Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Raiders Are All Gruden, But Is That Good?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 2, 2018

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden speaks to reporters at the team's football facility in Alameda, Calif., Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

How much power does Jon Gruden have with the Raiders, and what did we learn from Oakland's draft? Plus more from the draft and updates on veteran stars moving on or making a difference.

      

1. Jon Gruden is the boss

In just a few short months, Jon Gruden has joined Bill Belichick as one of the NFL's most powerful head coaches. 

Since joining the Raiders in January, Gruden has quietly consolidated power to the point where he's effectively the head coach, general manager, CEO and just about everything else. No other coach in the NFL has this kind of power outside of Belichick.

Yes, Gruden has effectively replaced Reggie McKenzie as the GM, a team source says.

Right now, it's clear that Gruden is the Raiders, and the Raiders are Gruden.

It isn't a shock that Gruden has consolidated power. After all, he signed a 10-year, $100 million contract. Just by virtue of that deal, we knew he would have a strong, far-reaching say.

What's surprised some in the Raiders organization is the scope and speed of the takeover. While Gruden and McKenzie have publicly stated they are in agreement on personnel moves, the truth is that Gruden has made practically all of them since his return.

Gruden has the final say on all personnel matters, the team source explained. That's become clear to all in the organization.

An indicator of Gruden's power is that there's been a serious discussion of Bruce Allen returning to the Raiders, I'm hearing. (Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio was the first to report on this possibility.) Allen is currently the president of the Washington franchise. Gruden and Allen previously worked together both in Oakland and Tampa Bay. Allen has denied he's going to the Raiders (not sure I believe him) but even the discussion of it is interesting.  

Allen would handle more of the Raiders' financial end as they prepare to move to Las Vegas. Just the talk of Allen returning (again Allen denies he's going—and again I'm not sure I believe him) has caused massive consternation throughout parts of the organization.

Again, Gruden has the right to make these types of decisions. If he wins games, none of what happens behind the scenes will matter.

But if he doesn't winand win quicklyhis contract and the team's power structure will become an issue. 

Belichick has guided the Patriots to eight Super Bowls. He's earned that kind of power.

Has Gruden? Will he? These will be the main questions moving forward with the Raiders.

      

2. Raiders' risk and reward

Want two other under-the-radar indications of Gruden's control?

First, Alex Marvez of Sporting News reported Tuesday that "Oakland's personnel department is set for an overhaul now that the 2018 NFL draft has concluded."

Second, and perhaps more importantly, you can see Gruden's influence on how the Raiders drafted.

When McKenzie took the job, he stressed the importance of drafting and signing quality people. While McKenzie has taken a few character risks, this draft and free-agent period has Gruden written all over it.

The team drafted a number of high-risk, high-reward players. In free agency, the Raiders signed cornerback Daryl Worley, who was recently arrested for DUI and five other offenses

Oakland also traded for receiver Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for the entire 2016 season due to a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.

McKenzie took chances, but not to this degree.

One NFC scout said the Raiders had "the riskiest draft, top to bottom, I've seen in many years."

The Gruden era is in full effect.

      

3. Last note on the Raiders—about a kicker

Most players who sign as undrafted free agents don't make the team. One such signing for the Raiders, however, just might.

Oakland signed Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro as an UDFA. According to Pro Football Focus, he led all draft-eligible kickers last season in average kickoff distance (70.4 yards), and opposing teams returned only 18 percent of his kickoffs. Pineiro also led all draft-eligible kickers with a 94.4 field-goal percentage.

Not bad.

No, a kicker isn't a sexy signing, but this one might end up being just that.

      

4. NFC scout on Lamar Jackson

Just going to leave this here:

"One day, we're going to look back at this draft, see how [Lamar] Jackson fell and was treated by our league and analysts, and be ashamed," said an NFC scout. "We will look back and say, 'The reasons he was drafted late in the first round, instead of higher, was for reasons other than actual football.'"

      

5. Saints Super Bowl favorites?

A highly non-scientific poll of several assistant coaches I spoke to this week indicates that some around the NFL think the Saints helped themselves during the draft as much as any team.

These coaches believe the Saints' drafting of pass-rusher Marcus Davenport has the potential to transform that defense immediately.

More importantly, they believe Drew Brees is poised to have one of his better years. They expect the addition of Davenport to improve the defense, which in turn should help an already potent offense.

That Saints head coach Sean Payton is perhaps the best offensive mind in football doesn't hurt, either.

      

6. Where does Gates rank in history?

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 31:  Antonio Gates #85 of the Los Angeles Chargers is seen running onto the field prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at StubHub Center on December 31, 2017 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Chargers bid farewell to tight end Antonio Gates last week. He won't be back in San Diego, er, Los Angeles.

He still wants to play, but his career is nearing its end.

The 37-year-old Gates made eight Pro Bowls and is the Chargers' all-time leader in catches (927), receiving yards (11,508) and touchdowns (114).

To me, Gates is the second-best tight end of all time. My top five:

1. Rob Gronkowski: Few players in history with his size (6'6", 265 lbs), speed and catch ability. He's almost unmatched.

2. Gates: One of the first truly athletic tight ends in the modern era.

3. John Mackey: Many consider him the best ever to do it.

4. Shannon Sharpe: It's hard to state how terrified defenses were to play him. At times, he was uncoverable.

5. Tony Gonzalez: His size, agility and skills made him a matchup nightmare.

     

7. Doug Baldwin changing lives

Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin has become one of the NFL's great leaders, on the field and off.

Baldwin has spoken openly about bettering relations between police and African Americans. He's been a steady presence in the Seahawks locker room. And one day, it wouldn't be a stretch to see Baldwin running for political office. He's that smart and engaging.

This week, he was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Distinguished Service. According to the Seattle Times, King County in Washington gives the award to people who have "gone above and beyond in their efforts to make a difference in communities across King County in answer to Dr. King's question: 'What are you doing for others?'"

The Times story details everything Baldwin has done in the community. It's an impressive list, which should come as no surprise. After all, he's an impressive person.

     

8. CTE and young players

Ann McKee of Boston University's CTE Center was one of the authors of a recent study of young players' cognitive issues.
Ann McKee of Boston University's CTE Center was one of the authors of a recent study of young players' cognitive issues.Steven Senne/Associated Press/Associated Press

This USA Today story on brain health and young football players is both informative and frightening.

The story is about a study, published in the Annals of Neurology, that found kids who played tackle football before the age of 12 showed cognitive problems an average of 13 years earlier than those who played after 12.

Science is homing in on the effects of football on the mind, as studies like this continue to show.

And this is only the beginning. We're learning these things at an almost exponential rate.

      

9. No hang gliding

NFL players have long had language in their contracts preventing them from doing extreme things, like hang gliding or skydiving (both of which are fun as hell).

It's nonetheless interesting to see the actual contractual language, and it tickles me every time I do. The Boston Globe's Ben Volin recently printed some of the language from the contracts of Jimmy Garoppolo and Richard Sherman, which was hilarious.

My favorite part: no professional wrestling.

      

10. LeBron James and Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 24: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers returns to the bench following a touchdown during a game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on December 24, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

I tweeted this week about how, when LeBron James retires from basketball, we will all look back and say we didn't appreciate him enough when he was playing.

In response, some people began discussing who was the NFL equivalent of James.

It isn't Tom Brady. He gets plenty of appreciation. It's actually Aaron Rodgers.

To me, Rodgers is the most underappreciated player in NFL history. That may sound weird about someone who will one day go in the Hall of Fame and who has won a Super Bowl, but it's true.

Rodgers remains the best example we've seen in decades of what happens when a star is ill-served by his franchise. Brady, for example, has always had a Hall of Fame coach, and he later got a future Hall of Fame tight end in Gronkowski. For several years, Brady played with Hall of Famer Randy Moss.

Go down the list of all-time elite quarterbacks, and they either had another great offensive player or a great defense. The only quarterback who comes close to Rodgers is Dan Marino. Running back Barry Sanders was also Rodgers-esque in how little he had around him.

Enjoy James and Rodgers while you can. They won't be around forever.

      

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. 

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