1. Raiders Turn Their Backs on the Rooney Rule
When the late Al Davis hired Art Shell to coach the Raiders, his message was simple: You're a true Raider, and I want you to coach my team. That was it.
His conversation with Tom Flores, the NFL's second-ever Latino head coach, was similar.
When he hired Amy Trask to become the first female team CEO in NFL history, there was no grand talk about gender. He respected her. He hired her. Again, simple.
Davis' inclusive attitude filtered down throughout the organization. Once, when Trask was watching a Raiders practice with the legendary Gene Upshaw—who was the head of the players union at the time—a group of writers approached. In an attempt to demean Trask, one asked Upshaw, "What's it like having a girl working for the team?"
"She's not a girl," Upshaw said. "She's a Raider."
That spirit is nowhere to be found in Oakland's search for a new head coach, though.
The Raiders will name ESPN analyst and former Oakland head coach Jon Gruden to be their next head coach, B/R has been told. And while they will bring in other candidates in the coming days to retroactively comply with the Rooney Rule—which requires teams to interview a candidate of color for front office and coaching positions—it's all a sham.
Gruden is going to coach the Raiders. The interviews are nothing other than a backward way to comply with a rule Oakland broke.
There is some anger among black assistant coaches and personnel men over what the Raiders are doing, and several expressed their disappointment in the team to B/R.
The Raiders are far from alone in making a mockery of the rule. Many teams have. In 2003, the NFL fined then-Lions president Matt Millen $200,000 for violating the rule. There were questions surrounding the Browns' hiring of general manager John Dorsey. There have been others.
What makes this situation different is that the Raiders have long exemplified gender and race equity.
Some Raiders fans have argued the franchise deserves a pass on the Rooney Rule because of its remarkable history. The problem is, Al Davis likely would say differently.
Indeed, Trask tweeted on Tuesday night that Al wouldn't like what many in the league (and anyone with eyes and a brain) believe the Raiders are doing:
Amy Trask @AmyTrask
Many have asked me whether I think OAK should be required to comply w/Rooney Rule or whether OAK should be given leeway b/c of Al’s legacy. If OAK opts to comply, it should do so honestly and in good faith. If OAK does not wish to do that, it should (1/2)2018-1-3 00:36:29
Amy Trask @AmyTrask
(2/2) be forthright and choose to pay a fine. But I don’t believe that Al’s legacy should be used as justification for non compliance - Al hired Tom and Art and me - and Al would be the first to be saddened if it was.2018-1-3 00:36:48
The problem with the rule—and one the NFL may not be able to overcome—is that it's hard to stop a team from deciding who it wants as a head coach and then retroactively satisfying the rule, much like Oakland is doing here.
How can the NFL stop this? It can't. It's essentially impossible.
In most cases, teams are just less obvious about it.
Is this the way teams get around the Rooney Rule from here on out? Can the league put some teeth in its enforcement of the rule?
One suggestion I've heard is to increase the fines for teams and start stripping high-round draft picks. Other than that, there are few solutions.
We can be sure of one thing, though: Al wouldn't have conducted the coaching search like this.
2. Just Hire, Baby
So, how did Davis make his personnel decisions? Art Shell once recounted to me how he was hired.
Shell was home in bed watching Nightline when Davis called.
"I'm thinking about making a switch," Davis told Shell. "I'm thinking about making you head coach of the Raiders."
Davis then gave the reason why.
"You understand the Raider way," Davis said. "You're a leader. You're smart. You work hard. Everyone respects you, so you're the perfect choice. Think about it and get some sleep."
Then, Davis hung up.
It was that simple.
3. All (Relatively) Quiet on the Firing Front
It's always good news when NFL head coaches don't get fired. No one wants to see that (from a human standpoint, at least).
Still, it's surprising that only five men have been fired and one retired so far. I was told to expect changes into the double digits.
It appears teams were slowed for two reasons, according to several front office executives. The first was that some clubs believe Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban or Michigan's Jim Harbaugh will be more receptive to making the jump to the NFL after next season.
Yeah, good luck with that.
More to the point, many teams looked at their coaches and didn't see better options.
Take the case of Hue Jackson in Cleveland. The Browns went 0-16, and Jackson makes some curious coaching decisions, but inside the sport, he's seen as a good coach. Like it or not, that's how he's viewed.
That's part of why this offseason has been less hectic than anticipated so far.
4. Bruce Arians Will Be Missed
A quick note on the retirement of Bruce Arians. I've rarely heard other coaches speak with such reverence about one of their own the way some of them have spoken to me about Arians. They talk about him almost as if he is a deity. It reminds me of the way coaches spoke about Tony Dungy when he retired.
Much as it was with Dungy, Arians' biggest plus was how he treated every coach he knew with respect.
5. Foles Has Eagles Guessing
No question looms larger for the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed: Which Nick Foles will show up in the playoffs for the Eagles? Will it be the Foles who can scare a defense, or the Foles who scares his own team? We don't know.
He likely will be a little bit of both. The Eagles will do what many franchises have in this sort of situation: They'll shorten the route tree, emphasize the running game and play good, frenetic defense.
And for the next two weeks, they'll emphasize to Foles the value of not turning the ball over.
Hey, there are far worse plans.
Fans—and even some in the media—still do not comprehend the type of violence these guys endure. Yes, they are paid well, and yes, they don't fight in Iraq or save lives. That still doesn't take away from the physical toll the game takes on their bodies during and after their careers.
7. A Career Rebirth for Jimmy Graham?
It's "generally considered really unlikely" tight end Jimmy Graham returns to Seattle next season, according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. That's not a huge surprise considering he finished the 2017 campaign with his fewest receiving yards since his rookie season. But one scout surprised me and predicted the eight-year veteran will be one of the top free-agent targets in the coming offseason. The scout also thinks he'll end up in Oakland with Jon Gruden.
8. The Playoffs' Most Underrated Player
Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last seven games.
If he can keep that up, the Vikings will be difficult to beat.
The challenge for Keenum is that the speed of the game exponentially increases in the postseason. It then goes to ludicrous speed in the Super Bowl. How will Keenum handle faster blitzes? More blitzes?
However, Keenum has had one advantage all season that might continue into the playoffs. Opponents don't view him as a significant threat, which may open up room for him to try some things.
I covered the second Lions-Vikings regular-season game, and it was clear the Lions dared Keenum to beat them. He did.
If another team makes the same mistake next week, he might win again.
9. It's a Hard Knocks Life for Us
If the 49ers are able to sign quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term contract this offseason, they'll almost certainly be featured on the program. Garoppolo will be one of the biggest stories going into next season, and the 49ers are one of the hottest teams after finishing 2017 with five straight wins.
10. One Man Can Make a Difference
'03 Kliff Kingsbury @fearthe_beard11
This is pretty crazy! #GoPATS https://t.co/kzlZFQa7Fn2017-12-31 18:09:38
I'm sure there are several other franchises for which this comparison would be similar—cough, the Browns, cough—but it's still eye-opening.
It again shows how one player can change the fortunes of a franchise.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.