With a move to Las Vegas on the horizon, the Oakland Raiders are making sure that their last offseason/season in the Bay Area will be one to remember. Not only were they unsure of where they were even playing until March, but the Raiders also traded for one of the biggest personalities in the NFL and hired a celebrity general manager. The stories don’t stop there.
Based on the myriad moves we’ve seen this offseason, Jon Gruden and company seem determined to leave last year’s embarrassing season behind them. Gruden made sure to get rid of players that were unhappy with the new regime and has filled the roster with Gruden Grinders. Like it or not, this is Gruden’s team and this year will be a good indication of what to expect from the Raiders going forward.
In an offseason chock-full of storylines, there are still many to expect with training camp starting July 23. Sporting the toughest schedule in the NFL for 2019, the Raiders will need a stellar training camp if they’re going to find themselves in the playoffs for only the second time in over a decade. Below, we’re going to go through the biggest storylines to look out for this offseason.
Antonio Brown and How He’ll Mesh With Gruden and Co.
Steelers drama and social media drama aside, Antonio Brown is one of the top talents in the NFL. Yes, his subsequent beef with JuJu Smith-Schuster was completely unnecessary, but you can’t expect a bird not to fly. The fact of the matter is, Brown will likely cause drama at some point. He’s proven that he does not like to keep quiet when challenged by his now former teammates and probably won’t keep quiet if they egg him on again.
That being said, Brown is the definition of an aforementioned Gruden-Grinder. If you follow him on social media, you’ll see that the man never stops exercising or practicing. He’s already one of the top-2 wide receivers in the NFL, and it doesn’t seem like that is going to change anytime soon. His relationship with Gruden appears solid so far, but both men have big personalities so it will be very interesting to see that relationship develop.
Brown has struck up a great friendship with Derek Carr and they’ve been seen working out together several times this offseason. After a tough season, Carr is likely ecstatic about his new wideout, so expect lots of training camp highlights from those two. Brown seems to be meshing well with the Raiders so far and by all indications, he was a good teammate before his falling out in Pittsburgh this past year. If any drama is going to come out, it’s going to be during the season if the Raiders get off to a rough start.
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Will Derek Carr Return to Form? If Not, How Long Will the Gruden Marriage Last?
This offseason has likely been a roller coaster for Derek Carr. It started with him getting a shiny new toy in Antonio Brown and soon after, he got a behemoth of a right-tackle in Trent Brown. However, once the draft got closer, rumors of the Carr-Gruden marriage coming to an end were aplenty. Now, if Kyler Murray was available at No.4 in the draft, it’s possible the Raiders would have a new QB in 2019. However, that was not the case, so the Raiders will ride with Carr and he’ll be sporting the best receiving core of his career.
People seem to forget that Carr was a bonafide star in 2015 and 2016. Granted, he’s had two subpar seasons since, but he’s also had to deal with a lot of disarray. The 2019 season is going to be a make or break year for him, and Gruden is definitely not scared of making changes. Carr will have to show improvement immediately or Gruden and the fan base will be calling for his head.
The decision to keep Carr in 2019 was the smart one as the QB talent drop off after Murray was steep. The 2020 draft should see a deeper pool of talent. Carr will definitely be feeling the heat this season and he’s out of excuses.
How Will Trent Brown and Other Free Agents Signings Work Out?
Everybody laughed at Jon Gruden when he said that players wanted to come to the Raiders. Turns out, he was telling the truth. The biggest free agent signing of the offseason was that of former Patriot’s offensive tackle Trent Brown. Opinions on him are somewhat mixed, but most seem to agree that he’s not worth the richest contract for an offensive lineman in history. Regardless, he’s a vast improvement over Brandon Parker on the right side who was routinely taken advantage of during last year’s campaign. If we see a year two improvement from 2018 1st-round pick Kolton Miller, expect the Raiders offensive line to look more like it did in 2016 than it did in 2018.
Trent Brown wasn’t the only notable free agent signing the Raiders made this year. Wide receiver Tyrell Williams is also an exciting addition as he gives Derek Carr one of the best deep threats of his career. The addition of wide receiver Ryan Grant is also intriguing because just a year ago he was supposed to get a big contract from the Ravens that they ended up nullifying. He won’t put up huge numbers, but he could be a solid third option after Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams. The most controversial addition the Raiders made happened recently with the signing of offensive guard Richie Incognito. Incognito’s baggage is well-known, but he’s certainly an upgrade at left guard. If he can keep his head straight, he’ll be a very good addition to the offensive line.
The offense wasn’t the only focus of free agency. The Raiders also made a few interesting additions on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive back Lamarcus Joyner should be a really solid nickel option in the defensive backfield. Linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall should bring some much-needed talent to a linebacker core that has been very bad for several years at this point. Controversy aside, Burfict is a really good player when he can stay on the field. He’ll definitely give defensive coordinator Paul Guenther some headaches, but he’s used to it from his time in Cincinnati.
Is HBO Headed to Napa, CA for Hard Knocks This Year and Will It Be a Distraction?
The possibility of the Raiders of being on Hard Knocks is certainly an enticing one. They’ve got big personalities everywhere, including on the coaching staff and in the front office. It would be must-see TV. Owner Mark Davis has made it very clear that he would very much prefer not to be featured on the TV show. Unfortunately, it’s not up to him.
It’s not a done deal that the Raiders will be the team on Hard Knocks this year. The Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions are also real possibilities. No team seems to want to be apart of Hard Knocks because it brings an unnecessary distraction during training camp. In the Raiders case, there is some volatility in the locker room so it might not be in their best interest to have cameras following a player like Antonio Brown around when he decides to go on a Twitter tirade.
However, having to be on Hard Knocks wouldn’t mean the season is over for the Raiders. Just last year, the Cleveland Browns were the team on Hard Knocks and they had a huge turnaround. Though not ideal for the team, having the Raiders on Hard Knocks would be a huge hit and it’s difficult to imagine the NFL and HBO would pass up that opportunity.
Does Clelin Ferrell and Other Highly Drafted Rookies Fix the Defense?
Ever the ones to make headlines, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock decided to give the draft it’s first big surprise with the drafting of Clemson EDGE rusher, Clelin Ferrell, with the fourth overall pick. The big theme of the Raiders 2019 draft was to fill the roster with high-character players. It makes sense considering there were reported locker room issues last season. Gruden’s style requires a roster full of hard-working and high-character players, so expect fewer reports of locker room discord this year.
The Raiders also went hard after defensive talent early in the draft. Regardless of what you think of Clelin Ferrell, he’s an instant upgrade over the squad that put up a league-low 13 sacks last season. Later in the first round, the Raiders snagged Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram to pair with Karl Joseph in the defensive backfield. It was assumed that Lamarcus Joyner would be paired with Karl Joseph, but an early report from Michael Gehlken from the Las Vegas Review-Journal suggests that he’s slated to play nickel corner. Joseph and Abram give the Raiders a pair of hard-hitting safeties that should strike fear into opposing wide receivers.
Also, don’t count out former Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen as an instant contributor. The Raiders have injected a lot of youth into their secondary and it should get better and better as the season goes on. We can’t forget fourth-round pick EDGE rusher, Maxx Crosby, either. He’s very raw, but holds a ton of potential and could end up being the steal of the draft.