The Raiders’ historic franchise, as it’s always been, has provided the NFL landscape with an organizational approach simply unseen during its time as an NFL organization. Business has always been business, whether the media, fans, or players have agreed to such ways of operation… it's been the “Raider Way” for more than 60 years.
A syndicate littered with stubbornness and questionable transactions has set the franchise apart, but that same mindset has led to many head-scratching draft choices, free-agent signings, and trade deals—hello, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Martavis Bryant, and Khalil Mack. Labeled a football genius that cared passionately about winning his way, former team owner Al Davis’ unyielding mentality could be best epitomized by his most famous words: “Just win, baby.”
Conversely, however, with general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden in town, the win column has represented a barren vista with much meat left on the bone for a franchise looking to rid of past ghosts in their new home of Las Vegas. Entering his fourth season as head coach, Gruden has failed to lead the Raiders to an above .500 record. And Mayock, the oft-criticized executive with years of NFL lineage, has become the point of blame for many of his recent acquisitions, most recently in April with the selection of Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood at No. 17 overall.
“We knew it would be controversial—[we] completely understand that,” Mayock said post-draft. “He fits our offense. … We want to be a power football team. This guy’s going to help us do that. He’s going to start at right tackle for us from Day 1 and we’re going to see if he can hold on to that job.”
From the moment NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium to announce Leatherwood’s selection, immediate speculation and backlash swallowed Mayock and Gruden, considering the pick a drastic reach in what was an awfully deep offensive tackle player pool. While the former Crimson Tide standout’s talent was undoubted, the public perception of a “reach” and ensuing reaction from national media, along with the Raiders’ ugly draft history during Mayock and Gruden’s reign, made it awfully tough for the Vegas tandem to justify their choice—whether it fit the team’s needs or not.
Gruden and Mayock, both former TV analysts, began their partnership in 2019, and since, the decisions following haven’t exactly moved the needle. The former bench boss in Oakland from 1998-2001, since Gruden returned, Vegas has amassed a lowly 19-29 record, failing to qualify for the postseason in what has become a division headlined by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite the skepticism and questioning, the Raiders, one of the NFL’s most brazen franchises, won’t sway to please the masses, rather, as it has for the past three seasons, it will operate under Gruden’s voice for better or worse as the boisterous head coach remains within the early stages of his 10-year, $100 million contract.
Prior to Leatherwood, the litany of eyebrow-raising moves during Gruden’s tenure is enough to earn a pink slip anywhere else in football. From sending a third-rounder to Pittsburgh for the troublesome wideout in Bryant to Amari Cooper’s departure mid-season in 2018 to the Dallas Cowboys, the list goes on and on for Gruden, whose seat, at some point, has to be warm, right? What about Mack, who became just the second Raider ever to win a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016? A 2018 summer filled with cap restrictions ultimately led to his trade to Chicago, where in return, the Raiders acquired four draft picks, including two first-rounders. With those picks in the following season, Gruden attempted to replace Mack by taking Clemson EDGE Clelin Ferrell fourth overall, despite many in the draft circuit projecting him to go much later in the round.
And while there have been signs of prosperity in the selection of Josh Jacobs and plucking of Darren Waller from the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad, the muddied past headlined by Antonio Brown, and the massive contracts gifted to Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner, and Tyrell Williams over the past couple seasons make it difficult at times to truly understand the process of Gruden at times.
A sense of normalcy just isn’t in the cards for the Raiders—it never has been. From brash front office transactions to an on-field product clambering to avoid the trenches of their division, the dynamic of Mayock and Gruden once looked upon as the tandem to provide a jolt into the organization has now progressed into a questionable pair where a separation of the two could be imminent.
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