The Oakland Raiders started a new chapter when they hired Jon Gruden in the offseason ahead of the 2018 season. In a way, that’s been true; over half the roster has been turned over, and Derek Carr is one of the few notable names left from the previous regime. Gruden’s preferred method of building his roster has, so far, been through trades. But it hasn’t worked out the way they thought. At all.
We’ll start with the very first trade executed under the Gruden regime: a 2018 third-round pick for talented but troubled wideout Martavis Bryant. He played eight games for Oakland and caught 19 passes for 266 yards. He then went on IR with a knee injury before getting suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the terms of his reinstatement. An argument can be made that Bryant’s talent was worth a flier, but a third-round pick for a guy who played half a season before getting released is a tough pill to swallow.
Next up is the big one that defined Gruden’s first season at the helm, when he sent Khalil Mack, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2020 fifth-round pick for the Bears’ 2019 and 2020 first-round picks, along with a 2019 fifth-round pick and a 2020 third-round pick. Mack went on to have a monster season and rack up 12.5 sacks in 12 games, while the Raiders’ defense as a whole notched 13 in a full season. This is a tough trade to defend in any sort of manner; giving Mack the contract he felt he deserved would have taken up a ton of cap space, but he proved in 2018 he is definitely good enough to be paid that much. To send an additional second-round pick along with your generational pass rusher to Chicago is borderline malpractice.
This brings us to the most recent trade the Raiders have made, and one that came to its conclusion far sooner than any of us expected. Oakland sent a third and a fifth-round pick in this year’s NFL draft for the privilege of giving Antonio Brown a big contract extension. At the time, a third and a fifth seemed a bit low for a player of Brown’s talents, but given how his season ended in Pittsburgh, it wasn’t a shock. We all know what happened after that. Brown will never play a down in Raiders silver after he was released two days before the Raiders kicked off their regular season against the Broncos.
The NFL draft is generally a crapshoot, and it’s impossible to say definitely the Raiders would have found contributors with all the picks they sent out, or that the players they selected from the picks they’ve gotten will turn out to be valuable.
But sending out two thirds and a fifth to the Steelers for two guys who played eight games combined for their team isn’t a good look. The Raiders should be banking on development, given the state of their team, not sending out picks that could turn into young players for veterans who hurt more than help their team.
Year 2 of the Gruden experiment in Oakland isn’t off to a good start.