to temper or manage those expectations with his fire and brimstone speeches, his unbridled enthusiasm, and boundless energy, he actually encouraged it. Like a true maestro conducting his orchestra, Gruden worked the Raider faithful into a lather, filling everybody’s heads with dreams of playoff games, and visions of Lombardi trophies.

He spoke passionately about the team, and forcefully about his desire to bring a Super Bowl trophy back to Oakland before the franchise finally departs for the bright lights of Las Vegas.

A lot of us bought into it. Swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. With a little hindsight now, seems like it was an incredibly foolish thing for many of us to do – which is a really sad, perhaps even pathetic, thing to say, after just six weeks of play.

Still, it was easy for us to buy into the buzz and hype. After all, this was a roster that put together a 12-4 campaign, and made the playoffs – barely missing out on an AFC West title – just two seasons ago. It was a roster filled filled with bright young stars like Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Khalil Mack, and Amari Cooper, who would all figure to flourish within Gruden’s systems and schemes – surely that meant a return to prominence was right around the corner.


And that is where Gruden went very, very wrong, and where he committed the most cardinal of sins – he gave us all hope when he knew there actually was none to be had. He let us believe something he knew not to be true. In fact, he actively encouraged us to believe it.

When he gutted the roster, and brought in a plethora of veterans, it was obviously met with a lot of skepticism, as well as criticism. Gruden though, reassured us that this was about bringing in some experienced talent, to hone and sharpen the youngsters, all with the goal of winning now.

We believed it because we’ve seen him use a similar script before, to great success. And through our Silver and Black rose-colored glasses, we believed him. We allowed ourselves to be duped because we so badly wanted to believe that Gruden was the missing piece of the puzzle that would bring it all together, and form a complete, coherent picture.

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Gruden fed that hope. He fanned those flames of optimism that burned within us all. And he was lying to our faces, the whole time.

What seems painfully obvious now, after an offseason of eyebrow raising moves, is that Gruden knew he was going to scrap and rebuild from the ground up the moment he walked through the door. He knew he wanted to purge the players he had no part in drafting, to bring in “his” guys, and build the team in his image.

And in some ways, you can’t blame him entirely. Outside of Carr, Jackson, and Mack, GM Reggie McKenzie‘s draft history is incredibly lacking – to put it kindly. McKenzie did not draft impact players – hell, in most cases, he didn’t draft competent players.

So, in that respect, it makes sense for Gruden to toss out the old, in favor of the new. And boy, has be been busy cleaning house. Like somebody trying to wipe every trace of their ex-significant other out of their lives, Gruden has been going through, and tossing out every just about every failed remnant of McKenzie’s tenure in the GM’s chair.

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But still, he continued to preach patience. Still insisted that he was committed to winning now, and that this was the best approach to get the team there

However, when he traded away Mack, a generational, transcendent talent, it started to become a little more clear that the commitment was to the future – not to the now. There are many compelling reasons to argue that the trade isn’t as bad for the franchise as many make it out to be. Money, flexibility under the cap, and high picks to restock the roster chief among them.

And it seems more than likely that Gruden knew he was going to make the move to deal Mack all the way back in February, when the Raiders and Mack’s camp ceased communicating on a new deal for the superstar pass rusher. He very likely knew for months that they were going to deal Mack – it was simply a matter of waiting for the right offer to come along.

Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders /

Las Vegas Raiders

It was most definitely a move geared toward the future – all while he continued to insist that he was dedicated to winning now.

But, as the losses have mounted, and the season has gone off the rails, the tune coming out of Gruden’s mouth has changed a bit. With it widely know that Amari Cooper and Karl Joseph are available, Gruden is dropping any pretense that winning now is a priority. And with the recent emergence of rumors that even Carr, and maybe even Gareon Conley can be had for a price, it seems that the teardown isn’t quite over yet.

Now look, a coach has the right to shape a team any way he wishes. He has the right to add and release players he thinks will fit his mold better, and do what he feels is in the best interest of the team, and put it in a position to succeed in the long-term. And when you have a coach with the sort of broad authority – and security – that Gruden has, he’s going to do things his way, in his time, on his schedule, and how he sees fit.

But – he should have been honest about it from the start.

Rather than peddling this fantasy that this team is capable of winning now like a snake oil salesman, he should have stood at that podium on the first day, and copped to the fact that he was going to burn it all down, and plant the seeds for future, long-term success.

It wouldn’t be a proclamation that would have been met with a lot of enthusiasm – and certainly not a lot of ticket sales in Oakland – but, at least the fans would have understood. More than that, they wouldn’t have had any false, or overinflated expectations.

More importantly, they wouldn’t have fostered hope, in a season when there is very little to be had – a situation Gruden knew when he walked back in through the doors.

If Gruden had only copped to the fact that he was going into full rebuild mode early on – rather than continue to fan the flames of hope – would have been better for everybody. Yes, there would have been rumbles and grumbles. And yes, there would have been backlash by disgruntled fans.

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  • But, at least Gruden wouldn’t have come off looking like a disingenuous huckster, scamming the fans with his braggadocious statements, and feigned belief that this was a roster capable of being competitive. If we’ve learned anything over the last two weeks, it’s that this roster would have a hard time being competitive in the XFL.

    If Gruden wouldn’t have been so disingenuous up front, and had simply explained what he was doing, and his thought process, fans might not have liked it, but they could have at least understood and respected it.

    As it stands now though, there are countdown clocks to the end of Gruden’s contract popping up online. There is more vitriol and anger at Gruden, and calls for his head than he probably counted on. And there is a sense that he’s lost his way, is out of touch, and is out of his mind.

    Make no mistake about it though – Gruden knows exactly what he’s doing.

    For better or worse, he’s going to hone and shape this roster into one he is comfortable with. Into one he likes. And he doesn’t care what anybody thinks about it. Such is the security one has with a 10-year, $100 million dollar deal, and carte blanche from the owner in his pocket.

    It’s possible that Gruden, armed with a boatload of draft picks, could rebuild this franchise, and set it up for success in the long term. He certainly seems to be following the Bill Belichick blueprint of franchise construction – and the Patriots have been pretty good for a while, haven’t they?

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    No, Gruden doesn’t answer to us, and couldn’t care less what we think – that much is obvious. But, he’s going to need to foster goodwill among the fanbase as he embarks on this tear it down, to build it back up again, model of roster building.

    At the moment though, he seems to have burned through most all of that already – and we’re not even through the first year of his contract.

    Such is what happens when you commit that most cardinal of sins – being disingenuous, and fostering hope in a situation where you know, up front, that there really isn’t much to be had.